Why a One-Search Diversity Strategy Often Fails

When one search becomes the embodiment of an organization’s diversity commitment, it often spells problems. A new report by ExecSearches offers guidance on how to implement a better approach and train your personnel for success.

May 17, 2021 – Play to win and when it comes to diversity, winners take all, according to a new report by Karen Alphonse, search solutions leader and executive coach with ExecSearches. “Organizations that manage diversity well will reap many benefits: increased productivity, employee satisfaction and creativity,” she said. “Their messaging and brands will resonate with best practices. Typically, where diversity hiring is well-practiced, a wide cross-section of employees feel acknowledged, valued and empowered to participate in the organization’s governance and growth.”

In terms of the executive search world, diversity relates directly to each organization’s internal dynamics. “All too often, though, organizations front-load their diversity expectations, demanding that one search/position reverse years of random hiring, limited outreach and inconsistent promotion practices,” Ms. Alphonse said. She asks have you ever been in the position where one search seems to carry the weight of an organization’s diversity initiatives?  “I have,” she said. “It feels risky and it is. One-search diversity (OSD) is like playing lotto with the odds stacked against success. When one search becomes the embodiment of an organization’s diversity commitment, it usually means that many healthy elements are missing from that organization’s culture.”

Often, planning – if any – tends to be short-term and based on the whims of a few. According to Ms. Alphonse, the culture may also be personality-driven, focused on a particular group of cliques, or simply oblivious to the benefits of widening the circle and increasing participation from a variety of competent players.

“OSD itself can be toxic, forcing decision-makers to pit capable people against each other, exposing gaps in the organization’s hierarchy, and burdening gifted candidates with the weight of meeting criteria that should rightfully be spread across the entire organization, not concentrated in one role, one candidate, one leader,” she said. “To reverse or avoid OSD, set things up to engage a broad grouping of candidates for each search. The most important diversity principle is breadth. Make sure that you have conversations with a wide pool, drawn for various regions, colleges, economic groups, ethnic affiliations, religions and lifestyles.”

Alongside aggressive search strategies, Ms. Alphonse says to train your existing personnel for success. “Promote fairly and systematically,” she said. “Review hiring practices regularly to ensure that your intake matches your needs. Keep networking consistently to recruit emerging talent from a variety of backgrounds, genders, religious beliefs, political views, and lifestyles. Focus on the long-term impact of making smart choices about hiring exceptional people.”

Ms. Alphonse offers these measures to consider doing to make diversity a reality:

  • Develop a long-term diversity plan; this includes succession. planning and building long-term relationships with talented professionals.
  • Be thoughtful about roles, titles and cross-training.
  • Reinforce diversity; make it a mandate at every level of the organization.
  • Support customized, consistent training.
  • Promote regularly, from within based upon merit and output.
  • Audit, review and upgrade your diversity initiatives periodically.

Diversity requires discipline and strategic action, according to Ms. Alphonse. “It will not materialize overnight, without thought and effort,” she said. “Leaving diversity to one search result will leave you vulnerable to internal and external factors. Each search comes with its own challenges. Certain career path have excluded identifiable groups because of historical barriers. Although we are past that in our thinking, it will take a while for hiring to reflect the depth and breadth of talent available across many groups.”

Karen Alphonse joined ExecSearches to spearhead the firm’s search consulting practice. Most recently, she served as a strategic advisor, confidant, and career coach to thought-leaders in financial services, legal, education and mission-driven organizations. Ms. Alphonse identifies talent through social media, job postings, referrals, and targeted research. Her interactions with hundreds of candidates and executives has shaped her creative interview techniques and ability to conduct behavioral assessments, take expert references and understand candidates’ strengths. 

Ms. Alphonse noted that in this country, in 2021, it is quite likely that you will be challenged to meet the diversity mandate in every search. Nevertheless, continue to source widely, apply hiring criteria equitably, give opportunities to those who are willing to learn additional skills and show the potential for advancement with appropriate coaching and support. “Look carefully at non-traditional learning institutions, careers and sectors for talent,” she said. “Rely on trusted gatekeepers to keep you informed.  Build relationships with all kinds of colleges, vocational and training facilities. Talent is scattered in many places.”

By widening the funnel, you will broaden and deepen your talent reserves, resulting in more interesting, thought-provoking, talented pools. “Over time, these measures will transform your organization,” said Ms. Alphonse. “Opportunity shifts people, cultures and organizations. Transform your organization by making diversity an active commitment rather than the result of any single search. By hiring diversely at the entry-level, training talented employees for leadership and promoting from within, you will set in motion the equitable practices needed to nourish a diverse workforce. This will benefit the organization with a rich range of perspectives, talents, training and energy.”

Effective Diversity Planning

Many organizations now realize how critical diversity is to high performance. The data compels organization to adopt more inclusive hiring strategies. “However, the realization that it is beneficial does not mean that it will become a reality overnight,” Ms. Alphonse said. “Time is a critical factor. The systems and thinking that have created non-diverse hiring, retention, and promotion practices will need to shift before we see diversity operating in full swing. As the country becomes more diverse, all hiring will, in essence, become diverse hiring.”

Related: To Improve Diversity, Recruiting Sector Must Set a New Course

Ms. Alphonse noted that until we get to that point, we can do many things to fill our executive, middle management, and entry-level positions with exceptional people of all races, religious persuasions, lifestyles and physical abilities. Some measures are common sense. Others require investments of time and resources.

Advertise Widely for Each Opportunity 

Ms. Alphonse stresses the use of social media, blogs, LinkedIn, listservs, job boards, key professional organizations and word-of-mouth to publicize opportunities that arise at every level of your organization. “Go beyond the obvious places and place your positions wherever professionals and their families are likely to see and read them,” she said. “Talk up your opportunities. Speak about them wherever you go. You never know how people connect and share information. So, share your information broadly and widely.”

The New Business Imperative: Diversity & Inclusion
With research proving that companies with more ethnically and culturally diverse teams increase their productivity, reduce turnover and inch up profits, Glocap Search, in response, recently created a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practice. The recruiting firm joins a chorus of rivals eyeing the DE&I space. “Since 1997, we have been a trusted advisor to many of the best investment management firms and multi-industry partners with our hands-on approach,” said Annette Krassner, CEO of Glocap Search.

Keep in mind that certain mission-driven organizations work with constituencies that belong to very specific language groups. In addition to English, consider positioning critical opportunities in languages that reflect the client populations you serve.

Provide Strong Internal Training Programs

Often, good leaders get promoted into their roles. “By having healthy diversity at every level of the organization, you increase the chance of leaders reflecting diversity –whether it is economic diversity or religious affiliation,” Ms. Alphonse said. “If every employee receives world-class training – including leadership development – you will increase the retention and promotion of all employees. This will mean that you also retain and promote employees who will reflect the diversity of your organization and the populations that it serves,” she said. “Although not explicitly diversity-focused, any program or practice that enhances employee productivity and leadership potential ultimately serves as a diversity driver. The more qualified professionals who reach certain levels of career achievement, the more diverse the resulting leadership pool.”

Build Realistic Expectations 

Because certain groups have not traditionally participated in specific kinds of leadership activities, organizations may have to wait a while to fulfill all of their diversity hiring needs, according to Ms. Alphonse. “Until very recently, the army has been a significant training ground for groups who often experienced exclusion in other quarters,” she said. “Thus, you may find your logistics, finance, and even medical experts in military ranks, if you seek a diverse leader. Having an open mind and being willing to see talent in a variety of formats will help to identify leaders in unexpected places. In the meantime, acknowledge that the process may take longer than one hiring cycle. Avoid putting the pressure on one search or series of searches to bring diversity full tilt to your organization.”

This is an unrealistic expectation and could backfire. Ms. Alphonse notes that instead of helping diversity, the pressure and frequent compromises might actually taint your search process, bringing fracture–points into the open. “Although diversity may be critical, it is not always urgent,” she said. “And, putting too much stress on immediacy may fragment organizations already stressed with post-COVID recovery issues. Be flexible as you build the framework for broader, deeper outreach and the kind of training that will give your organization internal resilience, look for unexpected opportunities to expand your organization’s networks and reach.”

Sometimes, to build robust relationships within a new community, you may have to participate in activities that are not directly on point with your mission and vision. “You may be a health services organization,” Ms. Alphonse said. “In the interim, you may need to build alliances with education and social service organizations to reach diverse groups more consistently. These apparent detours and side tours will put you in the position to meet and interface with many more gatekeepers. In the end, these relationships will help you to reach and to recruit a broader, deeper pool of truly diverse talent.

Related: Improving Diversity Starts with a Culture Check

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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