Interview: Diversified Search Director Talks Diversity

July 17, 2009 – Edie Fraser is managing director and chair of the diversity practice at Diversified Search Odgers Berndtson. She brings to her role over four decades of experience in supporting diversity at the most senior levels of corporations, organizations and government in the U.S. and globally. She is devoted to the advancement of minorities and women, and has worked with more than 100 CEOs to develop and implement strategic talent plans and programs. Prior to joining Diversified Search, Ms. Fraser was founder and CEO of Diversity Best Practices, a member service for diversity practitioners where she designed the CEO Diversity Leadership program. In the following interview, Ms. Fraser discusses diversity recruiting trends and how growth in this sector has sidestepped the current turbulent economy.

Tell us about diversity recruiting at the moment.

Diversity recruitment proves wise business and we are successful as a firm and as a diversity practice. Every day we hear from search customers, and they want women and diverse talent at all levels. They want to be certain the candidate slates are diverse, because it is a competitive advantage. Competitive companies, organizations and government agencies know that diversity matters. Why? The demographics of the nation must mirror the workforce. Why diversity? It’s the customer; it’s the worker; thus, it must be the executives. Entry level employees expect to see women and diverse role models. Youth are especially important to diversity and the changing employee demographics. Just remember that 20 percent of our youth are Hispanic and that in five states the minority is the majority. By 2040, minorities will be the majority and that even today, women and minorities make up the majority of the population. Diversity is the core of the community and as such, the marketplace and workforce must be aligned.

Tell us about the multicultural workforce you see today and their purchasing power.

For those selling products or services there are no other options than exemplary diverse and women leaders — from top executives in all functions to sales professionals. The multicultural marketplace is the backbone of the economy – and growing. Women, minorities, and GLBT alone are the purchasing power of the economy with approximately 88 percent of purchases of all products and services. Women alone purchase 83 percent. By 2020, women and minorities will control 90 percent of the purchasing power. For those firms with government contracts, there must be both women and diverse contractors. For all companies, diversity of thought and innovation means better leadership. We thank CEOs and boards who hold firms and organizations accountable. We salute the HR executives and talent acquisition officers. It is the best of times when one delivers on diversity.

Tell us how diversity stacks up in a tough economy – both in the U.S. and globally.

Despite the tough economy there are three major areas regarding recruitment and retention: Winning the “Race for Talent” (gaining the best of women, minority, and other talent) with new solutions and success models; Retaining and advancing women, minority, and other talent (using many mechanisms and tools to assure upward mobility and the decrease of attrition); Engaging champions and focusing specifically on white male engagement and participation. And yes, leadership at the top proves critical. Best companies for diversity demonstrate CEO, board and top management leadership and accountability. We hear daily from HR and diversity officers that results are presented to boards on a periodic basis. Divisions do gap analysis to ensure diversity leaders are recruited and advanced, and succession planning is recognized as critical to success and to retention. I have had the opportunity to hear CEOs and top executives who understand the importance of diversity. It is more than “heart and soul.” They know diversity leadership has a bottom line. With Barack Obama as President, the U.S. Senate, House and state houses also reflect the best of diversity. Global initiatives are rampant. Where today women are approximately 16.8 percent of major boards, women in Scandinavia are on about 40 percent of boards; Canada has a proposal for 50 percent of women on corporate boards. Minorities will have gained a similar footing.

How has the current economy affected diversity initiatives within companies?

We keep our focus. That means we watch our expenses and concentrate on who gives us the searches. One can bemoan the bad economic news or connect with leaders who want to have change leaders and diverse candidates and who give us a chance to show our ability to deliver. Nothing is more challenging. It takes initiative, learning about client needs and knowing “what challenges the leaders most.” Our firm overall is even with last year. But our diversity practice is up. So we must be diligent about showing we can make a difference by becoming an executive search partner, and even a consultant if necessary.

Which industries are up and which are down?

Those answers are in the financial pages daily. We try to stay with the customers who see light at the end of the tunnel. We have the business and we get the repeat business with 75 percent of the firm’s clients. Yet, it must be tough to be a partner in financial services, for example, but we have and maintain good partners in that area. Take where the government contractors are with defense and energy, but we know there are great clients. Or take where health care is headed, yet overall for the firm there is business. It is being strategic and calculating. It is holding expenses. It is being well managed, and I respect that about Diversified Search.

How do you sell searches today?

Those answers are also in the financial pages daily. We try to stay with the customers who call and ask for searches. We are in for the long-term and we want to be a search partner in the truest sense of the word.

Next Friday, we conclude our interview with Edie Fraser.

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