5 Ways to Open Doors for Underrepresented Talent in Executive Leadership

May 14, 2021 – Truth be told, executive recruiters have a disproportionate amount of influence in the process of hiring executive candidates. Unfortunately, that means talent from underrepresented backgrounds can be overlooked in the hiring process if the search firm doesn’t partner with clients to create a clear diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) placement strategy, according to a new report from The Bowdoin Group and authored by CEO Dave Melville.

“In today’s highly competitive and innovation-hungry world, companies and investors need to know they’re working with executive search professionals who have their best interests in mind and who fully understand their underlying business goals,” Mr. Melville said. “In the case of DEI, that means not only expert guidance around finding your next executive, but also strategic partnership around building a C-suite that will take the company where it needs to be over the next three-to-five years (and beyond).”

The Bowdoin Group consulted with its own strategic DEI partners, Esu Ma’at and Soyini Chang, co-founders of the management consulting firm Quantum Power Skills (QPS). Mr. Ma’at also currently serves as chief diversity officer at the Orlando Magic. “Together, we developed five ways executive search firms can recruit diverse executives and support diversity, equity, and inclusion imperatives,” said Mr. Melville. He says starts with intentionally unlocking more opportunity and access to underrepresented executive candidates:

1. Become a critical touchpoint for clients on their DEI goals.

The majority of executive search leaders indicate D&I is a priority for their clients, and more than half receive specific requests for diversity in their recruiting efforts. “That’s where today’s executive recruiter can shine, expertly bringing DEI into the talent acquisition conversation and educating companies about how to pursue DEI goals in alignment with existing business priorities,” Mr. Melville said.

Executive Recruiters & Talent Leaders
Reveal Market Forecast

The pandemic caused an unprecedented disruption to executive search activity in 2020. Executive recruiters spent the better part of last year resetting expectations in the midst of an unprecedented interruption to their business. But according to recruiting industry leaders interviewed for this report, the search business is turning a significant corner.

We take a critical look back, examine search firm performance, and uncover fresh market opportunities. Leading executive recruiters offer up their viewpoints, and forecasts, for 2021. The good news: optimism reigns. And that means we could be in for one of the biggest growth spurts the executive search sector has enjoyed in years. Here’s our latest thinking. A special thanks to our co-sponsor: N2GrowthBuy your copy today

“Part of the value executive recruiters add is in providing clear examples of success in DEI initiatives, so that’s where firms should start: collecting success stories that help companies and investors build confidence in not only building a diverse workforce, but also creating a culture of inclusion and belonging,” he said. “From there, we need to make sure we’re well-versed in the field research so we can help organizations navigate their priorities to achieve the outcomes they’ve set out to reach.”

2. Locate pools of diverse candidates to hire from.

Like most executive recruiters, The Bowdoin Group has invested decades in building up our robust network of professional connections. “It’s an invaluable resource we offer our clients to immediately tap into pools of talent and resources, which is further supported by our robust research function,” Mr. Melville said. “But as the conversation around furthering DEI imperatives continues, it has become clear that candidate sourcing must be stronger when it comes to talent from underrepresented populations.”

As an industry, executive search partners Mr. Melville says they need to carefully consider how they can re-engineer and expand their go-to sources of talent. “Our established networks are strong — but they aren’t always necessarily diverse. Progress in DEI initiatives requires a concentrated effort to find out where new, underrepresented talent spends time and meet them where they are,” he said.

For example, The Bowdoin Group were recently introduced to Carolina Alarco, president and founder of a strategy firm called BioStrategy Advisors, who leads an initiative called Latinos in Bio. “This is an incredible organization devised to give members of the Latino community access to professional development, community, and business development in biotech and life sciences,” said Mr. Melville. “It’s through relationships like this that we as search professionals can expand our networks to tap into more diverse talent for our clients and their organizations.”

Mr. Melville says that the best way to mix up your candidate sourcing will depend on your existing networks, but he offers are a few additional places to start in your quest for more diverse executives:

3. Ensure your evaluation criteria support diversity efforts. 

In one of The Bowdoin Group latest articles, “The Future of Executive Search: Can You Handle the Truth?,” they discussed how the past year’s uncertainty did an amazing job of revealing the leadership talent in our midst. Under crisis, the status quo leadership types dissolved, and a new generation of talent stood up to become leaders—leaders that didn’t always fit the “cookie-cutter” mold or come with the mile-long resume we’ve come to expect.

“This is one of many recent shifts in the workforce that allows diverse candidates to shine,” Mr. Melville said. “It has given executive recruiters the opportunity to shift part of the spotlight away from a candidate’s track record and toward a candidate’s potential. When executive recruiters, hiring managers, and CEOs analyze a candidate’s potential, a new conversation can take place. We can consider the aptitude of candidates—often women and people of color—who have not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate their potential.”

4. Use your expertise to partner with diverse organizations.

As executive recruiters, The Bowdoin Group do a lot of good work from within the system. “But that’s not the only place we can make a contribution. We have a unique ability to open up the executive leadership level to underrepresented talent by sharing knowledge about the career path that leads to it, often in the form of community events like speaking, workshops, and mentoring,” Mr. Melville said. “We can then give people access to our unique knowledge set and empower them to seek out development opportunities, skills and promotions that will lead them where they want to go.”

The New Business Imperative: Diversity & Inclusion
With research proving that companies with more ethnically and culturally diverse teams increase their productivity, reduce turnover and inch up profits, Glocap Search, in response, recently created a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practice. The recruiting firm joins a chorus of rivals eyeing the DE&I space. “Since 1997, we have been a trusted advisor to many of the best investment management firms and multi-industry partners with our hands-on approach,” said Annette Krassner, CEO of Glocap Search. 

The kind of contributions do not require an enormous amount of work. “Modern technology and remote-focused networking as a result of the coronavirus pandemic make it so that you can share a 15-minute keynote or participate in a 30-minute networking event with a few short emails,” said Mr. Melville. “Even doing this just once a month can result in life-changing access to information for the people who need it most.”

The Bowdoin Group provides a shortlist of diverse organizations we’ve partnered with to invest more than 500 hours of community service—start here the firms says, then look into your own community, your alma mater’s community outreach programs, and industry events and associations to find the right fit for you:

5. Continue to educate yourself about DEI.

As Albert Einstein said—the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “Executive recruiters can’t simply make their search process more diverse,” said Mr. Melville. “The best results come from pulling in the input and expertise of people in the DEI space who can expose you to resources, examples, and lived experiences you wouldn’t come across on your own.”

The Bowdoin Group’s partnership with Quantum Power Skills provides the firm with insight into how they need to evolve and adapt to recruit diverse candidates more effectively. “As a result of this partnership, the services we provide our clients achieve a higher level of quality and nuance when it comes to sourcing, evaluating, and presenting diverse candidates to our clients,” Mr. Melville said. “These important ideas about DEI reinforce the true function of the executive recruiter: helping investors and organizations achieve their full potential, which includes the big picture, long-term view, not just the single hire view.”

“To that end, it’s on executive recruiters to embrace their role as gatekeepers of opportunity and access and evolve in how they source, vet, and recommend candidates from underrepresented minorities—all in support of a company’s immediate, critical business goals,” Mr. Melville said.

Related: Improving Diversity Starts with a Culture Check

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments