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 a lack of search firm diversity perpetuate a lack of 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.

Executive Search Firm Diversity

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 FirmNameTitleGenderDiversity
Heidrick & StrugglesTracy R. WolstencroftChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Spencer StuartKevin M. ConnellyChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Russell ReynoldsClarke MurphyChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Korn FerryGary D. BurnisonChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
DHR InternationalGeoff Hoffmann Chief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Egon ZehnderRajeev VasudevaChief Executive OfficerMaleAsian
Witt/KiefferCharles W.B. Wardell, IIIChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Caldwell PartnersJohn N. WallaceChief Executive OfficerMaleWhite
Diversified SearchDale Elton JonesChief Executive OfficerMaleBlack/African-American
Stanton ChaseMickey MatthewsInternational Chairman
Managing Director
BoydenTrina GordonPresident & CEOFemaleWhite
Herbert Mines AssociatesHal ReiterChairman & CEOMaleWhite
Slayton Search PartnersRichard SlaytonManaging Partner & CEOMaleWhite
Ferguson PartnersWilliam J. FergusonChairman & CEOMaleWhite
On PartnersTim ContiCo-Founder & Managing PartnerMaleWhite
JM SearchJohn C. MarshallChief Executive OfficerMale White
Morgan SamuelsBert HensleyChairman & CEOMaleWhite
Odgers BerndtsonRichard Boggis-RolfeChairmanMaleWhite
Allen AustinRob AndrewsChairman & CEOMaleWhite

Search Firm Diversity Common Sense

Common sense suggests that there may be 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.

Unconscious Bias

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. Actor Geena Davis of the Geena Davis Institute on Women in Media explains in this report:

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.

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