Diversity & Inclusion

Economy and talent drought may force widespread diversity

Surprise, surprise: Leaders of international executive search firm Epsen Fuller have noticed severe deficits in diversity at the executive level. And they know of what they speak: The firm is the U.S. member of IMD International Search and Consulting, the 14th largest executive search firm network in the world. The firm’s own research reveals that only 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Among the chief financial officers — a pool for CEO talent — women represent a measly 10 percent in Fortune 1,000 companies. And when it comes to minorities in the top ranks, the numbers dilute even more: Only four percent of minorities are in executive positions.

However Thomas Fuller, director of the Americas and general managing partner at Epsen Fuller/IMD, says that might end in the near future — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because necessity is the mother of, er, integration. He says companies are already asking for a more diverse slate of candidates as the baby boomer generation gears for retirement; the trend will continue, he predicts, eventually giving firms little choice but to consider minorities and women for senior positions.

Fuller also believes economics will play an important role in advancing diversity. All companies have to do is look at where a greater slice of their revenue stems from — primarily Asia and other developing countries. If corporations are selling to Indians and Asians, who better to understand the customer, Fuller says: “The issue of diversity is no longer just trying to comply, but it’s become a key competitive strategy.”

Indeed, a study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago — “Does Diversity Pay? Racial Composition of Firms and the Business Case for Diversity” — found that organizations with more racial diversity enjoy larger market shares, more customers, higher sales revenues and greater general profits.

5 ways to diversify your executive suite

Fuller and other IMD board members — who made diversity a primary theme at their recent partner conference — collaborated to come up with this list of the best strategies for boosting the levels of women and minorities at an organization’s highest levels:

1. Start at the top. Demonstrating diversity in the C-suite and at board levels is the fastest way to make it a priority organizationwide.

2. Expand the mindset. The most successful organizations reflect their customer- or end-user base and are culturally and intellectually diverse.

3. Create mentorships. Develop a robust mentoring program designed to share knowledge, enable successful navigation of corporate culture, and promote visibility of the diverse employee population.

4. Start an employee referral program. The best way to recruit and build a reputation of supporting diversity is to rely on happy employees to refer friends and colleagues into the company: let them be your spokespeople for diversity.

5. Start employment branding. Support organizations that promote diversity, education, and professional achievement, and build a brand of inclusiveness among your community customers and employees.