Andy Middleton, Chief Exploration Officer of TYF, a family outdoor adventure business based in Pembrokeshire, Wales, has long been a pioneer of building business with a purpose. After pioneering sustainability for 20 years and becoming the first certified B Corporation business in Wales, taking the next step to focusing on what good business should look like in 2030 and beyond was a logical one.
Boardroom composition has come under increased focus since Lord Davies declared that at the rate of change in 2011 it would take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms among FTSE companies in the UK. Lord Davies’ report was effective. Over the past 10 years a lot has changed in the boardrooms of the UK’s top companies.
Today, women on boards account for 34.3%, a jump from 12.5% since 2011. But attention on boardroom composition has rightly expanded to consider a wider set of characteristics, such as ethnicity, age, social background, sexual orientation, among others. With the growing challenges of today’s business world, business leaders need to be thinking beyond gender-balanced boardrooms. They must ensure that their leadership reflects the society they live in and the customers they serve, for today and the future.
This is the thinking behind a new initiative called Boardroom2030 – an offshoot of B Corporation which encourages business to think about purpose as well as profit. Its focus is on the smaller end of business – small and medium-sized enterprises, but any organisation can sign up to Boardroom2030.
Boardroom2030 is about kick-starting debate within companies to encourage them to explore what a 2030 future boardroom and business looks like for them and how to adapt to meet future social and environmental challenges.
The initiative encourages companies to think about representation, agenda and decision-making, who should have a seat at the table and how companies can ensure decision-making factors in community and other stakeholders.
Middleton, who co-founded TYF with his wife Sarah Middleton in 1986, advised the Senedd in its development of the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015. The Act requires public bodies in Wales to consider the economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales in their decision making to prevent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. The Act is unique to Wales. The English equivalent bill had its second reading in the House of Lords in October.
“My parents and grandparents before me were activists and change-makers in the world of health and I've been heavily involved in thinking about future generations for the last 10 years directly in terms of developing legislation and embedding longer-term thinking into business and education,” Middleton says.
TYF weaves climate and environmental solutions into the action-focused programmes it runs for schools, colleges and businesses. Critical to the company’s long-term success is the connection they make between the risk assessment that keeps people safe when they go sea kayaking, coasteering and other outdoor pursuits and the risks and consequences of decisions at work that impact CO2 and nature. TYF teaches an ‘ABC for planetary health’ that reminds clients to be Alert, Bold and Curious about the world around them, the ambition they set and the questions they ask each day.
With so much uncertainty for young people due to climate change and other social and environmental challenges ahead, TYF is using Boardroom2030 to kickstart boardroom-type scenarios for young people across the UK to learn the skills they need to fix the challenges with which they will have to grapple.
“The only appropriate response is to give people an unshakeable confidence in their own ability to bend the arc of the future back towards sanity. Because if we weren't doing that, we wouldn't be responsible in terms of preparing them for what's coming,” Middleton says.
In terms of governance, young people are conspicuous for their absence on boards, and it’s startling to see how little education is provided to teach children how to challenge the status quo and change policy direction, Middleton says.
“We need to rethink our governance frameworks. One of the best ways of doing that I think is to give young people the chance to get their voices heard about the future of organisations,” he says.
Embedding young people
TYF has committed to set up a Future Generations Advisory Board. It will be made up of five young people supported by a group of 10 ambassadors who will be experts in their discipline. Each board member will have an area of focus and will report back on best practice ideas from around the world.
By 1 February 2022 TYF aims to have its first Future Generations Advisory Board in place. Ultimately, one of the five board members will sit as a non-executive on the TYF board.
The recruitment process, which will take place over the coming months, aims to select one board member from the TYF geographic community to represent the company’s operational footprint. Others will be sourced from school clients, which include private and state schools, as well as other youth organisations. The age range will focus on 11–21-year-olds.
For TYF, Boardroom2030 triggered a formal boardroom conversation about the value that young people can bring to an organisation, “because sometimes, the small steps count most”. But the initiative will mean different things to different organisations depending on their business model, customer base and industry, among others.
Middleton says: “There's so much talent out there. The really neat thing for me about the Boardroom2030 campaign is that it isn’t trying to control or to overreach but instead, get one of the most important conversations about the future formally started.”
For now, the broad goal for the Boardroom2030 initiative is to get representation of young people on boards. But Middleton says in bigger organisations there is an argument for stating in company constitutions that a minimum percentage of board members should be under the age of 30. Now that’s a challenge for business leaders to consider.
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