Diversity: do it now, do it right

During 2020, Norman Broadbent’s Energy & Utilities Practice again successfully delivered numerous searches at Operational and Group Leadership levels. Without fail, during every briefing session, clients have asked for a focus on diversity as well as meeting the very strict criteria in terms of functional and behavioural competency. Inevitably, this can create a conflict between the desire for diversity and specific competencies or experiences.

Being the only firm of our kind to have a formal partnership with UN Women UK, and one of a handful of companies recognised by the UK Government and the Hampton Alexander Review due to our proven commitment in helping clients address their diversity challenges,  D&I is at the heart of every project we deliver.

When supporting our clients in making senior appointments, the ultimate priority is to hire the best person for the role, regardless of gender or race. Each candidate is assessed against a standard set of behavioural and technical competencies, and a judgement is made based on their skillset, experience, performance, and the assessment outputs. Ideally, this would ensure that the best person for the job is identified and appointed. In some industries, this often results in a non-diverse hire, as the pool of ‘suitable’ candidates (i.e. with the requested competencies) is almost entirely non-diverse.  It has been proven that there is a tangible commercial benefit in having cognitively diverse leadership teams, and deliberately seeking to include diverse candidates with less experience could be considered acceptable with a valid business reason to support this, e.g. if the existing team is very “one-dimensional” and at risk of groupthink. That being said, when a strict set of criteria forms the basis of a search process, this can heavily restrict the talent pool to be approached, and may result in a lack of diversity on a shortlist if the “diverse” talent simply does not exist in that specific, isolated market.

To counter this, there are two key approaches we believe can facilitate diverse hiring. Both, however, require genuine commitment from the hiring organisation to ensure success:

  • Do not overly define your criteria at the start of any search process: Be willing to consider talent from outside of sector and focus on general competency rather than a long list of Job Description “requirements”. This enables the search firm to cast the net wider identifying a broader pool of talent at the start of the search. Do not default back to a situation we see all too often (“we need to hire the person with the most experience”) as this re-directs the search straight back to that defined, traditional talent pool that has always existed in a non-diverse industry sector. There will always be occasions, for example with technical leadership roles, where very specific experience is In these situations, it is important to recognise that whilst diversity should always remain a priority, the percentage chance of achieving diversity may be diluted, in some cases to zero, if the statistically small diverse talent pool is not interested in exploring the opportunity you have to offer upon being approached. This should be monitored and acknowledged during the search process to manage expectations, if there is an agreement that certain key requirements of the role cannot be compromised.
  • Do not wait for a reactive recruitment process to identify diverse talent: Once you are in the midst of a pressurised, high-profile search process, the risk factor of hiring the “wrong” candidate can often overpower the appetite for diversity and new, innovative thinking. Planning ahead, we have helped clients proactively create diverse talent pools across core business functions where we know there will be future demand. By taking your brand to market and positioning potential future opportunities, we can generate the initial interest of diverse talent who might not fit the “square peg, square hole” model but could add significant value to the business, should an opportunity arise, in the future. For example, our clients have found that access to a pool of 20 diverse leaders/executives who have core operational leadership capability, improves the likelihood of “finding a home” for those individuals in the future. Those candidates have specific capability that is relevant to their business and have already expressed an interest in joining that business in the future. This creates a pipeline of ‘warm talent’ who can be approached when the time is right, rather than reactively seeking them out ‘cold’ at point-of-hire.

At Norman Broadbent we are proud of our success in helping different businesses tackle their very current, and very real, D&I challenges. The best long-term approach is to create attractive apprentice and graduate schemes to build a diverse talent pool of future leaders. Whilst good for the future, it does not solve the short-and medium-term issues. By proactively acting now and avoiding the temptation to revert to a traditional process for every hiring decision, there are opportunities to address short-term problems with non-traditional solutions thus laying the foundations for huge long-term gains.

If you would like to discuss this article further, learn more about The Norman Broadbent Group, or discuss specific people or organisational challenges, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Smith via chris.smith@normanbroadbent.com for an initial confidential discussion.