The Executive Search for U.S. President and the Reckoning
During the Presidential Campaign, I posed a question. “Politics aside, what candidate would we hire in a hypothetical executive search for U.S. President?” The question is meant to viewed through a business lens, not partisan politics. It asks each of us to imagine being tasked with selecting the next President based on actual qualifications.
SInce then, We, the People, elected a candidate who, by any objective business measure, is wholly unqualified for the job. (See below.) I don’t know of a single CEO or board member who would ever have considered hiring Donald Trump into any executive-level role, much less that of Chief Executive of the United States. Not a one.
Seasoned CEOs know full well that the cost of a bad executive hire is profound. Companies lose opportunities as they ignore mounting threats. Morale plummets. Employees jump ship (something American citizens cannot do). Revenues and profitability spiral downward until ultimately the underperforming leader is shown the door.
Technically, We, the People, cannot fire President Trump. Consequently, the list of all the horrible things he’s done since becoming President continues to grow. Yet his popularity is waning. Business leaders who once supported him are speaking out. There are signs that the reckoning has begun.
Presidential Job Requirements
The must-have requirements for U.S. President are mandated in Article II of the U.S. Constitution:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
The U.S. Constitution establishes citizenship and age requirements for the role of U.S. President. But that’s it. That means virtually any adult American with designs on the U.S. Presidency — including a convicted felon — can run for the highest office in the land. No college degree, no public service experience, and no leadership abilities are required.
A position description for a corporate CEO would never set the bar so low. Yet that low threshold is precisely how Donald J. Trump became President. Had this been treated like an executive search for U.S. President, we would not be in this pickle. The executive recruiter would have written a candidate specification describing the ideal Presidential candidate. The candidate specification would be based on the work experience of former U.S. Presidents.
Presidential Work Experience
Of our Country’s 44 Presidents before Donald Trump:
- 26 Presidents have been lawyers
- 22 Presidents had military experience; 9 were Generals in the US Army
- 18 Presidents previously served as U.S. Representatives
- 17 Presidents previously served as state Governors
- 16 Presidents previously served as U.S. Senators
- 14 Presidents previously served as Vice-President
- 8 Presidents previously served as Cabinet Secretaries; 6 as Secretary of State
- 7 Presidents had previous experience in foreign service.
Presidential Candidate Specification
Every single President has had a track record of experience in civil service or the military. In addition to building knowledge and competency, public service experience demonstrates that the candidate is actually interested in doing that kind of work. For those reasons, public service should be a requirement in an executive search for U.S. President.
College Educated, Juris Doctor Preferred
The critical thinking and analytical abilities cultivated by higher education are essential competencies in our increasingly complex world.A Bachelor’s degree should be a minimum requirement in an executive search for U.S. President. Because most of Presidents have been lawyers, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) would be preferred.
Character, Values, and Integrity
The content of a candidate’s character would matter in an executive search for U.S. President. Recruiters seek leaders with exceptional character, values, and integrity. That is why executive recruiters verify credentials, check references, and eliminate any candidate who lies on a resume or is otherwise dishonest.
Executive search partners develop performance profiles to determine what the executive would need to do to be considered a success. During the election, the one issue that concerned Americans the most was the Economy. In an executive search for U.S. Presidency, a candidate must have demonstrated fiscal competency.
Foreign Affairs Expertise Preferred
As Commander-in-Chief and as the externally-facing leader for our Nation to the rest of the world, foreign affairs expertise is preferred. It is not a must-have qualification because the majority of U.S. Presidents to date have not had foreign service experience.
We Would Not Have Recruited Donald Trump
If the Presidential campaign were an executive search and if American voters were, in turn, executive recruiters, we would have eliminated Republican Donald Trump for failing to meet minimum qualifications mentioned above.
- No Public Office Experience
- Lack of Character, Values, and Integrity
- Fiscal Incompetency
- No Foreign Affairs Expertise
Unlike every other U.S. President in the history of our Great Nation, Mr. Trump never served in public office until he was elected President. His life-long lack of interest in civil service has not only made Donald Trump unqualified for the role of U.S. President. It has made him incredibly unhappy in the role of President.
Donald Trump did have the required college education — a Bachelor’s Degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, no less. Trump’s supporters have pointed to his business expertise as proof he of his fiscal competency. Yet, Trump drove his business into bankruptcy not once, but four separate times, a fact Trump does not dispute.
If the above shortcomings were not disqualifying enough, Donald Trump would never have passed the most cursory background check in an executive search for U.S. President. His many scandals and his constant lying would disqualify him as a candidate for any executive job, not the least of which is that of President of the United States. John Oliver does a brilliant job deconstructing Trump’s lies.
Though Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton offered the most impressive resume, she might not have made the cut either. She lacked an essential leadership skill of inspiring others to follow — something Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders had in spades. In other words, if we were tasked with recruiting the most qualified candidate for the job of U.S. President, we would have chosen someone better than the President we collectively elected: Donald J. Trump. As the latest Newsweek cover below suggests, public support of the President has hit a nadir.
The U.S. President That We, The People, Recruited
Perhaps because Americans vote more with their hearts than their heads, Americans elected Donald J. Trump as President. Yet now it appears that We, the People, are learning a valuable lesson: the folly of hiring someone who is wholly unqualified for the job. The popularity of President Trump has plummetted since taking office.
In Rasmussen’s Daily Presidential Tracking Poll, you can see our collective buyer’s remorse. We, the People, are experiencing the same kind of regret as the board of Apple after it made John Skully its CEO; as the board of HP after it selected Carly Fiorina (HP’s stock price dropped by 52 percent during her near six-year tenure as CEO); or as the board of Enron, which imploded under the leadership of Kenneth Lay (the CEO was later convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the giant energy company’s collapse).
The Reckoning Has Begun
Donald Trump is perhaps best known for uttering the reality TV phrase, “You’re fired”. Yet his ineptitude is, in the minds of a growing number of business leaders, grounds for dismissal.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger quit as outside advisers following President Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accords. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and other tech titans also have criticized the Paris decision. All told, more than 300 U.S. companies sent an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump urging him not to abandon the Paris climate agreement. The list includes Dannon, DuPont, eBay, Gap, General Mills, Hewlett Packard, Hilton, Intel, Kellogg, Levi Strauss, Mars, Monsanto, Nike, Patagonia, Staples, Starbucks, The Hartford, Tiffany and Vail Resorts and more. Yet President Trump did exactly the opposite.
Trump’s immigrant ban has also alienated business leaders. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon blasted Trump’s edict barring refugees from Syria and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Other businesses including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Nike, Lyft, and Starbucks pushed back as well. Netflix CEO tweeted that the ban was un-American.
Mark Zuckerberg pointed out his grandparents were immigrants and his wife’s parents were refugees.
In corporate America, approximately one out of every five executives recruited turns out to be a bad hire. If those executives don’t leave on their own, corporations rarely hesitate to show them the door. Lucy P. Marcus is founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, Ltd.; a professor of leadership and governance at IE Business School; and a non-executive board director of Atlantia SpA. She wrote a piece in MarketWatch entitled, If Trump were America’s CEO, he would be gone by now. The reason she gives for his dismissal is quite simple,
“every week, it seems, some new development emerges that, alone or in concert with the rest, would get a CEO fired.”
However, unlike corporate America, we can’t fire the President we elect. He must either determined to be unfit for office or Congress much impeach him for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Until there is such a reckoning, we have to live with the leader that We, the People, elected. Still, Ms. Marcus makes the case for his removal,
“Trump is proud to be a businessman. So let’s treat him like one and part company.”
Top Executive Search Firms List: How to Build Your Own
A short list of the top executive search firms is readily available in the minds of most CEOs, Chief People Officers, Heads of Talent Acquisition. But what’s a company to do if the search firms on that short list start to come up short? What is a C-Level executive with an important opening to do if her current retained search firms are not delivering the value she needs? What if the search firms a board member knows are great at some searches, but not all?
Well, you used to be able to pull up The Directory of Executive of Professional and Executive recruiters published by Kennedy Information. That directory detailed the kind of search firm (retained or contingency) and the firms’ specialties, Yet it is no longer being published.
The reason we thought we’d put together a list of the top executive search firms because the lists on the Internet are pretty haphazard. In fact, at least one of the sites appeared to be bogus. TopExecutiveSearchFirms.com was created by a search firm that then inserted itself into the fake list of Top Executive Search Firms that the website made up. We’d been tracking this website for some time until ultimately we decided to contact the firm’s CEO and ask for a quote for a blog post on the phony site. Shortly thereafter, the site was taken down. (You can still find it in the Internet Archive.) This is just one pretty stark reminder that you cannot trust everything you read, especially stuff you come across on the Internet these days, alt-facts and one. One must always consider the source, and if that source is murky, be especially cautious.
In other words, as a best practice, it is always good to assemble your own list of Top Executive Search firms. To assist in that effort, we have a few suggestions.
LinkedIn Skill Endorsements
Whenever I receive a LinkedIn Skill Endorsement, I get a little thrill that someone has recognized my expertise. But when click to review the LinkedIn profile of the endorser, I am puzzled. Clearly, the person is in my network as a 1st-degree connection, so I likely met that person at a conference or other event. However, I wonder how he could possibly vouch for my work when I don’t believe I have ever worked with that individual. Perhaps the endorser heard good things from mutual colleagues who have worked with me. Perhaps I”m flippin’ famous out there. However, as much as I would like to believe that, I suspect it is not the case. Maybe the reason that near strangers endorse my skills is to set up an implied quid pro quo as in I’ll endorse your skills if you endorse mine. But I also don’t think that is what is happening here. When you get right down to it, I suspect that the endorser simply wants to engage my interest for networking or recruiting purposes. In other words, the vast majority of my LinkedIn Skill Endorsements have been given by LinkedIn members who have never witnessed my work or any of the skills they have chosen to endorse. Of course, I could be an outlier. So please let me know what you have observed.
The Purpose of Skills Endorsements
Here is the way LinkedIn Skill Endorsements are supposed to work. First, a LinkedIn user lists up to 50 skills on their profile. Next, a 1st-degree connection of that user endorses one of that persn’s skills. When that happens, LinkedIn contends the skill is “validated”, which reinforces their “weighting” of what skill endorsements rise to the top of the user’s list of skills.
Skills endorsements are treated by LinkedIn as validations of the abilities they endorse. From where I sit, it is a false premise since most of the endorsements come from people who know little, if anything, about the quality of my work. Those relatively bogus endorsements are then used algorithmically to tell LinkedIn members which of my skills are the strongest. From what I’m able to gather, skills with the most endorsements rise to the top. Like the ingredients list on a food label, the skills are sorted from the most to the least.
Question: why does LinkedIn cap the number of endorsements at 99+? Is it that I’ve received too many to seem legit? (I honestly don’t know the answer. Let me know if you do.
LinkedIn explains that the purpose of LinkedIn Skill Endorsements is to help “recognize and discover your 1st-degree connections’ skills with one click, They’re also a simple and effective way of building your professional brand and engaging your network.” True, they are simple. But because they are, for the most part, untrue, are they the most effective way? Do you really want to begin a relationship by demonstrating you are comfortable being dishonest?
Skill endorsers are not the problem . . .
Though often my LinkedIn skill endorser is technically fudging the facts, I do not blame the messenger. I see the bogus endorsement more as a shout out from the virtual wilderness as in, “Is anybody out there?” And with so much online that is incredibly destructive and bullying, I feel a sense of gratitude that there are people out there that want to give me “put ups” rather than putting me down. So I am not complaining about those who have endorsed my skills. Not in the least. Rather, I am questioning the frame, the LinkedIn Skill Endorsements themselves.
. . . endorsements are.
Qualitatively, skill endorsements would not hold up under the least bit of scrutiny. They are not a reliable indicator or measure of excellence. They are more a nicety designed to help us make friends on LinkedIn. I get that. Besides, what would we do instead? A “Can we please be friends?” button would come off as a little too needy. A “Let’s network” button might do the trick, but it demands a reply. I guess that’s the beauty of Skill Endorsements. You have LinkedIn members out there spreading good will as an entré to forging a real relationship. Let me do you a favor by saying you’re really great at something though I don’t really know you and haven’t a clue whether you’re really great at that something.
However, as quantum information theorist Ivana Kurecix pointed on in a recent blog post, flattery is not the best way to make friends: sharing secrets is. She cites the study, Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings (A. Aron et al.; 1997). For those who do not wish to wade through all the data, she summarized the findings thusly:
Endorse Me If You Wish: But Shared Secrets Are Better
So if you want to befriend me on LinkedIn, you can endorse me as a kind of shorthand that you are a good person who does good things. However, I find it far more interesting to cut the B.S. and have heart-to-hearts with people I trust who share similar passions and interests. At the end of the day, what we really want in this world, even at work, is a safe place to be our authentic selves. In fact, you can “Google” it, with a capital “G”. In research code named Project Aristotle, Google studied what makes top performing teams. Yet for the longest time, Google couldn’t quite figure it out because the best teams all seemed so very different. Then finally, one day, the secret revealed itself. The leader of one group spontaneously shared with his team that he was battling stage 4 cancer. With that, other team members shared their struggles. Eventually, their discussion returned to work and by then, the team dynamic had shifted, enabling it to excel. Google realized that “the behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond.”
What To Do Instead
So what’s a LinkedIn member to do if Skill Endorsements are not the best way to network? I’ve written about how to polish your LinkedIn profile to optimize networking on LinkedIn. That is essential. Without a polished profile, everything else you do on LinkedIn will fall short. That’s because the moment you say or do something interesting, members will check out your profile. So, while you can spend time endorsing the skills of virtual strangers, I’d recommend taking a more direct route. Focus on a handful of people you’d like to get to know. Do them a solid. Share a meaningful insight. Find a way to break through this virtual medium to get real. It isn’t easy, but it will yield greater results. I often follow people I want to get to know here and on Twitter. I read their blogs. I do that to get to know them. I then formulate an approach. Commenting on a someone’s blog often is a great way to open the door if what you say is halfway intelligent. People write with the intent of being read. Your comment fulfills that basic human desire and forges an instant bond over a shared interest. But for that method to work, you have to be real. That is something of an art in a virtual environment where truthiness in LInkedIn Skills Endorsements is accepted practice.
Ageism in Recruiting
ERE Media’s Todd Rafael tackles the hot topic of ageism in recruiting and executive search in an interview with The Good Search CEO Krista Bradford.
So it is more a question of what executive recruiters are going to do about it to ensure equal opportunity for all candidate. We must become aware of our own unconscious bias and ensure we’re assessing candidates for the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that they bring to the table, detached from age.
So if you are a hiring executive or recruiter and you find yourself describing a candidate as being “long in tooth”, check yourself. One fifth of the working population is over the age of fifty. In the end, you’ll only hurt your own company if you unconsciously discriminate against older workers. Ageism doesn’t hurt the candidate. It hurts your company as well. There’s something to be said for someone who has been-there, done-that. It is unlawful to reject a job-seeker because he or she is over the age of forty. So let us not let Age Discrimination get in the way of good hires. The opportunity cost is too high.
Executive Recruiters Slay So CEOs Slay
Executive recruiters deliver star executives so that our clients can be more successful. We recruit the human capital that venture-capital-backed startups and Fortune 100 companies need to win. Yet to recruit well, one must learn how to recognize top performers. We focus on gifted executives because, as the Harvard Business Review reports, the best of the best leaders have a way of getting even better. They use the competition to hone their skills, and they constantly reinvent themselves to stay ahead of the pack.
“Star players focus on what they can control and forget the rest. They’re masters of compartmentalization.”
Executive athletes use the competition to inspire themselves to new heights. They love pressure. And all that pressure comes with a release value. You see, champions aren’t all about the work. They are also about the play. Big time.
“The elite know how to party. They also know that celebrations without victory are meaningless.”
The Best of The Best Get Even Better
I understand that mindset having been married to a world-renowned saxophonist who has toured with the Rolling Stones. To get to that level, you woodshed (practice) harder than your competitors. But the drive is intrinsic. You wake up that way. Every day you find a way to do what you do better.
Michael Jordan was known for practicing ridiculous hours every day. Before regular practice started, Jordan would even practice at his house. Eventually, his work ethic rubbed off on his teammates, making the Chicago Bulls one of the best NBA teams in history.
Champions put in the time to perfect their craft that so that when it comes time to walk on stage (or onto the court), you deliver your best performance. The music just flows. You nail three-pointers. Swish. You lay that groundwork so that when the time comes, you slay.
Understanding the Championship Mindset
No matter what you do for a living, it takes three things to be a champion. It takes talent. It takes passion. And it takes heart. Case in point: last night’s Beyoncé concert. Despite torrential rains, Beyoncé packed a stadium in Philadelphia during her Formation tour.
Beyoncé Raises The Bar With Each Performance
Beyoncé lit up social media. Twitter. Instagram. Periscope streaming live. There were no haters. Beyoncé is a champion through sheer force of will. While growing up, her father trained her by having her run and sing at the same time so she wouldn’t get winded performing. After every show, she reviews the video recordings to up her performance and gives feedback notes to her team
Beyoncé makes it look so damn easy. But it never is. To be a champion, yes, you need talent and some luck but, more than anything else, you have to want it, bad.
Only then, can you slay.
“You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay
I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”
No Sick Days For Superstars
When you have stadiums full of fans waiting for you to appear, there are no sick days. (Of course, it certainly helps when you travel with a trainer, nutritionist, masseuse, and a physician.) You show up. You keep on showing up and, eventually, you rise. Once you achieve stardom, you surround yourself with others who slay.
That’s a rockstar’s playbook and the playbook for CEOs of every innovative company out there. You slay or you get eliminated. So, ladies (and gentlemen), let’s get in formation.
I see it, I want it
I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind ’til I own it
I twirl on them haters
El Camino with the seat low
Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off
I go hard, I go hard
Get what’s mine, take what’s mine
I’m a star, I’m a star
Cause I slay, slay . . .
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, I slay
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper
To Recruit “Rock Stars”, It Helps to Know Them
A lot of executive recruiters talk about recruiting rock stars when actually they haven’t been backstage or witnessed what it takes to be the best of the best firsthand. Seriously. Some recruiters may talk a good game, but deep down you have to have lived it to recognize true talent.
So the next time a recruiter tells you they recruit rock stars, ask him what actual rock stars or famous athletes they been fortunate enough to get to know. If they return a blank stare, they don’t get it. They never will.
The Wildabeast dancers get it. They bring their championship mindset to Beyoncé’s Formation. A little inspiration with which to begin the week. . . Enjoy!
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed our post, please show the love and share it with your friends by clicking the buttons below. It makes it easier for others to find the post.
Headhunters Find Candidate Trump Unqualified
If executive recruiters were searching for our next U.S. President, they would not make the same choices as We, the People. Our latest video explains why. Politics aside, if you assessed the current Presidential candidates, what candidate would you eliminate for being unqualified to serve as President of the United States of America.
You be the judge. In the upper-right hand corner of our video on the executive search for U.S. President, click on the circle-i icon and cast your vote in our poll. Tell us whether you think Republican Presidential nominee is qualified.
If executive recruiters were picking our next President of the United States, would they select the same candidates as We, the American People? We, the People choose our candidates very differently. We vote with our hearts. Executive recruiters try to apply a little bit of brain power. We apply objective criteria. We look at a candidate’s experiences and skills and qualifications. So with the in mind, let’s take a look at our current presidential contenders. Let’s start with the Republican nominee Donald Trump. He does have a “Pro” going for him. He is college-educated. But there is a laundry list of “Cons”. He has no public office experience. He has demonstrated uninspirational leadership. He has been a divider, not a uniter. He has demonstrated a lack of character, values, and integrity. He lies regularly, every day, multiple times a day. He has proven fiscal incompetency. He is not the great businessman that he claims to be. He has driven his businesses into bankruptcy not once, not twice, not three times, but a whopping four times. And he has no foreign affairs experience, which for the leader of the free world is a pretty important requirement. Unlike every other U.S. President in the history of our great Nation, Mr. Trump has never served in public office or the military. Every other candidate that is currently running — Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Libertarian Gary Johnson — they’ve all run for office and served in public office. But Donald Trump has shown absolutely no interest in public service. And executive recruiters would look at that as a minimum requirement for the role of President of the United States. And for that reason, executive recruiters would say, “Donald Trump, you’re fired.”
Retained Search Firm Diversity Video
It is reasonable to wonder whether the lack of retained search firm diversity has a bearing on the diversity of the senior executives and board members that they recruit. That’s what I talk about in our latest video, a follow-on to my recent blog post Search Firm Diversity Impact on Executive Hires. In that post, I featured a table detailing retained search firm diversity. In the absence of self identification, we made educated guessed as to the gender and ethnic/racial diversity of those leading the most highly regarded retained executive search firms in the world.
Is Retained Search Firm Diversity Really the Problem?
Some well-meaning, enlightened retained search firm partners and hiring executives may be discriminating against those who do not resemble the power elite — which last I checked remains white and male. Moreover, common sense suggests there is likely a correlation between the lack of retained search diversity and the paucity of diverse candidates in the executive suite. However, it is crazy complicated.
Retained Search Firms Are Part of the Solution
Other data suggest that retained search firms are very much part of the solution. If it weren’t for them, they’d likely be fewer diverse candidate than the few we have at the senior executive and board level. Case in point? A study by the Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West entitledGender Diversity in Silicon Valley A Comparison of Silicon Valley Public Companies and Large Public Companies. On page 14, it goes on to report:
nominating committees and board members as a whole often start their search for board candidates by looking in their own networks of contacts (even if a professional search firm is also retained), and smaller companies often do not retain a professional search firm to find board candidates — reducing the chance that women will be represented in the candidate pool for some boards due to idiosyncratic network effects.
When You Check Your Network, Check Yourself
By depending their own networks — when one’s own networks tend to be homogenous — boards of directors are perpetuating the white male status quo. The utter irony is that they are perpetuating the status quo when the members of those boards are among the most politically progressive and enlightened leaders of the free world. I trust that the majority of the really do want diverse leadership. Checking your own network for referrals is a natural impulse. It is fast, It is easy. You get pre-referenced candidates that speed through to hire. In so many ways, it makes sense. It is a senior level employee referral and employee referrals are among the most effective way to recruit, right? That’s what HR consultants advise. Yet by turning to our own networks, leaders are unwittingly discriminating against those who do not run in our same circles. It is a form of unconscious bias. Just when we thought we were evolved and become a better version of ourselves, unconscious bias comes back to bite us in the end.
Unconscious Bias Consciousness
Everyone has unconscious bias. It is what makes us human. The trick is to become aware of that tendency and, as leaders, to check ourselves. We have the power, collectively, to fix this thing so all deserving candidates get a fair shot. If we believe those who have worked hard to become the best of the best deserve the best opportunities, then let’s prove it. If we believe in meritocracy, then check ourselves and and the companies we lead to make sure that all those who merit consideration really are considered. Let’s make sure the best person for the job really gets it — especially at the senior executive and board level.
Companies seeking to boost executive diversity frequently will say that they want a top performer who “happens to be diverse”. The phrase gets tacked on as a kind of afterthought, suggesting diversity plays no role in the minds of the stakeholders involved. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In an ideal world, we are to be color and gender blind. Yet most of us are not blind. Psychological studies have proven we register “other” race and gender as babies before we can walk and talk. We become afraid of “strangers”. Our pulse quickens. In other words, we come wired to discriminate. Yet studies also show while our lizard brain discriminates, as our thinking brain kicks in, we check ourselves. Our pulse slows. The more educated we are, the better able we are to tame the unconscious bias within.
So Diversity is Awkward. Let’s Get Over It.
Some business leaders stick their heads in the sand, wishing conversations about diversity didn’t have to happen. But avoidance doesn’t work. Diversity is here to stay. So the question becomes how best to talk about diversity when race, ethnicity and gender is so very . . . personal. It speaks to who we are. Still, those of us who care about fairness find a way to talk about it when it isn’t easy and is often awkward. Diversity dialog often devolves into linguistic pretzels. The following scene from the hit TV series Silicon Valley pretty much nails it as the team discusses engineering candidate Carla Walton.
Jared Dunn: You know what else excites me here? There’s a distinct overrepresentation of men in this company. Look around. I think it would behoove us to prioritize hiring a woman.
Bertram Gilfoyle: I disagree O.J. We should hire the best person for the job. Period.
Dinesh Chugtai: And Carla is one of the best.
Jared Dunn: Right. Let me rephrase. I think having a woman in the company is important, but hiring someone only because they’re a woman is bad. I’d never compromise Pied Piper.
Richard Hendriks: Okay. But, just to be clear, our top priority is to hire the most qualified person available, right?
Jared Dunn: Of course.
Dinesh Chugtai: But it would be better if that someone was a woman, even if the woman part of that statement is irrelevant?
Jared Dunn: Exactly. It’s like we’re the Beatles and now we just need a Yoko.
Dinesh Chugtai: That’s the worst example he could have used.
Have you struggled with how best to talk about diversity or witnessed others struggle with it? Any instructive or entertaining anecdotes?
Why Executive Search Firm Diversity Matters
I’ve been chewing on it a while. I’ve had something I’ve wanted to say. Executive search firm diversity matters. I know it is impolitic to discuss issues with one’s own industry. I am fully aware it is so much safer to remain silent (and boring). But truth is the executive search firm business lacks diversity.
There I said it.In fact, I said it at length in a blog post on our retained search firm website. The article is entitled Search Firm Diversity Impact on Executive Hires.
The lack of executive search firm diversity is concerning because search firms recruit senior executives and board members to companies that also lack diversity. It is only natural to wonder is there a relationship between the two? That’s what executive search firm diversity matters. Consequently we ought to have the courage to ask tough questions We must ensure that homogenous search firms don’t build homogenous executive teams and board of directors at the client companies they serve.
If there is a relationship — if there is a cause and effect — then I don’t think it is intentional. At least, I’d prefer to think no one wants to discriminate. Rather, I suspect what may be at the root of it all is unconscious bias. We humans come wired that way. If we all have that inclination to prejudge — if we all are prone to error in that way — then there is no one person to blame. And if there is no one person to blame, there is hope that we can come together and fix this thing.
Of course, diversity is notoriously difficult to discuss. Finding ways to talk about executive search firm diversity can be challenging. This is sensitive stuff. Tempers can flare. I’d venture a guess that this blog post might upset some of the leading search firms out there But that’s okay. I’ve always believed in standing for what’s right. Fairness. A level playing field. That’s right as rain.
Still diversity is challenging to discuss. If what I say upsets someone — if white, black, hispanic, man, woman, or LGBT feels somehow unappreciated or unheard — we can get through this thing. There still is hope in this dog-eat-dog world of ours.
There is Adele.
Search Firm Diversity (or Lack Thereof)
When I was a board member of the International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruiters, I served on a committee that lined up speakers for IACPR events. As a former journalist, I was naturally drawn to hot topics — subjects that might inspire informative debate and discourse. So one day, I suggested that we examine diversity within the ranks of the retained search industry. Does the lack of search firm diversity perpetuate a lack of the diversity at the companies they serve? At the time, it seemed a reasonable question to ask.
It was not a topic the IACPR wanted to pursue.
Of course, there may be no cause and effect between search firm diversity and the board and senior executive diversity of the clients that they serve. There may be no direct or indirect relationship. Or if there is a correlation, it may be incredibly hard to prove. I get that.
Begin The Conversation
Still, the search firm industry claims to care about senior executive diversity. We offer services to that effect. Moreover, we serve client companies that express deep concern for executive diversity. A thoughtful discussion could lead to solutions we haven’t even imagined. That is why, years later, I think it high time we begin the conversation.
Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About
What follows is a list detailing the diversity of retained search firm leaders. In the absence of self-identification, we have have made educated guesses as to each leader’s gender and diversity. Consequently, we invite corrections. We want this list to serve as a trusted resource. We invite your suggestions on additional firms to include. We care what you think. So please weigh in below with your thoughts and comments.
Search Firm Diversity Common Sense
Common sense suggests that there is a relationship between the lack of diversity at leading search firms and the lack of diversity at the senior executive levels of the companies they serve. I’m not saying this in a blame-the-white-guy kind of way. There are enlightened male feminists who are allies in efforts for fairness. (Shout out to actor Bradley Cooper.) I don’t say this in a white-women-deserve-their-piece-of-the-pie-first kind of way either. This isn’t a white women problem. (Shout out to Leslie Miley’s insights on racial diversity in tech.) This is an all-of-us-are-in-this-together problem. We are a community. Let’s start acting like it so we can get on with the work.
Truth is we all have unconscious bias. We can’t help it. We’re human. So let’s deal with it. For example, the reason some search firms and companies don’t envision women in leadership roles is that, in so many ways ,we don’t see women at all.
I mean, literally, we don’t see women.
Women have been rendered invisible. In a McKinsey & Company video, actor Geena Davis explains:
Unconscious Bias Within
Some well-meaning, enlightened retained search partners and hiring executives may be discriminating against those who do not resemble the power elite — which last I checked remains white and male. This is not a white-male thing. It is a human thing. Some well-meaning, enlightened women may be similarly tilting the scale away from parity. Against ourselves. Unconscious bias lies hidden deep within us. That’s no one’s fault.
(Okay, it probably is some people’s fault, but that whole blaming thing gets us nowhere.)
I would argue it is our job to raise our own consciousness, and then turn to the next person, and share insights on unconscious bias, and have them turn to the next person and pass it on, until we all get it.
That is why I compile a list detailing the diversity of retained search firm leaders. The list is designed to get us thinking about ways to fix what is broken about diversity. It is designed to begin the conversation. So please weigh in with your constructive comments. I am genuinely interested in what you have to say and welcome diversity of thought and insight. Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.