Minority report: moving to a truly diverse executive leadership team

04 Nov 2020

Minority report: moving to a truly diverse executive leadership team

Progress on gender does not disguise the need to for a wider debate about other currently ‘invisible’ minority groups and their place on the talent ladder.

The argument for diversity’s positive impact on organisational performance is well-made and widely accepted. In almost all dimensions, the diverse organisation that truly embraces minorities of all kinds does better. That much is clear.

What is less clear in the German context is just who a minority is. Some would argue, there are no black or other minorities, but simply immigrants. Minorities are commonly more associated with the US. But as the response to the Black Lives Matter movement in Germany has illustrated, for example, black minority identity certainly counts here too. The implications of this for appointing leadership and assessing talent cannot be ignored in an attempt to draw as deeply as possible from the country’s talent pool.

There are, after all, 16 million people descended from immigrants here (first and second generation, including mixed heritage, ethnic German repatriates and their descendants).

About 7,000,000 of these 16,000,000 people are foreign residents, defined as those without German citizenship, with the largest ethnic group being Turkish.

Yes, there are non-Germans in top positions, up to one third in DAX30 companies in 2018, but welcoming incomers on a different passport has to work alongside efforts to truly reflect home-bred diversity in all its forms.

Female focus drives current diversity agenda

Historically, the diversity focus has been more on women, and their progress into boardrooms and onto executive committees. Here, the news is mixed. Legal quotas have helped, but the latest reports are that quotas are not being met. The proportion of women on DAX Boards shrunk from 14.7% to 12.8% in the past year.

There were only 23 female managers on the boards of the 30 companies, according to the AllBright Foundation Report of September 2020, down from 29 women a year ago. This actually means the number of women board-members has slipped back to 2017’s level.

Last year, there were only two female DAX Board chairs, one more than the single female in 2018.

This all matters because without a fuller embrace of diversity beyond gender, companies will find themselves running short of executive talent as changes in demographics, technology and society accelerate.

Already, the estimate is that 270 000 SMEs (the backbone of the German economy) will be looking for new managers by the end of this year at the earliest.

Countering unconscious bias in the selection process

As we pointed out recently, unconscious bias in the hiring process can often prevent highly-talented candidates getting an equal shot at prized promotion or position.

Our triggers in this regard can often be visual, so there is potentially a problem with the habit of having photographs on CVs. Or does listing a person’s age or marital status also lead to assumptions that may prejudice a decision?

Blind hiring and blind succession planning policies are examples of initiatives to attract, retain and promote talent from under-represented backgrounds.

These are just some of the complex aspects of the hiring process to be aware of and to be countered.  Superficial aspects of a candidate are just that, superficial. But with deeper analysis and understanding, one can form a data-led picture, of a candidate, backed by any necessary leadership assessment like our LeaderFit methodology.

Talent can come from anywhere

Keeping an open mind is essential in any search process. Zhengrong Liu, the recently-appointed CHRO, and Executive Board Member, of Nivea manufacturer Beiersdorf, is a good example of the fact that talent can truly come from anywhere.  

Who would have said that a young Chinese student arriving in a foreign country with just 500 Dm in his backpack, working part-time as a waiter, could attain such a position?

Add to that the fact that his studies were in humanities, then also education, political science and English studies, and you can see he was no obvious candidate.

As Liu himself said, in a recent article in Hannoversche Allgemeine, he would not have found a job straight away. “A conversation would probably have been necessary.”

Once again, the lesson is that looking beyond the surface pays off in unearthing outstanding talent.

Unlimited thinking unleashes full potential of talent pool

Ultimately, our goal is to help clients specify roles in such a way that delivers the deepest and most diverse pool of talented people. That is what we call the Unlimited approach and it’s  also why we are committed to Germany’s Diversity Charter.

If you don’t consider all of the best that’s out there, how can you be assured you’re really appointing the best person for the job?

To discuss how our unlimited thinking can help your leadership and talent strategy find the best leadership talent, please get in touch.