Representation in leadership: The power of executive leadership diversity

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3 mins, 38 secs read time

Today, more and more companies are taking action to ensure their workforces are diverse and reflect the customers they serve. But the most successful companies are the ones that not only champion diversity at all levels of the organization, but make representation in leadership (from executives to board members) a strategic imperative. Unfortunately, the membership of Fortune 500 boards of directors and most C-suites in the US are overwhelmingly white and mostly male.

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Rashida Jones, President of MSNBC, Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse, Carin Van Vuuren, CMO at Greenhouse and Astha Malik, CBO at Braze (and Greenhouse board member) chatted with Shelley Zalis, CEO at The Female Quotient, to explore why executive leadership representation is imperative, and how to move the needle to affect real change. Here are some key highlights from the conversation.

Benefits of executive and board diversity

This level of leadership plays a crucial role in shaping the organization’s strategy, overseeing its performance and ensuring its long-term success. But in order for this group to be truly effective, it must be diverse in terms of experiences, perspectives and skills. Here are a few key benefits of representation in leadership:

Improved financial performance: Companies with more diverse boards are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability than their less diverse counterparts.

Greater innovation: Companies with diverse leadership teams were more likely to report above-average innovation.

Increased employee satisfaction: Companies with diverse leadership teams are more likely to report high levels of trust, pride and camaraderie.

How to hire a diverse executive leadership team

Think beyond the quota

Before we can really think about making a change, we have to start with thinking about leadership diversity as more than just a quota.

Rashida frankly stated “It takes away from the commitment if you’re just getting a number. It comes back to intentionality – there has to be purpose behind it. It may feel good to have those metrics for a press release, but it can’t be just for the goal of the numbers. It has to be a systemic thing and be built into how your company operates.”

Ensure that your entire company and leadership team understands the value and the power of representation in leadership, so they’ll buy into the process.

Leaders have a choice to create diversity. It doesn’t happen by osmosis.
– Carin Van Vuuren, CMO at Greenhouse

Drop the excuses and proactively search

The excuse of “I just couldn’t find them,” doesn’t work. “There’s such a huge talent pool that has been ignored.” Daniel shared, “Those people are incredibly talented. It’s your responsibility as a leader to take the time to find them.” He also mentioned utilizing great resources like Black Women on Boards to find great underrepresented Black women leaders.

All we’re looking for is fairness. We’re not asking for more, we’re asking for the same.
– Rashida Jones, President of MSNBC

Daniel added that women and people of color are often less likely to apply to jobs unless they meet every single qualification, whereas white men will often still apply, increasing their presence in the talent pool. Proactive sourcing (underrepresented job board outreach or a tool like Greenhouse Sourcing Automation) helps combat this and can improve your representation in leadership.

“You have to do a breakdown of your inbound applicants.” Daniel shared. “In 2019, when we first started investing in proactive sourcing, our applicant pool was 10% Black. As it started to build, it grew to 20%, and is only increasing.”

Focus on the skills more than anything else

A prestigious college degree does not translate into workplace success. In fact, it often limits people from underrepresented groups from qualifying for a role. But did you know that if you bring a skills-based filter to your recruiting, you broaden your talent pool by 20 times?

You may not even realize the biases that you have. “People often make assumptions based on likeability,” Astha mentioned. But that’s certainly not enough. Make sure that your hiring process includes assessments for leadership skills, like strategic thinking, change management and emotional intelligence.

Interested in learning more about how to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion from the start? Read this article.

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Micah Gebreyes

Micah Gebreyes

is a Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Greenhouse where she develops and leads the content strategy for Greenhouse blogs, social media and thought leadership newsletter, Modern Recruiter. When she's not working to bring the brand story to life, she enjoys spending time with her Pomeranian, Cashew. Keep the conversation growing with Micah on LinkedIn or through the Greenhouse LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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