Diversity and Inclusion and the Role of Executive Search

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) remains a hot topic. For some companies it’s an issue of regulatory compliance or corporate social responsibility. Yet others regard it as a source of competitive advantage and with good reason. Research shows that organizations with greater levels of diversity outperform their competitors.

UPL’s research showed that companies with ethnically diverse leadership are 33% more likely to outperform on profitability and 21% more likely to have above-average profitability with gender diverse leadership teams.

BCG and the Technical University of Munich found a direct correlation between innovation, diversity in leadership teams and profitability of new product releases. They discovered that four types of diversity—industry background, country of origin, career path, and gender—positively correlate with innovation. 

UPL ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ 2018.

It is perhaps not surprising that D&I is firmly on the board room agenda and companies are actively looking to improve equality in their recruiting practices. So what role can executive search firms play?


As organizations seek a diversified workforce, Invenias set out to discover what role, if any, executive search has to play in driving greater diversity in recruitment. In partnership with MIX Diversity Developers, a boutique consultancy firm specializing in D&I, Invenias have undertaken a global survey of executive search professionals to ascertain the impact that diversity is likely to have on their working practices and business strategies in the future.

Preliminary findings of more than 300 respondents suggest that D&I is a key agenda item, with over two thirds of respondents stating that it will be ‘highly important’ to their clients in 2019. The research goes on to investigate the challenges faced by search firms relating to diversity and to look at potential solutions for their clients.



Diversity & Inclusion is a high priority for clients of executive search firms and over half of those surveyed believe they have a part to play in advising clients to choose a diverse short list.

Not only did respondents express that D&I is a priority area for their clients but over half are receiving specific requests (whether officially or off-the-record) for diverse long-lists. For example 51% have been asked for a 50:50 gender split long list. Once that long-list has been submitted, over 50% of respondents felt they had a role to play in advising their client to choose an appropriately reflective short list. This is a positive step in the right direction given how difficult these conversations with clients can be.


It remains more difficult for female candidates and BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) candidates to be appointed to an executive board/senior management position, but attitudes are changing.

Providing strategies to tackle the lack of diversity in the long-term is vital if companies are to move towards an inclusive workforce. The lack of diversity in business, particularly at board level, is still apparent. Nearly two thirds of those surveyed believed that it is currently more difficult for a woman to be appointed to an executive board/senior management position, but that there is evidence that attitudes are changing. Nearly 40% of those surveyed felt that this was a similar premise with BAME candidates; although 30% of respondents felt that attitudes were yet to change.


Unconscious Bias and a lack of diverse candidates present barriers to greater inclusion.

The reasons for this are varied, with more than 55% of respondents believing that unconscious bias is to blame for the challenge in appointing diverse candidates. This opens the way for executive search consultants to push-back against short-listing decisions and to act as the trusted advisor on inclusive recruitment practices for their clients. In addition, a staggering 46% of respondents have noted that the lack of diverse candidates is to blame for the lack of diverse appointments at the C-Suite level, and executive search firms can have a direct impact on this statistic.


Greater diversity & inclusion will not happen by accident and may require specific practices, interventions and checks to ensure greater equality.

The overriding question for executive search professionals will be how they can help clients build diversity along with inclusive recruitment practices. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed suggested that diverse longlists would be easier to cultivate if clients were more open to candidates from a different industry sector (65%), giving less weight to proven career experience, and instead seeing candidates with relevant skills and underlying competencies. This will require a change in culture. As one respondent noted, ‘getting clients out of their safe comfort zone is a challenge’.

It is apparent that a variety of strategies are coming to the fore in the campaign for a more diverse workforce. This included using gender neutral language in job advertisements and descriptions (more than 50% of those surveyed are already using this strategy); avoiding unconscious bias (with more than a third of those surveyed already doing this); and using CVs which have been stripped of any name or clues as to ethnicity and gender (with a third of those surveyed already employing this method).


Executive search firms are developing their Diversity & Inclusion capabilities in order to better serve their clients.

With over 80% of those surveyed seeking diversity within the interview process, and training on unconscious bias and inclusive recruitment practices becoming more the norm, it’s clear that some executive search firms are building on best practices to drive diversity. This will help as more search firms are asked about their own D&I credentials as part of the tendering process (39%).


Despite the challenges faced, executive search firms see plenty of opportunity.

Executive search professionals recognize a myriad of opportunities offered by D&I, from championing emerging leaders, to having the opportunity to implement real change within their clients’ business. Some see their ability to consult and advise their clients on less obvious candidates as a competitive advantage, going a step further by providing guidance on how to find, attract and retain diverse talent. As one respondent succinctly put it, ‘Diversity makes businesses more successful. Our biggest opportunity is making our clients more successful.’

To request a copy of the full survey write-up or register to attend a webinar on the results please visit https://www.invenias.com/trending/diversity-inclusion.


Over 1,000 Executive Search Firms across the globe, including many AESC member firms, use Invenias to deliver search assignments more effectively, build stronger relationships with their clients and candidates and transform the productivity of their operations. To learn more, visit www.invenias.com to request a free no obligation demo.


MIX works with organizations to help them maximize the opportunities present in a diverse workforce and customer base. The team at MIX are specialists in Diversity & Inclusion, unconscious bias and cultural change. Using evidence in practice combined with the most up-to-date research on diversity and inclusion, they are challenging companies to take a fresh approach to equality in the workplace. They provide training on unconscious bias and inclusive recruitment practices alongside keynote speakers and consulting services.