As a member of the Dallas business community, I have seen the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion evolve over time. At Heidrick & Struggles, where I lead the Americas region, we’ve seen shifts in our clients’ perspectives, too. Our firm advises on executive search and other leadership matters. Three years ago, we pledged that at least half of the initial candidates we presented to clients would be diverse. That commitment is showing up in our U.S. placements; at this point in 2021, 52 percent overall and 73 percent of our board placements are diverse.
The experiences of last year caused boards and organizations to become more intentional and purposeful in driving change. Leaders are more committed than ever to advancing their DEI goals. They’re casting a wider net to find executives outside of existing networks, building relationships with larger numbers of diverse candidates, and working to create inclusive cultures. This is the path forward, and those not on board are behind. Here are three factors to help ensure success:
- Diversity is more than Skin-Deep. Visible representation is critical, but true diversity takes hold when all forms of representation are pursued. Last year, we saw notable progress in the appointments of new Black directors—a jump up to 28 percent, compared to 10 percent in 2019. This progress was long overdue, and it spotlights the need to continue adding new voices and unique skill sets—including people in underrepresented age groups, women, Latinx, Asian, Asian-American, LGBTQ directors, and those with non-traditional backgrounds.
- Mentoring and sponsorship are key. As boards and C-Suites add leaders with unique experience and diverse backgrounds, they are finding there is still work to be done to ensure minorities are actively a part of a company’s succession planning pipeline. Mentorship and sponsorship are key. Sponsors can play a pivotal role in supporting new talent to a management team or a board and ensuring they have access to the skills and opportunities to be successful long-term leaders, increasing sustained inclusion and diverse representation.
- Change requires empathy and courage. The pandemic and social justice movement have been catalysts for progress, but companies diving into DEI commitments will require empathy and courage. Leaders must model empathetic listening—understanding different perspectives, motivations, and concerns—and empower employees to co-create solutions. They must also have the courage to address issues that need attention and initiate honest and, sometimes difficult, conversations to help forge a path forward.
Jaimee Eddington heads up the Americas region for Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search and leadership consulting firm.