The vast benefits of establishing diversity among leaders in organizations is well documented and acknowledged across the globe. Organizations are more able to achieve success when their leadership teams match the diversity in their workplace, communities, customers, markets and stakeholders.

There are many high profile examples of companies who are publicly committing to increasing their levels of diversity. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, recently led the way at a special orientation session for the recipients of its WWDC Scholarship Program, stating that “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”

executive_search_diversityNot only is diversity critical to innovation, but a recent MIT study demonstrated that an even gender split at one organization contributed to an increase in revenue of over 41 percent. In addition, companies with higher female representation in C-suite positions outperform those who don’t by delivering up to 24 percent greater returns to shareholders. Boards with greater gender balances are also proven to be better informed about share price movements and better at making merger and acquisition decisions.

Aside from gender diversity, companies are also making it know that they are wishing to hire candidates from other minority groups too.

Despite this, the fact still remains, as reported in a recent study by Russell Reynolds, that white directors still hold a disproportionate share of board seats: 84 percent are white and male compared to 18.5 percent female, eight percent of African descent, four percent Hispanic, and three percent Asian. 17 percent of companies have no minority board representation at all.

Of the United States’ 500 largest companies, a mere five CEOs in charge are African American.

Obviously, something needs to change and this change is not the responsibility of the minority groups themselves, yet executive candidates from minority groups often ask what they can do to help navigate diversity issues to secure their next opportunity.

As BlueSteps is strong advocate of diversity, committed to helping those from diverse backgrounds reach the executive and board levels, below are a few of our most frequently asked diversity-related questions, and our answers.

How would you recommend executives discuss diversity when speaking with executive search consultants and potential employers?

Executive candidates from minority groups can sometimes feel uncertain about when to mention their diversity to potential employers and search consultants, fearing that if mentioned too early in the process it could overshadow their achievements and appear as though that was their sole offering.

As diversity is important to executive searches, one of the best ways to highlight this while also reinforcing other qualities is to mention academic connections or professional activities that are related to being in a minority group, such as belonging to a professional association for minorities, or a memory of a minority-oriented fraternity/sorority while at college.

In previous interviews, Patrick Prout, of Diversified Search, has recommended that “candidates can give clues about their race or other diverse traits during follow-up telephone conversations. This could be in the form of asking the executive search consultant about the hiring organization’s commitment to diversity or to explicitly mention that they are interested in working for organizations who are strongly committed to diversity…”

What is the best strategy to position myself for new opportunities as a candidate from a minority group?

Networking is key to career success for any executive, but it can be of particular advantage to those from minorities if conducted effectively. It is advisable to find mentors and sponsors among those higher up, whilst also investing in growing your lateral network simultaneously. To do this, try to identify a few peers who will be able to provide you with the honest feedback that may not currently get during performance reviews with your manager/CEO.

It is no coincidence that many of the executives who have made it onto Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list cited this as their strategy for gaining advice and information for progressing in their careers. 

What other advice would you give to executive candidates from minority groups?

Aside from building and maintaining a strategic network, other advice would be to take on challenges that no one else’s wants to tackle, then learn how to make those higher up aware of what you have achieved. As for any executive, hard work is often not enough by itself; it is vital to understand how to showcase and stand you for your achievements.


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