The Body Shop brings the youth perspective to the boardroom. Should you?

The scrutiny of corporate board diversity, particularly with respect to gender and race, has intensified in the past two years. But these are not the only voices that deserve to be more represented within the C suites of companies large and small.

That’s why British personal care company The Body Shop is supporting a relatively unique effort, dubbed The Body Shop Youth Collective, to bring another stakeholder group to the decision-making table: young people under 30, a generation that has little to do with creating the climate crisis but will live the longest with its impact.

The initiative was inspired by B Lab UK’s Boardroom 2030 programme, which challenges companies to imagine what boards of directors might look like in a more inclusive future at the end of this decade and to experiment in inviting different participants to strategic discussions who might otherwise participate. About two dozen companies, including The Body Shop and London-based Coutts Bank, have taken part in Boardroom 2030 “activations” that encourage businesses to start developing frameworks for such engagement.

The Body Shop held its first Boardroom 2030 meeting publicly in November during COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, with seven participants under the age of 30 – three employee representatives, two researchers, a climate activist and a chief executive. another B-certified company. The 90-minute session also included the CEO of the personal care company and two facilitators; an audience of journalists, activists, consultants and other executives were invited to observe the conversation.

“We are facing a crisis, we have to do things differently,” said David Boynton, CEO of The Body Shop, during this meeting I attended. “We need different voices in the room, and we need to be a little uncomfortable.”

I think we’re missing something here; we should work together and push each other… Activism is so important, but so are the people inside.

During the Glasgow discussion, framed and led primarily by Chris Davis, Director of Activism and Sustainability at The Body Shop, the youth panel provided feedback on three main agenda items : the role of product packaging, in particular the company’s refill program; the effectiveness and value of including carbon footprint information on specific product labels; and what younger generations want from a “purpose-driven” business, both as consumers and potential employees. The feedback from this first meeting is still being studied, but the meeting informed the official launch of the collective.

“You can’t have a business model that’s not purpose-based, if you want to have the best people,” said Glasgow Youth Panel participant Celeste Leverton, Associate Director and Head of Sustainability at Coutts. “If you want to have a long-lasting business, you have to take sustainability seriously.”

One of Leverton’s main concerns about the current business climate, she said during the Glasgow discussion, is the extreme polarization between many climate activists and the companies they are trying to steer in another strategic direction. “I think we’re missing something here; we should work together and push each other… Activism is so important, but so are the people on the inside,” Leverton said.

Make it official

At the end of the Glasgow rally, The Body Shop leaders pledged to create a more formal structure to continue the discussions. The shape of those plans became clearer in May, when the company launched the three-year “Be Seen Be Heard” campaign in conjunction with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, advocating for greater participation of young people in “public life”. At the heart of this effort was research conducted by The Body Shop in December, covering more than 27,000 people in 26 countries, around half of whom were under the age of 30. The research found that three-quarters of those surveyed think politicians and business leaders have ‘messed things up’ when it comes to both human well-being and planetary sustainability About two-thirds felt that the voting age (where people had this right) should be lowered from 18 to 16 and that young people should be included more explicitly in decision-making of all types.

As a reminder, nearly half of the world’s population is under 30, but this age group represents only 2.6% of parliamentarians, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. More than a third of the world’s parliaments do not have a single member under 30; and less than 1% are women, according to research compiled by the organization.

Notably, the survey supported by The Body Shop showed that the interest in including more young people in decision-making is cross-generational: the data shows that people of all age groups think that the inclusion of more young voices and perspectives in policy-making would improve political systems, according to The Body Shop’s Davis.

“The thought and the people who created this problem in historic seats of power are not the thought and the people who are going to solve this problem,” activist Clover Hogan said at The Body Shop’s first meeting at the COP. “That would be my first provocation. We need to sit in a place of transformation. And, in fact, it’s an incredible invitation because it’s an opportunity to rethink so much the way we live, breathe and exist in the 21st century.”

Boynton observed: “The bottom line is that we don’t want to be in an echo chamber, do we?

When I spoke with Davis about the new campaign – and the youth collective associated with it – he pointed out that both efforts are ongoing, subject to change based on the contribution of the generation they are meant to serve. and kiss.

“It’s about getting governments around the world to take action to include young people. We’d like to create change,” said Davis, who has had “activism” in her title for about 18 years, although before most companies started tying their corporate social responsibility or sustainability efforts to participation in policy-making. Since then, he said, The Body Shop has helped influence policy change on many fronts. As a specific example, the company worked from 2009 to 2012 to collect more than 7 million customer signatures in support of legislation to end child and youth trafficking, subsequently passed in 24 country.

Welcome to the council room

The Body Shop Youth Collective is one element of the company’s broader effort to more explicitly include youth perspectives in business decisions made by senior management, with a particular focus on agenda items. related to climate and sustainability. “We accept the fact that we need to be challenged by those who believe businesses are part of the solution,” Davis said.

The first official collective – which includes five people from The Body Shop and five from other B-certified companies – will last 18 months (at least that’s the plan for now), meeting at least twice formally with executives from The Body Shop every year, says Davis. To create the group, The Body Shop invited applications from all over the world. Individuals were chosen for their enthusiasm, business knowledge and passion to see the company become a “better company” as it grows. The committee selected participants using the same process it would follow for general nominations, Davis added.

“It’s not every day that young people are called upon in important spaces to influence the decision makers of an established company,” said Antonia Tony-Fadipe, head of inclusive recruiting at The Body Shop, in a written response to my questions about the Youth Collective, of which she is a member. “My passion, motivations and ways of thinking are different for everyone in the Collective, and I was really encouraged by the recruitment process and how bias was removed from the process and the diversity of thought a priority. When an opportunity like this presents itself, you need to make the most of it to really impact local and wider communities.”

Intent and impact must be clearly defined for any youth collective (and I hope this will inspire many), so that the company and the collective are aligned on priorities.

The governance component of the group will be particularly important: deciding where to focus and then connecting the Youth Collective with internal specialists who can turn ideas into concrete actions will be critically important for credibility and success. “If we were to undertake things, we’ll have to be able to explain why. And if we’re not going to undertake things, we also need to explain why. It’s our duty to be transparent,” Davis said.

Should we follow their example?

The company also intends to share what it learns with other Certified B companies so they can emulate this process.

“Being an adjunct member of The Body Shop and being part of an ambitious young cohort has already provided me with so many learnings, resources and ideas,” noted Abigail Noel Davidson, Collective participant, Specialist of Communications, USA, to the “slave-free” confectionery business. Tony’s Chocolonely. “From The Body Shop, I take away valuable presentation/communication skills and a broader perspective on how other businesses operate. Thanks to my peers, I have an inspiring new network of bright and highly talented individuals that I look forward to finding ways to collaborate with.”

In their written responses, Tony-Fadipe and Davidson shared a sense of optimism about the initial commitments and the intentionality with which The Body Shop’s management team engaged the Youth Collective. However, they both warned companies looking to set up similar initiatives that governance will be extremely important to avoid the perception of “youth washout”. It should be noted, for example, that the Youth Collective is not officially on The Body’s Shop board – although it does benefit from their perspective. It’s still a separate initiative.

Tony-Fadipe noted: “Initiatives like this should be youth-centric, not business-centric. What will the young person get out of the experience, how will they be a force for good, what skills will they develop for the future?It’s not about helping the company become more innovative and in tune, but about cultivating a group of future leaders who need space to develop.”

Davidson added: “Intent and impact must be clearly defined for any youth collective (and I hope this will inspire many), so that the business and the collective are aligned on priorities. If the companies venture to create initiatives like this, they must be open to genuine listening. Young people are more lively than is often believed, and they see through vain projects. Finally, it is imperative that these initiatives benefit both the company and the members of the collective. Too often, the balance is off, especially on the part of young people who are susceptible to exploitation.”

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