Diversity and Inclusion: Shifting the Paradigm on Assessment and Recruitment

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On November 15, 2017, Calibre One and Arete Partners hosted a panel of senior diverse leaders to discuss what some progressive and innovative leaders are doing to accelerate the recruitment of diverse talent across all levels of the organization. Below, we have summarized the 3 main takeaways from this wide-ranging, energizing, and practical conversation:

  1. Numbers don’t lie: There are too few women and people of color in the executive ranks in corporate America. According to a 2017 study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org (Women in the Workplace) 1 in 5 C-Suite leaders is a woman, and fewer than 1 in 30 is a woman of color.

    Progressive leaders understand the supply-demand imbalance and shift the paradigm of assessment to evaluate candidates on their potential for growth in addition to whether they have done the job before. One panelist stressed the value of pro-actively considering the diversity profile of your interview teams to help ensure a more inclusive approach to candidate selection and interviews. Doing this helps organizations access a broader set of potential candidates while also promoting an inclusive and diverse face to the hiring process from the onset. Once a panel of candidates are selected and you are interviewing for relevant experiences, several panelists emphasized the value of balancing the assessment criteria between relevant experiences and “taking a bet” on someone with great potential who might otherwise be excluded. Our panelists noted several examples where the “less experienced” hire developed into some of the best hires and encouraged the audience of senior HR and business leaders to expand our mindset around hiring practices. Research shows that while some of these candidates were “less experienced” on some of the technical or leadership requirements, they had demonstrated positive markers for growth including passion for the mission, fearlessness to learn and the ability to “sell themselves”.

  2. Create your opportunity: While “positive networking” is valuable in general, it’s especially important for diverse talent to build bridges with people of impact in both the private sector and not-for-profit communities. Several panelists shared examples of proactively building their networks with senior leaders and Board members and offered a few tactics that have paid dividends over time, including:
    • Seek to build reciprocal relationships with potential mentors. This model creates a mutually beneficial relationship where each participant “gains something” from the relationship. For example, one panelist shared a story where she said to her GM at the time, “I’m really good with numbers and I’d love to help you think about a complex business problem you have where my affinity for numbers could be valuable.” The offer to help him built rapport with this senior executive and created a more natural networking opportunity based on mutual interest.
    • Reach for stretch roles and avoid the trap of feeling “underqualified” – you can do it! A Harvard Business School article in 2014 titled “Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified” noted that men apply for a job when they only meet 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of the qualifications. Our panelists shared numerous examples where they managed their own self-doubts at various points in their careers, and it was illuminating to hear how the further up you go in your career, the fewer mentors (let alone diverse ones) are available. The panelists agreed that navigating your career involves cultivating your brand both internally, as well as nurturing relationship with executive recruiters and outside Board members.
  3. Accelerating Diversity and Inclusion means leaders must embrace risk, make bets on people, and unpack both known and subtle biases in the recruitment and assessment processes. Each of our panelists has hired executives, middle managers, and entry-level professionals throughout their careers, and shared a few lessons learned in helping reshape the executive ranks:
    • Make culture a competitive differentiator in the war for talent. Companies that can offer meaningful, exciting career growth options and an inclusive culture have the best shot of sustained success.
    • C-Level executives and Board members have the influence to vouch for great diverse candidates which is especially impactful and needed. The world will not change overnight but those in influential positions can accelerate progress.
    • Creating a robust pipeline of diverse executives may require a paradigm shift around helping working parents better balance competing priorities in their careers and family commitments, especially in high cost Silicon Valley. We need to create both viable “acceleration” and “deceleration” paths for executives without permanently moving someone off the fast track. If we want to build a multi-generational pipeline of diverse candidates, we should not be oblivious to the additional hurdles that many diverse executives encounter even before arriving at the office.