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Full of potential and promise: Businesses must do more to support our diverse youth

August 10, 2021

Steven Cranwell, Chief Executive Officer, Americas

A little over two decades ago, the United Nations designated 12 August each year as International Youth Day, a day to raise awareness of issues that are particularly pertinent to young people. Fast forward to today, and it is a challenge to find an issue that is not pertinent to young people. Indeed, as the world continues to face a global pandemic, and with less than ten years to achieve the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that there is a wide range of problems that the next generation will need to solve, from inequality to climate change. No small task.

Having a diverse set of opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives is key to problem solving, and from that perspective at least, there is cause for optimism – the youth of today are more diverse than ever. According to the Brookings Institute, as we await the 2020 Census results later this summer, “younger age groups are experiencing the greatest rise in diversity.” Here in New York, the most linguistically diverse place on earth, young people who are exposed to a wide variety of different cultures and influences are able to see firsthand the valuable contributions of hard-working immigrants to this vibrant city.

For businesses, the youth of today are an extremely important demographic. Not only are they potential customers and clients, but they also represent the future of our workforce – the hard-working interns and junior executives who will rise up the ranks to management, full of fresh ideas and insights into ways that we can build better products and services that drive commerce and prosperity. Many businesses – ourselves included – are actively looking for a greater representation of people from different backgrounds in our executive teams. It will be impossible to create a pipeline of such talent without making it clear to young people, including those who might previously have self-selected out of professional or corporate careers, that we value their opinions and experiences. This is why as businesses, we must take steps to support today’s youth – through education, employment opportunities, and with their ambitions for entrepreneurship.

Public-private partnerships will be key to providing the support and opportunities that empower young people to reach their full potential. By working with non-profit organizations or educational establishments, businesses can share their experiences and knowledge – teaching valuable life skills such as financial literacy or how to set up their own start-up, helping with career planning and exposure to professional role models in different fields, and demonstrating that coming from a diverse background should be viewed as an asset, not a hindrance.

Here in New York, there are some great organizations already working hard in this space. The City College of New York (CCNY), for example, is currently ranked eighth out of the top 797 schools nationally for its diversity for both faculty and students, and we are proud to partner with them to help their students kick-start their entrepreneurial ambitions with a start-up incubator and Women in Tech prize.

 There are also other fine organizations who operate nationwide such as Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA), whose mission is to empower future leaders from under-resourced backgrounds by supporting their higher education and professional aspirations. Creating and nurturing this diverse talent pipeline is a key step if we are to create a more inclusive and equitable country, and improve representation at the highest levels of business and society.

While helping youths share their ideas and energy will encourage them to support the values and causes close to their hearts, it is also important to remember that inspiring young people is only part of the story. It needs to be backed up by practical steps to help them navigate the transition from education to the workplace, as well as the crucial first few years beyond school or college. From mentoring programs to running workshops or drop-in sessions, there are many different ways to make a positive impact in this area. As we adapt to the new ways of working driven by the pandemic,  attributes like empathy, creativity, and adaptability are more important than ever – and any business, from the biggest global corporate to the most modest local start-up, can teach these skills.

 So this year, on 12 August, I will be thinking about the steps that I personally, and we as a business, can take to help prepare the next generation for success. 1.8 billion young people will transition from education into the workplace before 2030, and as life expectancy and health outcomes improve, the fact is that today’s youth can expect to have long careers ahead of them. The steps they take at the very beginning could well be instrumental in defining the rest of their lives, unlocking opportunities and setting them on a path to greatness. Let’s celebrate today’s diverse and talented youth, and the enormous potential that they hold. The future of our businesses, and even our planet, will depend on it.