The importance of diversity and inclusion in the boardroom

Peter Linas
- Leadership - May 10, 2019

Much is said about diversity and inclusion (D&I), but the real indicator of a company’s commitment to it is what they do in practice to address it. Some have initiatives in place and others look to experienced recruiters to help them develop more inclusive hiring practices. Naturally, this leaves recruiters in a unique position to help their clients do the right thing and hire people from a more diverse background.

At Bullhorn, we’ve long held the belief that having a diverse set of people in a  workplace only makes it better – but a new report from Invenias (a Bullhorn company) and MIX Diversity Developers has revealed that much needs to be done to address the issue, particularly at boardroom level.

The report is the largest of its kind. It’s based on a survey of 400 executive search professionals, with fourteen key questions on the challenges they see more diverse candidates face when looking to make it to the top. In addition, the report suggests different ways that recruiters can help to tackle the problem and make embracing D&I easier for all involved.

The importance of D&I

The good news is that recruiters generally agree with us – they know that D&I matters. In fact, a huge 89% of recruiters think it will be important to their clients in 2019, and 64% think it will be ‘highly important’.

The minority who don’t see it as a priority might do well to read up on research that makes a good business case for it. A study from Deloitte shows that inclusive teams outperform non-inclusive teams by 80%. In addition, research from McKinsey found that companies with ethnically diverse leadership teams are 33% more likely to have higher bottom-line revenue, and those with gender diverse leadership teams are 21% more likely to have higher bottom-line revenue. If that isn’t convincing, what is?

Examining current attitudes

When asked if they believe it’s more difficult for a woman to be appointed to a senior role, nearly three quarters (74%) agreed that it is still harder, although many (57%) believe attitudes are changing. When asked the same question about black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) candidates, over half (59%) said they believe it is harder for them by comparison to a non-BAME candidate, and over a quarter (26%) believe nothing has changed in terms of attitudes. On a more positive note, one third (33%) said that attitudes are changing. A fifth (19%) said they ‘didn’t know’ if it was more difficult for a BAME candidate, by comparison to a small minority (3%) saying the same about female candidates.

It’s fair to say that candidates who come from diverse backgrounds have it harder than those who don’t. But why is this the case, and what can recruiters do about it?

Identifying the challenges

When asked why they think it’s more difficult for diverse candidates to be appointed into senior roles, the most popular answer was unconscious bias (52%). Other responses include clients choosing the safest option (45%) and diverse candidates being judged more harshly than majority candidates (25%). All of these reasons seem to pin responsibility on the client, however nearly half (45%) said that there is simply just a lack of diverse candidates in the first place. Nearly a fifth (15%) also cited a lack of confidence on the part of the diverse candidate.

Moving on from theory to practice, we asked respondents what they thought would help them to create more diverse longlists. Top of the list was for clients to give less weight to career experience and instead focus on skills, competencies and capabilities (70%). Nearly two-thirds (65%) want clients to be more open to candidates from a different industry sector, and nearly half (46%) simply said they need improved access to a more diverse set of candidates.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as most respondents said they have already tried different techniques in order to attract a more diverse and inclusive shortlist. Over a third (36%) said they avoided unconscious bias in shortlist selection, and nearly half (46%) cited using gender neutral language in job advertisements and descriptions. Over a quarter (29%) said they had used the ‘Rooney Rule’ (i.e. having at least one diverse candidate shortlisted), and a similar amount (28%) said they had used ‘blind’ CVs that removed the candidate names and any clues as to ethnicity or gender. Other techniques include placing job adverts in ‘alternative’ locations and talent pooling (creating a database of individuals with similar candidate profiles).

It seems that recruiters are trying to make a change but are still falling short, whether that be because of the lack of available candidates, or pressure from the client to hire based on relevant experience alone. But there is still more that they can do.

The role that recruiters play in encouraging diversity

Providing a diverse longlist is only half the job. If recruiters want to see more D&I from their clients, they need to steer them in the right direction of a more diverse shortlist, too. Encouragingly, over two-fifths (43%) are actively training consultants on inclusive recruitment practices, but this still means that a similar amount (45%) aren’t, so there’s clearly some way to go.

Diverse hiring is important and recruiters, whether they like it or not, bear some of the responsibility for it for their clients.

Peter Linas, EVP of Corporate Development and International at Bullhorn

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