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I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.

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'Old' As In Outdated Thinking ? Average Age Of UK Board Directors Is Now 60+

'Old' As In Outdated Thinking ? Average Age Of UK Board Directors Is Now 60+

At a time when UK plc boardrooms are struggling with multiple challenges - of which Brexit uncertainty rates high on the list, as does digital transformation - it turns out that they are also full of directors who can claim to have been around for at least 60 years.

Change is hard for anyone, and arguably it is harder the older you get. So - while trying hard not to be ageist, it is important to call out any factor that might be holding back progress  (think #tech know-how and #cybersecurity, think #diversity)  in FTSE 100 boardrooms.

Could this factor be age, coupled with a blinkered mentality and a desire for the world to stay familiar, and unchanging ? There is certainly the smell of fear in many UK plc boardrooms when it comes to acknowledging the unknown is ...er, unknown. And who (given a certain uniform background of upbringing and education that discourages the disruptive question) would dare to ask it, particularly without already knowing the answer?

Research just out from global executive search firm and talent manager Spencer Stuart shows that UK boards have steadily been getting older. The average age of UK non-executive directors has risen 2.4 years over the past decade to 60.3, breaking the 60-year mark for the first time, Spencer Stuart's research reveals today. 

Spencer Stuart has kept a close eye on this trend, and I have reported about it before, on my leadership page at Forbes for four years, and here on Board Talk.

Its 2017 UK Board Index shows that the past decade has seen a steady rise in the average age of both executive and non-executive board members at FTSE 150 companies in the UK. The figures are in "stark contrast" with France, Italy, Netherlands and Norway, it adds. Here, companies "are seeking the experience of younger directors to tackle emerging issues such as cyber security and the rise of disruptive technology" it says.

The upward age trend in UK directors "also hints at glacial progress in improving board diversity in the UK, given that on average female non-executives are 4.5 years younger than their male counterparts."

In other words....  older men, probably white, are clinging on to their power and privilege in top UK plcs,  regardless of how useful their perspectives might now be. Not for nothing , perhaps, does the  UK corporate governance watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council's recently announced proposed revisions to the UK Corporate Governance Code call for the re-election of non-executive directors every year.

"This year's research suggests that, despite boards finding themselves increasingly in need of the younger generations as they face emerging issues such as the impact of AI and automation and cyber security, the trend appears to be moving in the opposite direction" said Will Dawkins, who leads the Spencer Stuart UK Board Practice.

"It is encouraging to see, however, that the proportion of newly appointed non-executive directors serving on a quoted board has, for the first time, jumped to over 30%. With 60% of new executive directors and 22% of all new directors being below the age of 50, the average age of non-executive directors may have hit its peak" he added.

That's all well and good. But it depends how urgent you find the need for the refreshment of UK plc boardrooms.

Waiting for an entire generation to retire or die out seems a bit drastic, even when it comes to the so-called 'gentlemanly' rules of the old boy's club.  Also, meritocracies and old-style clubs by invitation never did go hand in hand.

So, how do you get a new diverse meritocracy in UK plc boardrooms - when forging a new dynamic fit for purpose for the challenges of 2018 and beyond with incumbents could be a challenge?

If you wish to post a guest blog - on that, or anything else to do with better business and corporate governance  -  email me at dinamedland1@gmail.com. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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