The Keys to Making Corporate Progress in DEI

DEI has become a cornerstone of the business world over the past decade. The concept of ‘diversity’ has expanded to DEI, or ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ in recent years. Each of these three words has come to represent a different element of the conversation. Francesca d’Arcangeli and Tom Connolly of Kingsley Gate recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss how to implement successful DEI initiatives.

January 5, 2024 – The past few years, every aspect of the business world has been touched by the growth of the diversity, equity, and inclusion field. 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. Francesca d’Arcangeli, COO and Tom Connolly, CHRO of Kingsley Gate, recently joined Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss what it takes to implement successful DEI initiatives.

“There’s sort of two hats that I wear with respect to diversity,” said Mr. Connolly. “I’m effectively the chief diversity officer here. That’s an explicit responsibility in my job description, and that really has three levels of analysis. One is to make sure that we’re doing everything possible for Kingsley Gate to be diverse and inclusive. Second, is to make sure that our training and development really helps all of our partners, researchers, and recruiters understand their role in helping our clients with that objective. And then thirdly, we operate Ignite AI, which is a division of Kingsley Gate focused on the high velocity, high volume search at the bottom of the career ladder. And that’s a business that reports up to me.”

“We haven’t seen people leave their jobs, it’s actually that many organizations will be looking for people who can help them navigate their approach to DEI and whilst simultaneously maintaining the DEI agenda put in place,” said Ms. d’Arcangeli. “But there will be implications in terms of how companies continue to ensure they’ve got that flow of diverse candidates coming through and how they enable them to be identified and brought into the company without the same pipeline of diversity that affirmative action may have provided.”

Mr. Connolly notes that he would add two points. “While the U.S. is our largest country operation, we have 30 others, so we have a multitude of stages of development around DEI,” he said. “If you actually read the opinion, what they say is that you cannot exercise affirmative action on the basis of race alone. Nevertheless, you can exercise affirmative action in respect to disadvantaged communities where the economics don’t work for being able to go to an elite school in the U.S. I think the best thing that we can do as an executive search firm, in respect of what’s happened at colleges with the Supreme Court’s ruling, is to be able to create equitable career opportunities for people. So, the affirmative action ruling doesn’t change our mission with respect to DEI at all. It may change the way with which we have to look at disadvantaged communities, to be a more nuanced and multi-dimensional view.”

Presenting Qualified Candidates

Some of the technology that we’re building here is really focused on moving from traditional searches towards algorithmic searches, using AI and other tools, not to make decisions, but to be able to reach the right communities and make sure that we’re presenting qualified candidates from every possible corner, according to Mr. Connolly. “The progress that’s been made in tech over the last couple of years has given us a real opportunity to do find a broader reach of candidates,” he said. “We’re also seeing in our clients a commitment to DEI strategies involving more than just content – How many workshops can you run? How many mentoring programs?– as well as reexamining the underlying structure of the way they do things to see if there’s inherent biases in the way they recruit, for example, that might limit the candidate pool in some way. We’re also working with several of our clients now on building in algorithms that reach every community and different ways of presenting candidates so that there is a more equitable approach there. And I think a lot of the tech that we’re developing here has a positive influence on that.”

Francesca d’Arcangeli is chief operating officer at Kingsley Gate. In this role, she is responsible for worldwide operations. The regions, search operations, and human resource functions report directly to her. Ms. d’Arcangeli has over 25 years of leadership experience and is a leader in international executive search. She has a track record in multi-territory and international searches for senior cross-functional roles, including board, C-suite and operational leaders, particularly in Industrial manufacturing, heavy industries, and FMCG.

“I think it’s important for leaders to keep it on the agenda and look at how they’re enabling CDO’s as well as individuals at the organization to be successful,” said Ms. d’Arcangeli. “It’s about retention and helping talent actually thrive in the organizations that they’re in. It’s a self-perpetuating exercise, enabling people of diverse backgrounds to not just be accepted, but also have a journey through the companies.”

Companies have programs that are about mentorship, they have buddy systems, they have a facility to talk to people off grid to be able to have a cohort of support and the support network, there are all sorts of different mechanisms that can manifest itself, Ms. d’Arcangeli explains. “And actually, it’s important for candidates to ask the question, what does the company have in place to support them and help them grow and help people to be successful,” she said. “And again, it’s about really enabling a culture that can allow DEI to really thrive. There’s a lot of talk. And what we need to do is to make sure that there is the mechanisms in place to enable people to be successful.”

There are some countries where they’re pretty far behind on this issue, according to Mr. Connolly. “Of course, there are some countries still where we operate, where the LGBTQ community is just not recognized and, in fact, is still criminalized,” he said. “There are places where there are structural barriers and cultural barriers that are still pretty high for people of color, disability, different nationalities, and different religions. We think it’s our responsibility, if we choose to operate in those countries to do everything we can to move the country’s perspective forward on that. What we find is often when the demographics begin to shift, and there are real talent shortages and real challenges, then there’s an opportunity to fill that gap with someone who’s more diverse, so we just have to make sure that we stand at the ready to do that.”

Related: The Importance of Setting Proper Diversity Targets

“We know that it happens, which is why we have to go after multiple data sources,” Mr. Connolly said. “The aggregate pool of information that we use to make sure that we don’t miss has 750 million records. So yes, if you focus on just LinkedIn, you’re going to get technical and professional folks at a certain level in their career, and it’s not going to be at a level where you’re going to be able to engage every community. We cast a really broad net with our algorithms and go far further than that, when we’re doing those kinds of search engagements for our clients. Otherwise, you will miss those communities.”

With private equity and VC firms, how are they doing these days when it comes to DEI? “I don’t know if you’ve seen in London, but the PE community has actually launched a program, which is 1000 Black interns really driving the agenda for not only their own investment community, but also the portfolio companies,” said Ms. d’Arcangeli. “So there’s purposeful movement to really have that top of the agenda in PE and VC hires.”

Tom Connolly is the chief human resources officer for Kingsley Gate. He leads human resources globally and drives firmwide global human capital strategy. Mr. Connolly was previously the CEO at GattiHR, where he was instrumental in expanding the firm’s geographic footprint and its practice areas to include executive search, workforce analytics and HR technology and advisory services.

“I spent the first 25 years of my career inside investment banking, and I saw them being the sort of tip of the spear on moving old line investment banks, where it was all about pedigree to understanding if a trader can do the job, if a salesperson can do the job, then that’s the person that you want,” said Mr. Connolly. “That’s the asset. As VC and private equity developed inside those organizations, and then became independent organizations in their own right, they really have led the way on having diversity in not only their own firms, but in the operating companies that they invest in.”

Mr. Connolly also says that he thinks we very definitely see there was there was an astuteness in diverse candidates, largely born of experience, that they can read a company at a very subtle and nuanced level. “They really get a feel for the tilt of the organization,” he said. “A lot of organizations have built good front end pipelines for attracting more diverse candidates, because you can do that just by hunting in the right places. The real challenge, though, is that when that diverse candidate gets there, making sure their cultural practices are going to be respected. Companies have to ask themselves, are candidates going to be appreciated for their differences? Or is the whole idea here to just sort of normalize them into a single funnel? When companies are focused on experiential diversity as much as demographic diversity, they get better outcomes. When experiential diversity is recognized, candidates feel that in the interview process, and are more inclined to join a company.”

“Our job is also to push our clients on what their DEI approach is,” Ms. d’Arcangeli says. “How are they enabling candidates to be successful? What are the signals that demonstrate that short, medium, and long term, so we can help our candidates understand that as well. It’s a journey companies are on a journey but it’s about enabling that journey to take place as successfully as possible.”

Related: Achieving Diversity in Private Equity

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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