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.

November 12, 2018 – 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.

Research shows that organizations that unleash the potential of diverse talent innovate faster and see better business results. It starts by attracting proven talent with diverse perspectives, experiences and contributions, then building and nurturing an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts are underway at three prominent executive search firms, reflecting both their clients and the workplace they serve to populate: Caldwell, Korn Ferry and Heidrick & Struggles:

Caldwell Launches D&I Advisory Council

At Caldwell, the search firm has just launched a D&I advisory council, aimed at providing strategic insight, external accountability and expert guidance to Caldwell clients in developing diversity & inclusion strategy and programs, and aligning goals, people and processes.

“Countless studies and statistics have been published showing the positive impact that diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace have with respect to performance, creativity and innovation, and superior financial results,” said Chris Beck, the firm’s chief operating officer. “Yet, even in this age of increased awareness, not all companies know how to approach diversity and inclusion programs effectively. There is also a shortage of executives with real-world experience leading initiatives in this rapidly-evolving space, making it easy to see why so many companies are seeking strategic support on their D&I programs.”

The Caldwell D&I council, he said, leverages the firm’s relationships with established sitting executives and renowned thought leaders to deliver bespoke advice tailored to each client’s unique culture and goals. The firm combines multiple advisors with complementary niche expertise to deliver evolving solutions.

New and relevant advisors can be rotated on a client’s council as their program grows and needs change. Available capabilities within diversity and inclusion include D&I strategy and implementation guidance, organizational design, talent acquisition, workplace advancement programs, employee/business resource groups (ERGs/BRGs), global workforce & public policy, coaching and mentoring (CDO/CHRO/management), legal landscape and advice, and education and training programs.

The council also takes on different roles and responsibilities, depending on the client’s needs. From mentoring a high-potential employee promoted into their first chief diversity officer role to consulting with a company who is not ready to commit to a full time D&I role but in need of a D&I strategy roadmap, Caldwell can put together a bespoke council to support the organization’s unique needs.

Caldwell has added three pioneering leaders in the D&I space to a steering committee to oversee the offering and advisory network:

Subha Barry. As president of Working Mother Media, Ms. Subha oversees Working Mother magazine, workingmother.com, Diversity Best Practices and the National Association for Female Executives. Prior to that, she was senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac and MD and global head of D&I at Merrill Lynch. Ms. Subha also serves on select boards aligned with her passions – education, cancer research and the advancement of women and girls.

Dionysia Johnson-Massie. As a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, Ms. Johnson-Massie is a founding member and past co-chair of the firm’s award-winning D&I Council, founding co-chair of its Women’s Leadership Initiative and strategic contributor to its diversity and inclusion practice group. She focuses on federal and international employment discrimination litigation and matters and also strategic compliance issues, including diversity and inclusion strategies with executives and boards. Littler Mendelson has over 1,500 attorneys in 80 offices and is the world’s largest employment and labor law practice representing management.

Todd Sears. As founder and principal of Out Leadership, the global LGBT+ business network trusted by CEOs and multinational companies to drive return on equality, Mr. Sears began his career as an investment banker before moving to Merrill Lynch to become a financial advisor. There, he created the first team of financial advisors on Wall Street to focus on the LGBT+ community and brought $1.5 billion of new assets to the firm. Mr. Sears then moved into diversity leadership, pioneering equality initiatives first at Merrill Lynch and then at Credit Suisse.

“We are focused on our primary purpose, which is to enable organizations to thrive and succeed by helping them identify, recruit and retain their best people,” said John Wallace, chief executive officer of Caldwell. “Businesses in every area of the economy are rethinking how best to use talent and leverage it in different ways to create tangible financial value, and Caldwell is on the forefront of this changing dynamic. We believe this expansion of our capabilities will help deliver long-term value by providing strategic insight, external accountability, and expert guidance in helping our clients to develop strategy and programs, and align goals, people and processes.”

Korn Ferry Names D&I Global Leader

Meanwhile, at Los Angeles-headquartered executive recruiter and leadership consultant Korn Ferry – the largest in the Americas as ranked by Hunt Scanlon Media – the firm appointed Alina Polonskaia as global leader, diversity & inclusion solutions. She will be based in Toronto.

Related: How Collaboration and Diversity in the Workplace Promotes Innovation

“I am very excited about the impact Alina will have for our firm in the D&I space,” said Mark Arian, CEO, advisory, Korn Ferry. “We are committed to helping clients have a positive impact on their workforce with newer and better approaches to diversity and inclusion. The addition of Alina will only help accelerate our efforts in this space.”

Diversity Expert

Ms. Polonskaia joins the firm from global organizational management firm Mercer, where she was a global leader of its diversity & inclusion executive peer networks. As part of her role, she engaged senior HR and D&I executives from Fortune 500 companies across various industries. Before that, she was a principal with Oliver Wyman where she was focused on organizational transformation, and organizational effectiveness.


Diversity Recruiting: Supply, Demand and the Matchmaking Process  

Hunt Scanlon has just 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 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 issue now!


In addition to diversity and inclusion, Ms. Polonskaia specializes in organization design and largescale organizational transformation. She has worked as an advisor with leading organizations in a variety of geographies and industries.

“As part of the Korn Ferry team I help clients synchronize strategy and talent to drive superior performance and design structures, practices, roles, and responsibilities that enable structural and behavioral inclusion,” said Ms. Polonskaia.

Related: Establish a Diversity Baseline and the Money Will Follow

Korn Ferry works with organizations to build workplaces that attract, retain and release the full potential of diverse talent. The firm provides “access to large talent pools by removing bias from role design, recruitment processes and reward practices and creating compelling employee value propositions that appeal to diverse groups,” said the firm. It also works with leaders to create cultures of inclusion where diversity is intrinsically valued, where, in its words, “Every individual is able to contribute fully, and where talented people can advance through the organization regardless of their gender or background.”

A Commitment to Supply Diverse Candidates

Heidrick & Struggles, a chief rival to the other two firms promoting D&I initiatives, has also stepped up its diversity game. The Chicago-headquartered recruiter — the fourth largest as ranked by Hunt Scanlon Media — has reaffirmed its commitment to promoting diversity in board of director searches globally by agreeing that at least 50 percent of the initial slates of board candidates presented to clients will be diverse over the totality of the year.

Developed in collaboration with Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Heidrick’s pledge is designed to increase the number of women and members of underrepresented groups considered by boards. “Now is the time to make public what we have been driving as a firm globally,” said Krishnan Rajagopalan, president and CEO of the firm. “Today, we are making a pledge to our clients, candidates and employees: We commit that a minimum of half of the initial board candidates presented to clients globally on an annual basis will be diverse.”

To accelerate this effort, Heidrick said it will identify and interview diverse director candidates, with an emphasis on prospective directors who have not previously served on a corporate board. Each year, the firm will measure results and seek new ways to broaden its commitment.

Related: Key Activities to Drive Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

“Our firm is committed to fostering a talent landscape as diverse as the world we live in to better serve our clients and represent our employees,” said Mr. Rajagopalan. “As advisors to boards all across the globe, we recognize that identifying a diverse slate of candidates is an imperative and delivers on the deeper purpose and values of our firm.”

The recently released Heidrick & Struggles 2018 Board Monitor found a substantial increase in female directors among incoming directors in Fortune 500 companies, but a lack of growth in the percent of Hispanic and Asian directors. African-American directors are also significantly under-represented on boards.


Women in the Workplace 2018
Companies report that they are highly committed to gender diversity. But that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled. Here is the latest from McKinsey & Company!


“In the past year, 52 percent of our board of director placements in North America have been diverse,” said Bonnie Gwin, vice chairman and co-managing partner of the global CEO and board practice at Heidrick. “This is an opportunity to build momentum globally by presenting the most diverse board options to our clients around the world.”

“Today, there is no talent shortage of diverse and qualified candidates, and there are many exceptional female and ethnically diverse executives who would make highly effective directors,” she said. “Our latest data from the Heidrick & Struggles Board Monitor suggests that boards are shifting their refresh rates and opting to broaden the views, background and overall composition of the board to enhance diversity.”

At Heidrick & Struggles, affinity groups for women, professionals of color and LGBTQ are giving people a chance to share experiences, mentor, advocate and engage internally as well as with external networks. The firm’s regional diversity councils are charged with identifying critical issues on a local level and creating solutions tailored to each challenge and culture. Heidrick said that its “leaders foster and inspire and environment that celebrates difference. Their individual beliefs and passion for diversity reach beyond the firm.”

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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