How to Convert Diversity Aspirations into a Competitive Advantage

Contributed by Howard Fischer Associates

It is widely acknowledged that diversity is good business. As evidenced by a recent study from McKinsey & Company, companies with more diverse leadership teams – in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and age – outperform their competition.

It is no longer a question of whether diversity makes sense for executive leadership teams and boards – it does. The question on the mind of most companies now is how to ensure that their diversity recruitment efforts are successful. While most companies have good intentions when it comes to diverse leadership hiring, they often fall short of their aspirations. Diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, thought, and experience are all important contributors to innovation and success.

In my experience working with C-level executives and boards, the root cause of this is that most companies tend to be reactive when filling senior level leadership roles, typically waiting to initiate a diversity search until after an active opening exists.

Time is the enemy of diversity. The longer a position is open, the more costly it becomes, and the less likely companies are to patiently wait for a strong diverse slate. Because there are fewer diverse candidates in the marketplace, they are more difficult to identify, and the competition to retain and attract them is intense. If there is pressure to fill an open position because someone left unexpectedly, was promoted, or was terminated, diversity can become less of a priority than filling the position as quickly as possible.

Many companies find themselves in this position because they don’t have a proactive, anticipatory, and ongoing external succession program that emphasizes diversity of all kinds. Such a program ensures that a company is better prepared for unexpected departures and has a pipeline of outstanding diverse candidates when the inevitable need does occur.

Why limit this to diversity talent? Another benefit of this pipeline of leadership talent is that it is often a catalyst for upgrading any mediocre talent (diverse or otherwise) that may exist in the organization. When a company meets an outstanding candidate, they can be opportunistic about finding a place in the organization for them.

“Progress isn’t just slow – it’s stalled,” said Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. Discussing what can be done to close the gender and diversity gap, they said, “Companies need to take bold steps to make the race fair.”

To help companies convert their diversity aspirations into a competitive advantage, Howard Fischer Associates has developed the Leadership Pipeline Program. You can learn more here as well as on their website.

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