October 10, 2019 – Executive search firms have an essential role to play in helping clients create more inclusive and diverse leadership teams.
For global search firm Odgers Berndtson, the process begins internally.
To ensure that the widest pool of potential candidates is considered, the firm has created ‘Unlimited’ – a new initiative that reflects a methodology, belief, and commitment to putting inclusion and diversity at the heart of everything the search firm touches.
Bridging the Diversity Gap on Boards
A stubborn paradox exists within boardrooms across America. Companies are appointing more women to board seats than ever before, yet the overall share of women directors is barely budging. While business leaders have gotten the clear message that diversity matters in the workplace, it is equally clear that current methods of sourcing and selecting candidates is falling short.
Peggy Alford, a senior executive with PayPal who was just elected as the first African American woman to join the nine-member board of social media giant Facebook, joins Hunt Scanlon Media in New York on Nov. 6 to examine the disconnect between the business community’s intent to achieve greater equality on their boards and the realization of attaining that goal. She will explore why every company needs to cultivate a culture of inclusiveness and she will outline steps for companies and recruiters to take to boost diversification at a faster rate.
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The firm’s global inclusion & diversity steering group drives Unlimited’s worldwide initiatives. These enable colleagues – and ultimately help clients – to make more informed choices and play an active part in creating a more diverse workplace culture.
The three principal leaders of the steering group are Jane Griffith in Toronto, as well as Áine Hurley and Stuart Morton in London. They work with Odgers Berndtson offices around the world.
Jane Griffith is a partner based in Toronto and national diversity leader at Odgers Berndtson. She works collaboratively with clients and colleagues to champion diversity and inclusion. She is focused on the recruitment of senior leaders in the academic, not-for-profit and broader public sectors working with prominent universities, colleges and not-for-profit organizations in Canada.
Initiatives include recruiting team members to be ‘Inclusion Allies’ – individuals who focus on ensuring all colleagues experience equality, fairness, dignity, and happiness at work. This helps activate the essential tenets of Unlimited.
“Strengthening inclusion at Odgers Berndtson is not just an imperative as an employer,” said Ms. Hurley. “It also allows us to think creatively and broadly about search, to find and attract the best people for clients and challenge clients’ thinking when we need to.”
“We need to ask clients the tricky and brave questions, but in a way that’s supportive and ensures that the client has taken the time to think about what the art of the possible could be,” she said. “As the ‘expert advisor’, our role is to help clients make an even more courageous and unexpected appointment – for the right reasons.”
In Toronto, Ms. Griffith is working on another specific aspect of inclusion & diversity. “In Canada, we are focusing our research on how unconscious bias pervades language and creates a systemic barrier to entry, promotion, and continuation of women in the workplace,” she said.
A recent Harvard Business Review article found that individuals tend to use language to describe people in ways that support traditionally-held stereotypes and beliefs. The article addresses the words used to describe male and female leaders. The differences are powerful. One study found that women not only had fewer positive descriptors (four to men’s 10), they also had six times the number of negative descriptors (12 to men’s two).
Áine Hurley is a senior member of the board practice in the London office of Odgers Berndtson, where she also leads the HR practice. Her team is responsible for recruiting human resource directors as well as experts in talent, recognition & reward, employee relations, organization effectiveness and leadership development. The firm’s HR practice works with a wide range of Fortune 500 and FTSE 350 clients, as well as private equity-backed and family owned businesses.
The top positive female words were ‘compassionate’ and ‘enthusiastic,’ while the words for men were ‘analytical’ and ‘competent.’ “These words can have harmful consequences for women as the male words align more closely with business language and descriptions for ideal candidates in many senior executive roles,” said Ms. Griffith. “Ultimately, our use of language can limit gender diversity in the workforce, from hiring, to assessments, to terminations. Biased language can be found in everything from job postings, to candidate screening processes and resume and performance reviews, perpetuating the status quo inside industries, companies, functions, and roles.”
Ms. Griffith added the entire Odgers Berndtson Canadian team (covering five offices across the country) receives training on unconscious bias “to ensure that qualified candidates, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on, are not overlooked because of our own inherent biases.”
Shifting the Conversation
Odgers Berndtson’s imperative is to help clients specify roles in such a way that ingrained practices and thinking are removed in order to deliver a diverse pool of talented people. The firm is shifting the discussion with clients to one where the conversation expands, rather than contracts, the pool of potential leaders considered.
Stuart Morton is head of the legal & professional services practice at Odgers Berndtson, recruiting senior fee earners and business services directors for the professions. A former solicitor, his practice encompasses every aspect of executive search for law firms. For the Bar, his focus extends to chief executives and senior clerks. Functionally, he recruits general counsel, company secretaries and directors of compliance & regulation for FTSE corporations, financial institutions and the public sector.
Odgers Berndtson says that too often the conversation has been sector specific. A client will say, “I need someone who has 15 years of retail experience for this role.” Whereas individuals from other customer-facing, fast-paced organizations could deliver equally relevant, broader experience and contribute a different perspective.
Mr. Morton believes that increasing diversity on shortlists and giving the client a better and wider choice of candidates is now being driven by a number of factors. “Many businesses face digital transformation, new delivery models, a more flexible workforce and outsourced capability – to Asia for example,” he said. “All of this enables us to broaden the pool of people and to offer more diverse choice.”
“Much of this may seem self-evident, particularly to Millennials who expect to see diversity and inclusion reflected in a leadership team,” Mr. Morton said. “Increasingly and encouragingly, initiatives like Unlimited are helping diversity and inclusion to be considered as a matter of course and not as an afterthought.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media