The Evolution of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Executive Search

Ruben Moreno of Blue Rock Search recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to look into DEI trends in executive search. He discusses how economic uncertainty and quiet quitting have impacted the executive search firm’s ability to complete searches. Mr. Moreno also includes his perspective on building an inclusive culture and how that ties into inclusion and belonging.

July 27, 2023 – Over the past few years, every aspect of the business world has been touched by the growth of the diversity, equity, and inclusion field. As organizations attempt to move towards more expansive definitions of belonging and culture, finding the right leaders is critical for shaping the future, according to Ruben Moreno, HR practice lead for Blue Rock Search. “Therefore, DEI must be an ongoing consideration when it comes to executive search, and leadership must take an ongoing, active role in DEI practice,” he said. “As many DEI practitioners know, DEI efforts must have strong buy-in from the top – which makes it especially relevant when it comes to executive search. Fortunately, it seems that more leaders than ever before are seeing the value in DEI.”

According to recent research by Culture Amp, 81 percent of HR and DEI professionals believe that DEI initiatives are beneficial to their organizations. In fact, 71 percent reported that their organizations are “focusing on doing more than what is required for compliance purposes,” including steps such as employee resource groups, auditing processes, and providing allyship training.

However, Mr. Moreno notes that the same professionals reported something of a lack of clarity when it comes to DEI initiatives, how they’re executed, and who’s in charge. Only 30 percent of surveyed HR professionals hold a DEI-specific title, and just under 40 percent or organizations reported having DEI-specific roles. “The implication, of course, is that many organizations have not yet pulled DEI out of the general HR segment, whether due to lack of support, lack of understanding, or lack of resources,” Mr. Moreno said. This is further proven by responses to Culture Amp’s survey regarding the actual implementation of initiatives: Only 34 percent agreed that they have the resources to support DEI initiatives, and only 27 percent said they know how to measure the success of these plans.

A major part of DEI work is about ensuring that diverse talent is valued in the workplace and has a fair chance to rise through the ranks into leadership positions, according to Mr. Moreno. “Culture Amp’s survey reported that only 17 percent of responding organizations have a formal mentorship or sponsorship program for employees from historically underrepresented groups,” he said. “This gap can lead to a lack of obvious talent pipeline for succession planning and for leadership and executive roles. It’s important for companies to be aware of this potential pitfall and address it. Internal practices, such as starting mentorship programs, are important, but it’s equally important to consider diverse sourcing when choosing an external recruiting partner. Seventy percent of organizations surveyed reported that they have already implemented recruiting practices that specifically include diverse sourcing, which is a step in the right direction.”

Economic Uncertainty and DEI

“The last few years have been a constant stream of uncertainty, especially around finance and employment,” said Mr. Moreno. “The work-life challenges have been hitting women and people of color especially hard, with pre-existing inequalities exacerbated by stressful economic conditions. In turn, DEI practices today must keep these factors in mind and work to find solutions.”

Ruben Moreno leads the Blue Rock HR executive search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of chief HR officers and their teams. As a subject matter expert and specialized executive recruiter, he has been dedicated to partnering with his clients to identify, assess, and recruit the best human resources leadership talent available for over 12 years. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, demographic differences already create a divide that disadvantages women and people of color. Consider the following statistics:

• Women and people of color are more likely than white men to be single parents.

• Forty-one percent of black families are headed by single mothers, 25 percent of Hispanic families, 13 percent of white families, and 11 percent of Asian American families are also led by single moms.

• Prior to the pandemic, the median black or Hispanic family earned 61 percent of the median white family’s earnings and was twice as likely to live in poverty – numbers that have remained almost the same since the 1970s.

“Compounding this issue is the fact that these groups are less likely (for reasons of family structure and economic situation) to have resources available, such as reliable childcare, which allow them to be professionally successful,” Mr. Rubin said. “In turn, this affects how they are perceived at the office: they are less likely to be seen as reliable;  therefore they are less likely to be promoted. In a cruel paradox, these are the people who are most in need of the benefits that tend to accompany career advancement, but they can’t advance because they lack support resources, trapping them in a vicious cycle.”

Mr. Moreno says this shines a light on how economic uncertainty and inequality overlaps with other forms of inequality. “Informal perks are often bestowed upon the favored or the highest earners, while professional support resources are more likely to be offered in-office jobs rather than front-line workers,” he said. “In fact, supervisors may actively view low-level workers as more replaceable, putting their job stability in jeopardy.”

Related: Successfully Hiring Your First Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader

In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that 52 percent of non-white adults who quit a job in 2021 cited a lack of flexibility as a main cause, compared to just 38 percent of white adults; black women are almost twice as likely as other groups to quit a job due to childcare issues. However, flexibility can be a “toe-in” way to address DEI concerns. Offering flexible time increases the share of management jobs held by white women by 4.7 percent; black men by 4.5 percent; black women by 4.9 percent; Hispanic men by 10.8 percent; Hispanic women by 3.5 percent; Asian men by 6.6 percent, and Asian women by 9.1 percent. “In other words, economics are a DEI issue, and they need to be treated as such,” Mr. Moreno said.

The Rise of Quiet Quitting

You’ve certainly heard about it by now: “quiet quitting” is the new workplace phenomenon that has some businesses worried. “The idea is simple: workers no longer go above and beyond, but instead stick solely to the existing parameters of their job descriptions – no more, no less,” Mr. Moreno said. According to recent Gallup polling, 32 percent of workers report being actively engaged compared to 18 percent who are actively disengaged. That leaves a full 50 percent of the workforce somewhere in the middle, between fully engaged and fully disengaged – some of them are likely to be “quiet quitters.”

How Diversity Initiatives Have Become More Prevalent
There is a quiet revolution taking place that is affecting every company that is looking for transformational leadership. So what is that revolution? Ruben Moreno, HR practice lead for Blue Rock Search, explains that one in which candidates are saying: “I am no longer going to take full responsibility for moving a company’s DEI initiatives forward. I am no longer going to trust promises of change unless I see real evidence of commitment. You say diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of your mission, and yet, there is no evidence you are actually living these values.”

Mr. Moreno says that the demographics of this shift are complicated, but worth considering. Gallup found that the percentage of engaged employees under the age of 35 dropped six percentage points since 2019. During that same three-year span, the percentage of actively disengaged employees increased by six points. Younger workers have also dropped more than 10 points in the percentage who “strongly agree that someone cares about them, someone encourages their development, and they have opportunities to learn and grow.”

“Young people may not be the only quiet quitters, but they’re certainly feeling disengaged and undervalued in the workforce,” Mr. Moreno said. “How does that connect with DEI, you might wonder? For marginalized workers who already bear significant emotional labor burdens, disengagement can be a reaction to their existing burdens, contributing to quiet quitting.”

Building a Positive Corporate Culture

Making DEI a cornerstone of corporate culture doesn’t happen overnight – and it doesn’t happen through forced, rote measures, according to Mr. Moreno. When the Harvard Business Review analyzed DEI efforts, they found that mandatory DEI trainings have actually been linked to lower levels of representation at leadership levels for black, Latinx, and Asian employees of all genders; the same is true for white women. Why? “Because of backlash from existing leaders, which is an oft-seen reaction to organizational and social movements related to equity,” Mr. Moreno said.

Mr. Moreno says that forceful approaches can even hurt the candidates they’re ostensibly there to help. The Harvard Business Review also discovered that when diversity is mentioned as a reason for hiring, people actually rate candidates from marginalized groups lower, even if they themselves are from the same group. Similarly, marginalized employees report a lower sense of belonging when the “case for diversity” is presented as something done for positive business outcomes.

“Instead of focusing on individuals, which is the source of much of the backlash, frame it as systemic shifts,” Mr. Moreno said. “For instance, talk about hiring processes instead of hiring managers. Collect data, emphasize fairness and benefits, and, most of all, celebrate the ‘wins’ as they come – and they will. Understanding DEI from a systemic level also addresses some of those cultural concerns that might prevent workers from taking advantage of benefits they need. Even when organizations offer flexibility, workers are often too nervous to ask for it out of fear they’ll be penalized in overt or covert ways.”

Instead, it’s critical to create a culture where flexibility and balance are incorporated, expected, and even celebrated, from entry-level workers all the way up to the C-suite, according to Mr. Moreno. “The same solutions that make flex time and parental leave more possible, like cross-training, also have other major benefits such as increased employee retention, interest, and agility,” he said. “A study of GAP employees found that offering and using flex time increased sales (by five percent) and productivity (by seven percent). Ultimately, creating a positive, inclusive culture is not a single event, but a journey.”

Mr. Moreno also says that leveraging technology and a systematic approach to obtaining employee feedback are both critical to success along the way as organizations must remain agile enough to quickly respond to the changing needs of their people. “Immediate success is not guaranteed, and there will absolutely be learning moments on your journey,” he said. “Arriving at the DEI&B strategy, roadmap, and specific policies that work for your organization and people will take time, a willingness to change and adapt, and leadership courage, but it is well worth the effort. After all, what do you have to lose by making your people feel like they belong?”

Related: Diversity and Inclusion Trends for 2023

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments