July 10, 2019 – Diversity and inclusion is firmly on the boardroom agenda and companies are actively looking to improve equality in their recruiting practices. This is a trend that is not going away and which many companies are tackling head on, both internally and through their suppliers. As a result, executive search firms are addressing their role in promoting a fully inclusive board.
Recruitment software company Invenias recently teamed with MIX Diversity Developers, a boutique consultancy firm specializing in diversity and inclusion, to explore the role that executive search firms can play in driving greater diversity in recruitment. It is a key issue as organizations seek a more diversified workforce.
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.
Join Peggy at Next-Gen Leaders: Advancing Women to the C-Suite! Women business leaders are looking for fresh pathways to the top . . . to help them get there we will draw on her expertise as well as top HR, talent, recruitment, and C-suite leaders from other blue-chip brands, including IBM, The New York Times, Littlejohn, LinkedIn, Avaya, WarnerMedia Entertainment, Pfizer, PepsiCo, The Philadelphia Flyers, PayPal, Facebook and a host of others.
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Diversity and inclusion remains of high importance, said their report. With the majority of respondents expressing that diversity and inclusion is important to their clients this year (only two percent said it was not at all important), Invenias said it anticipates even greater demands on executive search firms to provide diverse candidates.
In the past few years there has been an upsurge of interest in greater executive diversity. “From media coverage of the pay gap, to company-wide closures for unconscious bias training, to the growing body of evidence that diversity is good for business, there has never been a greater focus on equality in the workplace,” the report said. “For some companies, it’s an issue of regulatory compliance or corporate social responsibility. Yet others regard it as a source of competitive advantage and with good reason—research shows that organizations with greater levels of leadership diversity outperform their competitors.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Responses from over 400 search professionals highlighted some of the challenges that executive search is facing: from the prevalence of unconscious bias, to the perceived lack of diverse candidates, to the challenge of helping clients see beyond traditional recruitment choices and look instead to the benefits that diverse talent can bring.
The report found that executive search professionals recognize a myriad of opportunities offered by diversity and inclusion—from championing emerging leaders to having the opportunity to implement real change within their clients’ business. Strategies to achieve greater diversity are also under consideration. An overwhelming majority of respondents suggested that diverse long lists would be easier to cultivate if clients were more open to candidates from different industry sectors, giving less weight to proven career experience, to instead see candidates with relevant skills and underlying competencies. While these strategies are being trialed within executive search, there is still far from a universal adoption of these practices.
What Role Can Search Firms Play?
As key advisors, executive search firms are critical in providing a balanced and diversified pool of candidates that can bring talent and experience to a business. The report’s findings suggest that executive search firms do indeed take their role as a driver of diversity seriously, with 64 percent of respondents agreeing that diversity will be highly important to clients in 2019, and 52 percent believing they have a part to play in advising clients to choose a diverse short list. “While not necessarily an easy task, it remains a vital one if companies are hoping to not only increase diverse hiring but also build on success,” the report said.
Providing strategies to tackle the lack of diversity in the long term is vital if companies are to move towards an inclusive workforce, said the report. The lack of diversity in business, particularly at the board level, is still apparent. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed said they believed that it was currently more difficult for a woman to be appointed to an executive board/senior management position.
Search Firms Step Up Diversity Recruiting Initiatives
Organizations that unleash the potential of diverse talent innovate faster and see better business results. Executive search firms are no different and have been stepping up their own efforts in diversity. Let’s examine recent initiatives underway at Caldwell, Korn Ferry and Heidrick & Struggles.
But evidence suggests that attitudes are changing. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed felt that this was a similar premise with BAME (black, Asian and minority ethic) candidates; although 30 percent of respondents felt that attitudes were yet to change. The reasons for this are varied with more than 55 percent of respondents saying that unconscious bias is to blame for the challenge in appointing diverse candidates. A staggering 46 percent of respondents, however, said that the lack of diverse candidates is to blame for the lack of diverse appointments at the C-suite level, and executive search firms can have a direct impact on this statistic.
Recruiters Weigh In
“Diversity makes businesses more successful,” said Susan Oliver, a partner at Battalia Winston. “Our biggest opportunity is making our clients more successful.”
“I believe all clients are looking for search firms to be able to do more than provide diverse candidates on a short list,” says Naomi Barton, a principal within the HR practice at Savannah Group. “They are looking for search firms to contribute meaning data and discussion and drive change in inclusive recruitment at an executive level.”
“Research shows us that companies in the top quartiles for gender, ethnic and cultural diversity on average lead their industries profit-wise,” said Craig Davidge, a principal at Granger Reis.
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