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Increasing Diversity Starts with Hiring for Diversity

The leaders in the C-suite don’t look like the employees coming up through the ranks of the organization.

Consider that just 56% of the 87 million Millennials in America are White, compared to 72% of the Baby Boomer generation that identifies as White. The number of minority workers in the United States was projected to double between the years 1980 and 2020.


The number of ethnic minorities on U.S. and United Kingdom executive teams, meanwhile, was just 13% in 2019, according to McKinsey data, which also finds female representation on executive teams at 20%, and more than a third of companies without even one woman in a top leadership role.

Overall, 68% of C-level executives are White men, 18% are White women and 10% are men of color, with women of color making up just 4% of executives in the C-suite, McKinsey data shows.

In a recent Q&A with Workspan, Kathleen Duffy and Eden Higgins — president and vice president of practice development at The Duffy Group, respectively — shared some of the factors they see driving this homogeneousness in the C-suite and throughout organizations.  

“Diversity is lacking in the C-suite for the same reason diversity is lacking on corporate boards,” said Duffy. “If the majority of board seats are held by White men, then that’s who they’re interacting with on boards. So, if it’s time for someone to retire from the board, that person needs to be replaced. And board members are going to go to their networks, which is going to look predominantly like them.”

There are encouraging signs, however. The aforementioned McKinsey statistics, for example, do signify an uptick from previous years — albeit a slight one — in terms of diverse representation in the C-suite.

“Companies are very much trying to get women into leadership roles,” said Higgins, who has led HR at startups and large companies in capacities such as recruiting, compensation and benefits, as well as her experience in executive search and executive recruitment. “It’s all about the pipeline.”

Higgins does see organizations taking steps in their recruiting and hiring processes to open up that pipeline to more diverse talent — not just at the executive level, but throughout the organization.

“Our clients are asking for us to find diverse candidates,” said Higgins. “As recruiters, we might look on LinkedIn to see pictures. And we’re looking for people who would be different for our client company.”

Organizations also need to start introducing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) earlier in the employment lifecycle, added Duffy.

“Convert job descriptions so they have more gender-neutral language, for example. Provide a diverse slate of candidates,” she said. “When we talk about how recruiters are sourcing diverse candidates, some are doing blind screens to eliminate unconscious biases, or using diverse interview panels. It’s great to get all of those different perspectives.”

A failure to incorporate these various viewpoints will cost the company, Duffy said, especially among younger applicants who view a lack of diversity as a deal-breaker when sizing up prospective employers.

“These candidates are looking at companies’ career pages, and they’re looking at the visuals on those career pages. If they don’t see diversity, they’re not going to apply for that job with you.”

“[HR leaders need to] make sure that all of the company’s social media represents diversity, that its employment brand represents diversity,” continued Duffy.

“And HR practitioners need to be talking to each other, even with competitors. Find out what other companies are doing to increase diversity. If I’m an employer and I find some great sales talent, but I don’t have space for this diverse candidate, why shouldn’t I share that candidate with another organization?”

HR teams should also be getting out and meeting these same candidates, she said. While current circumstances make that difficult, contact can still be made by extending invitations to company-hosted virtual events, for example.

“A lot of it is about strategy over recruiting or hiring processes. For example, we were working with a university in the Northeast. They needed a development team that resembled their alumni, and their strategy was to look for diverse candidates,” Duffy said.

“So where in higher education are you going to find more diverse candidates? You can target historically black colleges and universities, for example. You need to get out and talk to the groups you’re looking to attract, and you need to get them excited about working for you.”

About the Author

Mark McGraw Bio Image

Mark McGraw is managing editor of Workspan.

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