7 May2019

Diversity & Inclusion - what role can executive search play?

Diversity & Inclusion is firmly on the boardroom agenda and companies are actively looking to improve equality in their recruiting practices. This is a trend that is not going away and which many companies are tackling head on, both internally and through their suppliers.  As a result, executive search firms need to address their role in promoting a fully inclusive board.

In March 2019, in conjunction with MIX Diversity Developers, a boutique consultancy firm specializing in Diversity & Inclusion, Invenias undertook the largest global survey of executive search professionals and their approach to Diversity & Inclusion.

The business case

According to the findings, Diversity & Inclusion remains of high importance. With the majority of respondents expressing that Diversity & Inclusion is important to their clients this year (only 2% said it was not at all important), we anticipate even greater demands on executive search firms to provide diverse candidates.

In the past few years there has been an upsurge of interest in greater executive diversity. From media coverage of the pay gap, to company-wide closures for unconscious bias training, to the growing body of evidence that diversity is good for business, there has never been a greater focus on equality in the workplace. For some companies, it’s an issue of regulatory compliance or corporate social responsibility. Yet others regard it as a source of competitive advantage and with good reason—research shows that organizations with greater levels of leadership diversity outperform their competitors.

Challenges and Opportunities

Responses from over 400 search professionals highlighted some of the challenges that executive search is facing: from the prevalence of unconscious bias, to the perceived lack of diverse candidates, to the challenge of helping clients see beyond traditional recruitment choices and look instead to the benefits that diverse talent can bring.

Executive search professionals recognize a myriad of opportunities offered by diversity and inclusion—from championing emerging leaders to having the opportunity to implement real change within their clients’ business. Strategies to achieve greater diversity are also under consideration. An overwhelming majority of respondents suggested that diverse longlists would be easier to cultivate if clients were more open to candidates from a different industry sector, giving less weight to proven career experience, to instead see candidates with relevant skills and underlying competencies. Whilst these strategies are being trialed within executive search,, there is still far from a universal adoption of these practices.

What role can executive search firms play?

As trusted advisors, executive search firms are critical in providing a balanced and diversified pool of candidates that can bring talent and experience to a business. Findings suggest that executive search firms do indeed take their role as a driver of diversity seriously, with 64% of respondents agreeing that diversity will be highly important to clients in 2019, and 52% believing they have a part to play in advising clients to choose a diverse shortlist. While not necessarily an easy task, it remains a vital one if companies are hoping to not only increase diverse hiring but also build on success.

Providing strategies to tackle the lack of diversity in the long-term is vital if companies are to move towards an inclusive workforce. The lack of diversity in business, particularly at the board level, is still apparent. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed believed that it was currently more difficult for a woman to be appointed to an executive board/senior management position.  But there is evidence that attitudes are changing. Nearly 40% of those surveyed felt that this was a similar premise with BAME candidates; although 30% of respondents felt that attitudes were yet to change. The reasons for this are varied with more than 55% of respondents believing that unconscious bias is to blame for the challenge in appointing diverse candidates. However, a staggering 46% of respondents have noted that the lack of diverse candidates is to blame for the lack of diverse appointments at the C-Suite level, and executive search firms can have a direct impact on this statistic.

To request the full write-up, email insight@invenias.com.


About Invenias

Invenias by Bullhorn is the world’s leading provider of software solutions to professionals responsible for executive search. Based on an enterprise scale, cloud-based platform, Invenias is used by more than 1,000 companies worldwide to transform the productivity of their search operations. Invenias operates within the Bullhorn family, and serves thousands of users in over sixty countries across the globe. Invenias by Bullhorn is committed to advancing the executive search industry around the world, and is a global strategic partner of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC).

About MIX Diversity

MIX works with organizations to help them maximize the opportunities present in a diverse workforce and customer base. The team at MIX are specialists in Diversity & Inclusion, unconscious bias and cultural change. Using evidence in practice combined with the most up-to-date research on diversity and inclusion, they are challenging companies to take a fresh approach to equality in the workplace. They are passionate about helping organisations develop their Diversity & Inclusion profile through keynote speakers, training and consultancy. They advise on policy and the practical but are more focused on changing culture