How Executive Search Professionals Can Hold Their Clients To A Higher DEI Standard
Carrie Trabue is the founder and president of Carrington Legal Search and author of “Blooming.”
All across the country, companies are embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a phenomenal change, but like all great changes, it requires a shift in thinking that can sometimes create challenges for employers.
While many business leaders understand and embrace diversity, they often find inclusion more difficult. However, the two go hand in hand. It’s only by bringing people from a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, upbringings, educational backgrounds and lifestyles together within an organization that diversity in the workplace becomes meaningful.
That’s where executive search professionals come in. Our role is to find a slate of the most talented individuals available so that business leaders can find the right person for the job. However, beyond that, we must drill down and figure out where the business as a whole is coming up short — in terms of talent and skill, yes, but also in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion — then help our clients fill those gaps.
By helping business leaders understand the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion, actively supporting DEI within our clients’ companies and focusing on finding top talent, we as executive search professionals can work behind the scenes to make a difference for employers and employees. We can hold our clients to a higher standard, and in the end, create a win-win for everyone.
Based on my experience, here’s how.
The Benefits Of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
There is no question that companies that embrace diversity perform better than those that don’t. A Boston Consulting Group study, for example, found that companies with higher-than-average diversity on their leadership teams had 19% higher revenue than those with lower-than-average diversity.
Why? Because greater diversity leads to greater innovation, and greater innovation leads to more adaptable, stronger companies.
However, unless there is equity and inclusiveness, diversity loses its power. If people are relegated to separate groups — groups that are defined and pointed out — everything backfires. It doesn’t matter what the basis for the groups are, either; the end result is the same. At best, people don’t bring their unique skills and viewpoints together in the name of innovation. At worst, people hold themselves separate from anyone who isn’t in their group, which eventually spirals into a culture of alienation and isolation. When that happens, not only does it kill morale and engagement, it kills innovation.
Engage In Open And Honest Conversations
Executive search professionals are uniquely suited to help foster the kind of DEI necessary for successful innovation. While we can’t force leaders to embrace diversity, equity or inclusion, we can help them move in that direction.
It all starts with having an open, honest conversation with the client. What do they need? Where are their gaps? Do they already have a diverse, inclusive team, or are they skewed heavily toward one type of person or another?
The best executive search professionals are passionate about presenting the best talent to their clients. They are committed to supporting their clients in becoming more innovative and adaptable. They are also highly aware that achieving these goals starts with authentic conversations.
Present A Slate Of Individuals
Participating in open conversations with clients is a great first step, but the work doesn’t end there. Once you have a better sense of what your client needs, it’s your job to make sure you have a slate of people from a variety of backgrounds that you can present to them. The key, of course, is that you cannot put diverse individuals forward just to check off a box. Each candidate you present must excel.
I have been asked by prospective candidates — on more than one occasion — if I am serious about them as a candidate or if my only reason for interviewing them was to make sure I had a diverse candidate on my slate. Far too often, we think of diversity as a metric. That has to change. As executive search professionals, it behooves us to authentically commit to diversity, equity and inclusion and to foster that same commitment with our clients.
Represent All Groups Equally
When most people think about DEI in the workplace, they focus on the importance of hiring people who have historically been underrepresented. While that is crucial, as executive search professionals, we must ensure we represent all groups equally and guide our clients to do the same.
For example, I recently had a client who refused to look at any resumes for white males. That is illegal. Employers cannot eliminate anyone on the basis of their race, sex, national origin and so on. I had multiple conversations with the client about the blatant discrimination they were engaging in. Finally, it reached a point where I told them that if they refused to consider people on the basis of their race or gender, I would terminate my representation of them.
As difficult as these conversations can be, it’s part of our responsibility as executive search professionals to have them. We have an obligation to hold our clients to a high standard, and if they engage in discrimination, we must be willing to take a stand, educate them about what they’re doing wrong and provide guidance about how to move forward in a legal, inclusive way.
Become Part Of The Team
Promoting and supporting DEI in our clients’ businesses is about doing what’s best for them and the people they employ — not just today, but long term. If you focus on the short-term monetary gain that comes from quickly placing someone in a role, you lose the chance to help your clients build their teams and their companies.
If, on the other hand, you take a long-term view, you can approach your search holistically. You can work with clients to determine what they need and what’s lacking, then create a diverse slate of the most talented individuals available to fill those needs.
By taking this approach to DEI, executive search professionals can become an integral part of the hiring team and hold their clients to a higher, more inclusive standard.