DIVING INTO THE POOL
Odgers Berndtson is helping its clients to think more courageously about candidate shortlists and to really explore the diverse talent pool that’s out there
Executive search firms have an essential role to play in helping clients create more inclusive and diverse leadership teams. The question is: how are they going about it and what challenges do they face?
For Odgers Berndtson, the process must begin internally. To that end the firm has created Unlimited, which it says is its own “methodology, belief and commitment to putting inclusion and diversity at the heart of everything it does”.
The firm’s Global Inclusion & Diversity Steering Group drives Unlimited’s worldwide initiatives, which enables colleagues – and ultimately helps clients – to make more informed choices and play an active part in creating a more diverse culture.
The three principal leaders of the Steering Group – Jane Griffith based in Odgers Berndtson’s Toronto office and Áine Hurley and Stuart Morton based in London* – work together with Odgers Berndtson offices around the world to ensure this diverse and inclusive culture respects differences and treats everyone with dignity and fairness.
Initiatives such as becoming an Inclusion Ally – essentially an individual who believes all colleagues should experience equality, fairness, dignity and happiness at work – help meld together the essential tenets of Odgers Unlimited. Says Hurley: “Strengthening inclusion at Odgers Berndtson is not just an imperative as an employer.
It also allows us to think creatively and broadly about search, to find and attract the best people for clients and challenge clients’ thinking when we need to. We need to ask clients the tricky and brave questions, but in a way that’s supportive and ensures that the client has taken the time to think about what the art of the possible could be. As the ‘expert advisor’ our role is to help clients make an even more courageous and unexpected appointment – for the right reasons.”
It also allows us to think creatively and broadly about search, to find and attract the best people for clients and challenge clients’ thinking when we need to.
We need to ask clients the tricky and brave questions, but in a way that’s supportive and ensures that the client has taken the time to think about what the art of the possible could be. As the ‘expert advisor’ our role is to help clients make an even more courageous and unexpected appointment – for the right reasons.”
The top positive female words were ‘compassionate’ and ‘enthusiastic’, while the words for men were ‘analytical’ and ‘competent’. These words can have harmful consequences for women as the male words align more closely with business language and descriptions for ideal candidates in many senior executive roles.”
Ultimately, says Griffith, “our use of language can limit gender diversity in the workforce, from hiring, to assessments, to terminations. Biased language can be found in everything from job postings, to candidate screening processes and resumé and performance reviews, perpetuating the status quo inside industries, companies, functions and roles”.
In practice, adds Griffith, the entire Odgers Berndtson Canadian team (covering five offices across the country) receives training on unconscious bias “to ensure that qualified candidates, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on, are not overlooked because of our own inherent biases”.
SHIFTING THE CONVERSATION
The imperative for Odgers Berndtson is to help clients specify roles in such a way – removing ingrained practices and thinking – to deliver a pool of talented people which is diverse. Odgers Berndtson is shifting the discussion with clients to one where the conversation expands the pool of potential leaders considered rather than contracts. Too often the conversation has been sector specific – “I need someone who has 15 years’ retail experience for this role” – where individuals from other customerfacing, fast-paced organisations could deliver equally relevant, broader experience – bringing diversity of thought and perspective.
Stuart Morton believes that increasing diversity on shortlists, and giving the client better and wider choice, can be driven by a number of factors: “Many businesses face digital transformation, new delivery models, a more flexible workforce and outsourced capability – to Asia for example. All of this enables us to broaden the pool of people and to offer more diverse choice.”
Much of this may seem self-evident today, particularly for millennials who expect that there will be diversity and inclusion in the leadership team as a matter of course not as an afterthought.
KNOWING WHERE TO START
In Australia, says Caroline Dever, a Managing Partner in Odgers Berndtson’s Melbourne office, “our experience is that progress is incremental. We know diversity is becoming a priority and the conversation is happening. The conundrum for organisations is knowing where to start and how to implement a meaningful strategy while managing levels of disruption not dealt with previously.
Diversity can become a lower priority. “Our approach has changed to how we manage diversity for our clients. We, too, have introduced unconscious bias training, which is critical. Our briefing process with clients is structured differently – we need to know where our clients are on the diversity journey. As an executive search firm, we must ensure we push ourselves to look at our processes more critically and make a deliberate effort to uncover talent that reflects all walks of society. How we ourselves look at the diversity challenge must continue to change and evolve if we are going to lead on supporting and promoting diversity to our clients.”
"We know diversity is becoming a priority and the conversation is happening"
ODGERS BERNDTSON AUS
The South African experience is particularly interesting where cultural diversity is prioritised. In June 2017 the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Listings Requirements were amended to ensure that companies “must have a policy for the promotion of racial diversity at board level and they are further required to report annually to their shareholders how they have applied the policy. Listed companies are also required to report on how they have complied with their own voluntary targets and to report on the progress they have made.”
According to Lauren van Halderen and Chania Stempowski, Joint CEOs at Odgers Berndtson South Africa, “Corporate South Africa is still very much male-dominated at top leadership level, but that is slowly changing. Grant Thornton’s 2018 International Business Report shows that the percentage of women in senior management positions in corporate South Africa has risen by three per cent. As a female-led executive search firm, we play a vital role in bringing the gender agenda to the table in our conversations with clients, and we are finding that such conversations are gaining momentum in boardrooms too.
“The Odgers Berndtson South Africa team has a strong track record of offering diverse and inclusive shortlists on Executive and Board searches, we have unique networks into the corporate South African landscape across industries and we are committed to developing the next tier of board leadership. We regularly introduce younger, more creative and diverse thinkers into the board selection process, who are from different backgrounds, with industry experience and views on the future world of work.”
RESPONSIBILITY TO CLIENTS
Each day across Odgers Berndtson’s global network efforts are being redoubled to not only ensure clients understand the proven benefits of more diverse talent in their executive and board teams but also to explain, in a collaborative way, that thinking differently can be liberating. “Our responsibility to our clients,” says Griffith,“ is to support them to make diversity a reality in their organisations.
We are committed to ensuring that we provide our clients with choice and are continuing to find ways to improve the creativity with which we tackle assignments. We actively create networks with organisations that assist us in sourcing more diverse candidates. More broadly, our commitment to diversity is at every level of our own organisation.
We value diversity in ethnicity, disability, gender, language, age, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, experience and education. We aim to ensure that employees are treated fairly, evaluated objectively and enabled to succeed.”