Retained Search Firm Diversity Video

Does the lack of search firm diversity affect the diversity of the executives 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 guesses as to the gender and ethnic/racial diversity of those leading the most highly regarded retained executive search firms in the world.

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

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 candidates 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 perpetuate 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.

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