The role of Executive Search in D&I

Posted on 21st August 2019 | Thought Leadership

The subject of diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become an increasingly prominent feature underpinning employer’s executive talent strategies over the last decade. For some, it is perceived simply as an issue of social responsibility and compliance, but for more and more, it is now recognised as a fundamental pillar of their growth strategy and a surefire way to gain a competitive advantage. Research shows that a diverse and inclusive workforce outperforms competitors, thanks to a wider skillset. 

The role of the executive search partner in helping employers to develop a diverse and inclusive organisation can’t be understated. Studies show that more companies are specifically requesting diverse longlists for roles, and many are insisting on 50:50 gender split longlists. There is however, an important balance that needs to be achieved between delivering diversity in longlists and ‘ticking a box’ simply to create a board or workforce with an equal gender or BAME representation. 

In many organisations, there still exists an observable lack of diversity at board level, with many still holding the belief that it is more difficult for women to reach senior board positions. 

Although these attitudes are slowly changing, the question for our sector remains......

“What can executive search partners do to help their clients overcome an often unconscious bias, that limits the true achievement of objective hiring?”

It’s important to note that diversity comes in many forms and when we talk about diversity in the context of hiring senior directors, we must also refer to sector experience, personality profiles, socioeconomic background as well as the more widely assumed forms of gender, race, age and sexual orientation. The simple fact is that a broader, richer collection of skills, backgrounds and experiences provides far greater innovation and creativity within boards. 

Methods to enable the provision of greater diversity in longlists include placing more emphasis on the relevant skillset and the actual ‘capabilities’ of a candidate, as opposed to being overly- focused on documented experience and hiring candidates from the same industry sector. Some organisations are also reporting benefits from using gender- neutral language in job descriptions, as well as specifically requesting ‘blind’ CVs during the shortlisting procedure. This removes any clues as to gender or ethnicity, and reduces the propensity for unconscious bias. 

Sometimes hiring businesses can struggle to find diversity through their own hiring practises. This is why it’s important to choose a search partner whose approach is innovative and actively seeks to present new ideas, rather than simply executing a CV-search based on a two-page job description. 

The role of the executive search partner should be to empower their client to recruit the best possible team of senior executives to support the aspirations of the business. This means delivering longlists that are both accurate to the brief and diverse of talent, as well as supporting the client to remove bias where appropriate. Achieving a diverse, inclusive workforce is not something that happens by accident. It requires time and focus, but by working with an executive search partner who is in tune with the issue, organisations can embed good practice right throughout their talent strategy and most importantly give themselves the best chance of assembling winning senior teams. 

Joanne McKay - Director of Research, Sherrington Associates

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