‘Reignited enthusiasm’: how a group of youths is steering The Body Shop’s marketing
Following a pledge made at Cop26 to increase youth representation within its organzation, The Body Shop is taking inspiration from the next generation by bringing them into the boardroom. Its UK and Ireland managing director Maddie Smith explains.
Last week, The Body Shop announced the formation of its Youth Collective – a program the beauty brand hopes will provide insights to its senior leadership team and represent the values of the next generation of leaders.
The Body Shop has previously worked with the British Council to engage young people in politics / Image via The British Council
Formed of 12 people under the age of 30, the Youth Collective was recruited from inside The Body Shop and fellow B corporations. Meeting four times a year, the collective will work alongside The Body Shop’s chief executive David Boynton and the rest of the senior leadership team by sharing their views on topics ranging from the brand’s activism campaigns to its long-term strategy.
“We think it’s really important to deliver internally what we’re asking to be done in the broader world,” says Smith.
“As a business, we have a very strong desire to get different and diverse thinking into our organization, so this is an opportunity to do just that and also to get young people’s voices heard.”
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The Body Shop has prioritized ethics and values since its inception. It specializes in selling products that are ethically-sourced, cruelty-free and natural. That’s evolved into campaigns to end animal testing across the cosmetics industry alongside wider social justice campaigns.
“Campaigning is in our DNA,” Smith explains, but “not only are we a sustainable company but we have done a lot of work around amplifying youth voices,” citing its ‘Be Seen Be Heard’ report in collaboration with the UN around understanding youth political participation, and its local work with the British Youth Council around lowering the voting age to 16.
“We have a lot of young people working for us, but we also have a lot of young consumers. So when our chief executive [David Boynton] and director of activism [Christopher Davis] were looking at the number of issues facing our society today they thought that rather than trying to pick one specific issue, it was more important to actually hear from young people about what they think is important.”
The team at The Body Shop also took inspiration from its youth panel at the UN’s Cop26 Conference, which took place in Glasgow last November. “There’s an awful lot of very young, very motivated, very passionate, enthusiastic people and it’s interesting to us that it’s so easy to think young people are a bit apathetic – but they reignited our energy and enthusiasm.”
Smith also emphasizes that the Youth Collective will offer a lot from a business perspective. “At the moment we’re also very focused on how to get more young people into work, and especially thinking about retail as a good career. Many of us working here came up through the retail ranks and have developed amazing careers off the back of it.”
Last year, The Body Shop implemented an open hiring policy in an attempt to be more fair and inclusive to candidates. Open hiring means that the first candidate to apply gets the next available opportunity across entry-level positions at one of the brand’s stores or distribution centers.
Smith says that this is now bringing more young people into the business by default, yet the challenge that remains is ensuring that they grow and develop within the organization. (This remains a major issue within the advertising and marketing industries, as some 54% of the industry professionals who left advertising in recent years say they did so because the work was simply not challenging enough for them.)
“This is where the Youth Collective comes in. Selfishly, we want their insights in terms of how we run our business, but it’s also a great opportunity for them to build their leadership skills so they don’t stall halfway. Now, not only do they get to interact with senior leadership, but present their ideas to them.”
While other organizations may be inspired by The Body Shop’s attempt to increase diverse representation in the boardroom through the youth collective (“We need diversity of thinking, not just in business but to solve the problems we’re facing in society”), Smith warns that brands cannot be halfhearted in their approach.
“One of the dilemmas we’re expecting to face is what happens when the youth collective are in disagreement with the executive leaders.”
Her advice? “If you want to go down this path, you’re going to have to face up to the fact that, like us, you have made this big internal commitment, but we’ve done so in the knowledge that yes, getting young people’s voices heard in the organization is of paramount importance.
“But they’re not always going to have the view you want them to have.”
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