Good Governance: Who Needs a Shadow Board?

young directors engaging with older chair of the board
Jennie Boden Photo
Quantum Governance L3C

3 minutes

Add younger employees and members directly to your C-suite and board to benefit from their skills and knowledge today.

I read with interest a Fortune article entitled “Companies are turning to ‘Shadow Boards’ to keep in touch with the real world.” The author, Lila MacLellan, defines a shadow board as “a committee of typically younger employees who come together within a firm to advise the management team on key topics, such as company culture, product marketing, trends in technology, and sustainability efforts.” She continues, noting “They are not an official board, of course, but their views often supplement those of experienced, much older corporate directors and C-suite leaders.

“These advisory groups give some businesses insight into their customers’ tastes and passions.”

MacLellan reported that companies like The Body Shop have embraced the trend, and her colleague, Fortune’s Orianna Rosa Royle, recently found that The Body Shop developed its shadow board, with its members aged 30 and under, “when it became aware of the gap between the company’s youngest workers and its leadership team and directors.” 

After reading the article, a colleague of mine posed a logical question: “Would shadow boards be a good strategy for credit union?”

The question made sense.

After all, our own 2023 State of Credit Union Governance recently found that 89% of credit union board members are aged 51 or older, and the average age of most credit union members in North America is 53.

But here’s the thing. Creating another board isn’t a ready-made solution to the problems of an aging board and membership. In my mind, it’s simply a workaround.

In our work, we’ve found that most credit unions struggle managing the governing boards that they already have. Many credit union boards have failed to evolve their governing roles and responsibilities even as their credit unions have grown around them—from financial institutions with assets of $250 million to those with well over $1 billion; some face challenges with that ever-elusive balance of authority between the board and the CEO and still others are still lingering “in the weeds” too much, not finding their stride in being strategic thinkers.

Marie Kondo has ushered in the era of “tidying up,” not “cluttering up.” You must attend to that which you have, and like I said, too many governing boards are already flying under the radar, receiving too little attention. Why add another?

Instead, add those younger employees and members directly into your C-suite and onto your governing boards—of course, given that they meet the requisite qualifications. Don’t keep them waiting in the wings until they reach some magical age where you deem them acceptable for full service. Benefit from their skills and knowledge now.

A Gen Z member of our team recently sat in on a webinar proclaiming to share insights into the mind of the Gen Z credit union member. It was taught by two individuals in their 50s. In. Their. 50s.

To be fair, our team member said they got some things right, but they also got a lot of things wrong. After, we asked her to present to our team what she thought that members of her generation were looking for from their financial institutions. You know what she said? Hope.

To learn more about what Gen Zers really think, read this May blog from Quantum Governance’s governance administrator, Lauren Paradise.

Jennie Boden is CEO of CUESolutions provider Quantum Governance L3C.  

Quantum Governance provides credit unions, corporations, nonprofits, associations and governmental entities with strategic, cost-effective governance, ethics and management consulting, facilitation and evaluation.  With more than 50 percent of Quantum Governance’s clients representing credit unions, the organization fields more engagements in the credit union community than in any other. Quantum Governance is a CUES partner in the field of governance and is home to more strategic governance experience than any other practice in the country.  The firm is a unique L3C organization that integrates the best elements of both the for- and non-profit communities into one practice. It is a low-profit, limited-liability service organization dedicated to the public good and one of the very first such legal hybrid organizations in the United States.



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