What to Ask Yourself Before Making a Diversity Hire and How Data Can Help

There are encouraging signs that diversity, equity, and inclusion is becoming a key factor for companies looking for new talent. Challenges remain, however. In a new report, Odgers Berndtson suggests that businesses ask three key questions early on to improve their efforts: Where are you on your DEI journey, really? How will you support diverse hires once they’re on board? And why are you making a diverse hire in the first place?  

July 7, 2022 – Anyone who works in executive search right now has seen, and will continue to see, a push for more lists of diverse candidates for open roles. We are also witnessing organizations start to mandate diversity numbers as a benchmark for DEI success, and seeing an influx of diverse candidates at the executive level as a result, according to a recent report from Odgers Berndtson’s Ryna Young.

“This is encouraging: Companies are making an effort,” said Ms. Young. “And yet, if you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of years, you know diverse candidates still have a lot stacked against them. Board representation is still very low when it comes to both gender and equity deserving groups. COVID has added extra barriers and stress for women executives, exemplified by the numbers of women dropping out (and staying out) of the workforce, and companies are struggling to retain the diverse talent they are hiring.”

Before asking for lists of diverse candidates, making diverse hires, and throwing them into the fray, Odgers Berndtson says to ask yourself these three important questions:

1. Where are you on your DEI journey, really? 

This is a tough question, because it’s hard to be honest about where your organization is as opposed to where you’d like it to be. But organizations can’t make a plan to get somewhere new unless they know where they’re starting. As search practitioners and executive advisors, Odgers Berndtson often helps clients establish where they truly are on their DEI journey vs. where they think they are. “Before taking on a mandate in which the desire is to hire from an equity deserving group, let’s understand the readiness at all levels of the organization,” said the firm.

2. How will you support diverse hires once they’re on board? 

The Odgers Berndtson report notes that organizations often lose diverse hires due to lack of strategic support. This very likely explains why there are half as many women CEOs who remain in the position after the first year in the job.

Before making diverse hires, Odgers Berndtson says to think about how best to onboard, integrate, and support those leaders, especially if they are first-time leaders. “There are plenty of systemic barriers, but there are also ways to provide this support if you are thoughtful about it,” the report said. “Investing in new leaders through integration coaching and inclusive leadership coaching can help create a healthy and inclusive environment for diverse leaders. Sending first-time board members to education programs, like the ICD.D designation in Canada or the NACD Directorship Certification in the U.S., can support a leader with skills for life. Even providing a buddy system or executive chair sponsorship for a diverse leader can do a lot to help them be successful.”

3. Why are you making a diverse hire in the first place?  

When it comes to making diverse hires, even well-meaning companies often fail to consider the perspective and future opportunities of those they are hiring. Odgers Berndtson says to stop and ask yourself: Why are you hiring diverse candidates? Are you providing real opportunities and growth for diverse hires? Or are you serving yourself?

“It’s been shown time and again that more diversity has big business benefits, but we need to make sure being part of our business has benefits for diverse candidates, too,” said the Odgers Berndtson report. Are there career paths for diverse hires and leaders, or are their options limited? For instance, 32 percent of chief legal officers or general counsel are black women—the role traditionally does not provide pathways to COO or CEO positions.

Development of succession planning strategies for equity deserving high-potentials within the organization is important for retention and long-term diversity. How are you making sure diverse leaders are finding their way to the top of your organization?

Related: Achieving Diversity in Private Equity

“Hiring and retaining talent from equity deserving groups requires changes and strategic effort at every level of your business,” said Odgers Berndtson. “But even asking and thoughtfully considering the above questions puts you ahead of the pack.”

Using Data

If we are to make progress when it comes to diversity in leadership, there is a clear need for organizations to more consistently use unbiased data in the hiring and promotions processes, according to a separate report from Odgers Berndtson’s Robert Satterwhite. One way to do this is to deploy assessments that are job-related, structured, and metrics-driven.

Odgers Berndtson offers three actions you can include in your talent strategy to improve retention and promotion of diverse talent:

1. Identify and assess against job-related competencies. 

Identify requisite competencies for all roles, especially those that are mission-critical, and develop/identify valid assessments to measure these competencies. Odgers Berndtson notes that this step ensures that interviewers are focusing on those competencies most critical to job success, which means that they are less likely to be distracted (or biased) by factors that are non-job-related.

2. Train your managers in assessments. 

An organization’s diversity plan is only as good as the data they are using to hire and promote, according to the Odgers Berndtson report. “Organizations should train managers to use structured assessments as part of hiring and succession planning efforts, including how to ask questions, take notes, score candidates and, as necessary, calibrate across interviewers,” the study said.

3. Use data to inform onboarding and development for diverse hires. 

So you’re collecting data during the interview process? But, how are you using it after the hire? “Often, particularly when it comes to diverse talent, high turnover is a result of poor onboarding,” the Odgers Berndtson report said. “Organizations need to leverage data collected during the interview process to inform onboarding and early development for both external hires and promotions.”

Research has consistently demonstrated that following this approach leads to new hires who are not only more qualified and more diverse, but also longer tenured and more engaged and committed to their new organization

“If organizations want to reduce bias, achieve greater diversity and, most importantly, retain their diverse talent, data is key,” the Odgers Berndtson report said. “And assessments are a consistent and impactful tool that will provide actionable information from the moment you hire a diverse candidate, to the day they step into the C-suite.”

Related: The Importance of Setting Proper Diversity Targets

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

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