Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Search firms best serve their clients by making a commitment to finding minority candidates. According to Shawn Cole, president and founding partner of Cowen Partners, knowing sources of alternative qualified prospects and digging deeper into the demands of roles can greatly improve diversity sourcing.

November 27, 2018 – All too often, search firms compare themselves to the professional services offered by a law firm or management consultant. The firm wants to offer, then reap, all the benefits of a trusting (and at times, confidential) client relationship, but assume none of the related responsibilities.

In order to offer a similar high-caliber suite of professional services as an expert in the executive search field when it comes to talent management and selection, it is imperative to step up and acknowledge a fiducial duty to present diverse candidate pools to clients, acknowledged Shawn Cole, president and founding partner of Cowen Partners, an executive recruitment firm in the Pacific Northwest.

“As leaders of human capital management, it is incumbent upon us to not expect nor wait for clients to request or mandate this goal, especially during diversity searches,” said Mr. Cole. “In fact, we, as the talent selection industry, must become the driving force in reflecting within the workplace the diversity already found within our society, stakeholders and customers.”

A Fiduciary Responsibility 

In short, the time is now to deliver diverse candidates as a standard default, not by initiative. “Search firms are retained to find the unobtainable, the unfindable, the rare and uniquely qualified, and yet many keep perpetuating the narrative that it is difficult to find minority leaders qualified for the job, resulting in the fact that we must settle on one or none,” said Mr. Cole.


Diversity Recruiting: Supply, Demand and the Matchmaking Process  

Hunt Scanlon recently released its latest issue of ESR. This time around, an in-depth look at diversity recruiting – what drives it, why it’s not a social crusade, and how it matters in every workplace. According to the newsletter, diversity starts at the top – and that oftentimes means it begins in the boardroom. Diverse boards make better decisions and lead to improved company performance. But boards are failing to reflect society as a whole. What’s the problem? Hunt Scanlon offers up some answers.

As you might expect, building cultures that will not tolerate discrimination but instead promote diversity – and recruiting talent that reflects this – is the challenge facing every recruiter and talent acquisition leader today. The #MeToo movement is, of course, leaving its mark on recruiting – and in this issue that is examined as well. Five incoming chief diversity officers making a big difference by putting a special emphasis on diversity are also highlighted. Get the free issue now!


“As an industry, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our clients, their shareholders and our society to provide a diverse candidate pool,” he added.

Related: Establish a Diversity Baseline and the Money Will Follow

Cowen Partners, which serves both small and large public and private companies, was founded in 2015. Mr. Cole, to a large degree, focuses on recruiting for executive accounting and finance positions. One of his specialties, he said, is finding talent for growth companies in need of experienced senior financial leaders capable of raising capital and scaling. Some of the firm’s past and present clients include: Blue Nile, Kaiser, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Northrim Bank, TrueBlue Inc., and others. Mr. Cole is a graduate of Oregon State University, where he studied business administration and finance.

Cultural Humility 

Executive recruiters, said Mr. Cole, must become more creative and willing to upend the status quo in order to effect change. “The goal is not to assume expertise in diversity, but, rather, exhibit cultural humility in our policies and actions for not just ourselves, but also for our clients,” he said.


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.


Candidate representation must be equally representative of society, sparing clients from the public shaming that occurs in the press and across the internet. Many large and well-known public companies have made the news for their lack of diversity, or unfair/misrepresentation of minorities. “This is not a new problem, but stepping forward to shoulder responsibility for offering and implementing solutions is a new approach,” said Mr. Cole. “Acting as thought leaders and leading the way by providing actionable steps on how to improve candidate sourcing, we eradicate previous mindsets and fulfill diversity promises with equal minority representation.”

Related: Key Activities to Drive Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

The tools are available, said Mr. Cole. A commitment to using them to their fullest potential is the key to meeting diversity benchmarks. “If it happens that qualified minorities are in short supply or nearly impossible to find, the next step is to know and understand unique sources of alternatively qualified minorities,” said Mr. Cole. “Additionally, digging deeper with the client to fully explore the position demands, then developing a progressive candidate profile can help with augmenting sourcing efforts.”

Simple Steps

Mr. Cole cited Colleen Birdnow Brown, former CEO and corporate director at multiple public companies, who said that when it comes to director searches, “Broadening the scope beyond the traditional CEO and CFO backgrounds by recognizing the complexity and needs in the boardroom have grown and changed over time. For example, by considering CMO, CRO and CHRO positions, the number of female candidates can grow significantly.”

For recruiters, finding diverse candidates goes beyond a moral imperative, said Mr. Cole. It is also a responsibility of the job. “These are simple concrete steps we can all take, without being asked or directed, but doing so by default because it is our fiduciary responsibility to our clients,” he said.

Related: CHRO Influence Expands in Promoting Corporate Diversity

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

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Ron Jordan

Scott, as much as the executive recruiting community tries to relate to diversity and inclusion hiring, many miss the mark because many, don’t have the very professionals in their ranks that may be able to relate to the diverse professionals of color. One can not make inroads when the very companies don’t have relationships with diverse professionals of color. Make the investment to know the diverse professionals of color, look to associations, like Executive Leadership Council and in the legal world, the HNBA, NAPBA,NBA the Lavender Bar, National Association of Women Lawyers, these are the organizations that can give Executive… Read more »