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 seeing 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.
This is encouraging: companies are making an effort.
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.
The issue with the current state of things is that most companies are looking outward, without first looking inward.
Before asking for lists of diverse candidates, making diverse hires, and throwing them into the fray, 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, we often help our clients establish where they truly are on their DEI journey versus 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.
2. How will you support diverse hires once they’re on board?
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, 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.
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 here in Canada or the NACD Directorship Certification in the US, 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. 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. Are there career paths for diverse hires and leaders, or are their options limited? For instance, 32% of Chief Legal Officers (CLO) 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?
Hiring and retaining talent from equity deserving groups requires changes and strategic effort at every level of your business. But even asking and thoughtfully considering the above questions puts you ahead of the pack.
If you’d like help thinking through where you are in relation to your diversity goals, and how you can move forward, reach out. We are here for you.