The importance of diversity and inclusion in executive recruiting

7 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

In the ever-changing business world, where innovation and growth are paramount, organisations increasingly recognise the significance of diversity and inclusion in their recruitment strategies. 

In this blog, we will focus on executive recruiting specifically, looking at how diversity, equity, and inclusion at board level is far from being a purely moral endeavour; rather, it is a strategic imperative that has the potential to produce better decision-making, higher financial revenues, and improved employee morale.

Over recent years, we have seen more discussion surrounding the need for leadership to better reflect the workforce as a whole. This push towards greater diversity and inclusion within senior leadership teams is already having a positive impact, but there remains more to be done.

Here, we’ll explore why diversity and inclusion at board level is vital and examine the key strategies companies should implement to attract and hire stand-out leaders from underrepresented groups.

Why diversity and inclusion at executive level are essential

For companies looking to improve productivity, innovation, and talent retention, there are few methods more effective than recruiting high-quality professionals from diverse backgrounds. Employing greater numbers of professionals from underrepresented groups not only demonstrates a company’s commitment to positive social change, but it also presents organisations with the chance to improve employee satisfaction, financial performance, and competitive advantage.

To reap the rewards that diversity and inclusion offer, businesses should go above and beyond to ensure that professionals from all walks of life are represented throughout their organisation. Senior leaders in particular are responsible for making key decisions that shape their organisation’s strategic directions, and companies with more diverse executive teams are typically more effective at making those influential choices.

Having a diverse leadership team can also drastically improve a company’s financial situation. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that organisations with more diverse management teams reported revenues almost a fifth higher (19%) than those with below-average diversity scores due to greater innovation. This is largely because each member will approach situations in different ways, helping to ensure a more considered outcome.

The challenges of improving diversity and inclusion at executive level

Given that there are strong moral and business reasons for having a diverse executive team, why has there been such slow progress?

Here are some key figures to provide you with an understanding of the current state of play. In 2020, The Parker Review found that 37% of FTSE 100 companies still did not have at least one person of colour as a director. And while 355 women sit on boards at the FTSE 100 – making up over a third of positions – the Hampton-Alexander Review noted there was still a lack of women in some senior and executive roles.

These somewhat underwhelming figures demonstrate that there are significant strides still to be made. Despite the many benefits that diverse senior leadership teams bring, there are many challenges that hamper companies’ efforts to bring in senior leaders from underrepresented groups, including:

  • Unconscious bias: Unconscious bias can make it difficult for diverse candidates to secure executive jobs. This form of implicit bias can lead to companies overlooking exceptional talent from underrepresented groups.
  • Limited pool of diverse candidates: Companies may also have to contend with a limited pool of candidates from underrepresented groups. This may be down to an array of factors, such as a scarcity of diverse talent in the overall workforce and a lack of robust D&I initiatives.
  • Poor representation in the hiring process: A lack of representation during the hiring process can make it challenging for businesses to recruit diverse candidates for leadership roles. With an absence of diverse role models at executive level, talented professionals from underrepresented groups may be less inclined to apply.
  • Organisational culture: An organisation's culture may have unwritten norms and practices that favour a certain demographic. By not fostering a culture that champions diversity and inclusion in the workplace, businesses may lose out on attracting top-quality diverse candidates.

By addressing these common challenges and devising strategies to overcome them, your organisation has a greater chance of attracting executive-level candidates from underrepresented groups.

Key strategies for improving diversity in senior leadership teams

As we have established, improving diversity in senior leadership teams offers a wide variety of advantages for companies. By boosting diversity in your organisation’s management team, you can expect greater innovation, higher levels of productivity, a more esteemed brand identity, and stronger financial performance.

Simply put, the culture of an organisation is established at executive level. Without a senior and executive team that adequately represents the organisation and society as a whole, there can be a lack of credibility and confidence in the longevity of any meaningful D&I initiatives that the leadership team chooses to pursue.

While there are certainly challenges associated with improving the number of senior leaders from diverse backgrounds, companies that adopt inclusive executive recruiting methods are well-positioned to hire outstanding candidates from a mix of ethnic, cultural, and gender groups.

Here are some of the most effective strategies you can employ to ensure that your executive team features diverse talent:  

1. Implement inclusive hiring policies

Organisations looking to foster a more equitable and representative leadership team must strive to implement inclusive hiring policies. With analysis from The Manifest showing that 70% of jobseekers claim that a company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is key when assessing a potential employer, it is fair to assume that companies that fail to develop inclusive recruitment practices risk failing to attract the very best diverse candidates for their executive jobs.

At the outset, it is crucial to establish clear diversity and inclusion goals. You can set measurable targets for boosting representation across various demographic groups, including gender, race, and disability. In an era of shifting demographics, you should constantly review these goals to ensure that your hiring policies reflect societal expectations.

Here are the most important inclusive hiring policies you should put into practice:

Remove unconscious bias from recruitment decisions

Unconscious bias can be very detrimental to an organisation’s diverse executive recruiting efforts, with 79% of HR professionals citing unconscious bias as a key problem affecting recruitment and succession planning decisions. To mitigate the risk of unconscious bias, your organisation can implement unconscious bias training that covers the damaging impact of hidden biases on hiring and promotion selections.

Create inclusive job descriptions

Another key inclusive hiring policy is ensuring that job descriptions feature welcoming and inclusive language. For it to appeal to the widest range of potential candidates, your job ads must outline the role’s requirements and responsibilities without featuring gendered or stereotypical language. Data shows that job listings with equal opportunity language are filled 10% faster than those that use standard, typical terminology.

For example, research has found that words such as ‘dominate’, ‘competitive’, and ‘decisive’ are typically masculine-coded, meaning that men are more likely to apply for a role with these terms. You can choose to either replace these words with alternatives or add more feminine-coded words in your job advertisement e.g. ‘collaborative’, ‘interpersonal’, and ‘committed’.

Assemble a diverse interview panel

Interview panels that are diverse and give voice to a broad range of perspectives are not only likely to reduce unconscious bias, they also foster an inclusive and welcoming interview environment. During the interview, be sure to ask behaviour-based questions that focus on skills and provide ample opportunities for candidates to showcase their leadership experiences and achievements.

Be open and considerate about reasonable adjustments

Whether there needs to be adjustments to the application stage or the interview process (for both internal members of staff and candidates), be open to listening, understanding and respecting these requests. 

With these inclusive hiring practices at the heart of your executive recruiting strategy, organisations can attract a diverse pool of qualified executive candidates, create a more equitable leadership team, and reap the benefits of a more inclusive and successful organisation.

2. Widen hiring and networking efforts

Ensuring that your organisation attracts a diverse pool of executive-level professionals necessitates a proactive approach that goes above and beyond traditional recruiting methods. Instead of limiting your executive recruiting efforts to a select number of platforms, you should utilise sourcing channels that are frequented by underrepresented groups, such as Diversifying Agencies, a company that Sellick Partnership works with.

As well as diversifying where you post your job listings, there are a host of other techniques for widening the scope of your executive recruitment campaign. One of which is leveraging employee referrals, an approach that can help you tap into diverse talent pools that may not be accessible via traditional channels. To maximise the amount of referrals you receive, you can incentivise your staff to participate, such as providing them with an additional day of annual leave or a cash prize.

In addition to widening your diverse talent search, your company should focus on forging valuable connections with underrepresented groups through networking events. By participating in diversity-focused events, conferences, and career fairs, you’ll be able to reach out to potential candidates from a broad array of backgrounds.

At these gatherings, you also have the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with recruitment agencies that specialise in diversity-focused hiring and can put you in contact with excellent candidates from underrepresented groups.

3. Foster an inclusive workplace culture

Another way of attracting the very best diverse executive-level talent is by fostering a workplace culture that promotes diversity and inclusion. As we alluded to earlier, pursuing robust EDI initiatives demonstrates your ambitions to be an employer of choice for a more inclusive workforce, and potential senior leaders are likely to be impressed.

Indeed, nurturing a culture that celebrates diversity should not only be part of your executive recruiting strategy, but also your organisation’s core values. There are various methods for fostering an inclusive workplace, but perhaps the most important is to make your efforts visible. Being transparent is a key component of any diversity strategy, and that means talking openly and honestly about both your successes and challenges.

If your organisation reaches a certain milestone, be sure to showcase this achievement via your social media channels, as this will potentially reach high-quality candidates looking for leadership positions. Equally, you should create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking out and providing feedback on improving your EDI initiatives.

With inclusivity at the cornerstone of your ethos, you’ll also have a greater chance of drawing in younger applicants. According to Deloitte, 74% of millennial employees believe their company is more innovative with a culture of inclusion, and 47% of them assess how inclusive their potential employer’s culture is before deciding to apply.

Here are our top tips for making your culture more inclusive:

  • Assess current culture and identify areas of improvement through employee surveys.
  • Provide opportunities for team members to engage in cross-cultural dialogues.
  • Implement policies that accommodate diverse needs, and think about things such as: religious beliefs, disabilities, language barriers, and menopause.
  • Offer mentorship and sponsorship programs for diverse executive talent to develop their skills.

Diversity and inclusion in executive recruiting: key takeaways

The importance of diversity and inclusion in executive recruiting cannot be understated. However, although diverse workforces are advantageous, many organisations struggle to fulfill their diversity and inclusion goals due to a range of challenges, including unconscious bias, a limited pool of diverse candidates, and poor representation in the hiring process.

By following executive recruiting strategies such as implementing inclusive hiring practices, broadening hiring and networking efforts, and fostering an inclusive workplace culture, businesses can overcome these hurdles and bring in the diverse senior leaders they need to spark innovation and drive long-term success.

At Sellick Partnership, we have a team of dedicated Diversity Champions and have delivered training to all staff on Diversity & Inclusion, placing us front and centre as a trusted recruitment partner, taking into consideration the needs of all every client and candidate we work with. 

We created a Recruitment Inclusion Checklist to help clients with things like: job descriptions, employer value propositions, adverts, interviews and building equity. In addition to this, we are incredibly proud to be a signatory of both the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter and the Race Fairness Commitment, as well as being a Disability Confident Committed (Level 1) employer. Find out more about our awards and accreditations here.

Dedicated to senior and executive recruitment

At Sellick Partnership, we are proud of the market-leading senior and executive recruitment services we provide for jobseekers and companies. Our dedicated consultants have been connecting outstanding executive-level candidates with leadership positions throughout the UK for many years.

We recognise the fundamental role that senior leaders play, and that’s why we are dedicated to providing our clients with the best candidates, and our candidates with an inclusive process; one that respects their requirements at every stage of the process.

Contact us today to discover more about how we can support you with your recruitment needs.