Commitment toward attracting and recruiting diverse talent starts at the top

As an executive retained search consultant for more than 18 years, I have found that there remains a divide between what most companies intuitively understand about the value of diversity within the workforce and the practical application of that knowledge in their day-to-day business. All too often we hear about and see the same men and women being interviewed for key executive roles in public and private companies, for-profit and nonprofit leadership roles, as well as serving on local Boards and committees. These individuals are certainly high performers and have had positive impacts within the businesses and communities they serve, but more can and should be done to expand the scope of engagement of diverse talent if our companies and our community are to truly optimize potential.

In a recent McKinsey report, Diversity Matters, the firm’s research determined that “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians…and, diversity is a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time. In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.”

Further, the McKinsey report suggests that “more diverse companies are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making … This in turn suggests that other kinds of diversity — for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency) — are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain such diverse talent.”

Yet even with this hard data and compelling anecdotal evidence, why do most companies find it challenging to create and sustain a successful strategy of recruitment and retention of top diverse talent? No one said it would be easy. In fact, our firm’s experience supports that intentionally identifying and recruiting diverse professionals for senior executive positions is one of the most requested and valued parts of our search process. What we also know is that without a dedicated strategy to integrate and develop new employees — and especially diverse talent — long-term fit and sustained success are at risk.

When it comes to recruitment, organizations must take an unfiltered look at who they are, how they operate and what their cultural norms are in relation to diversity. All too often organizations pursue diversity with the proper intentions, only to recruit a candidate who reflects the existing team or environment. The success of any stated commitment toward attracting and recruiting diverse talent starts at the top. The Executive leadership should reflect the ideals that the company states as core values. If one of those core principles is a commitment to diversity, then the team must not only have talent that reflects that commitment, but that talent should clearly be seen as critical leaders within the organization. Otherwise, potential employees will see the effort as hollow and eventually top talent will leave.

Even companies with strong track records for successful diversity recruitment often experience challenges developing and retaining top diverse talent, because diversity tends to be addressed during a time of recruitment.

That is why we need organizations like Access Charlotte. An organization inspired and led by Charlotte’s top minority executives who are developing and building the pipeline of diverse talent in the Charlotte region. Leaders such as Kevin Henry, EVP at Extended Stay, Lloyd Yates, EVP at Duke Energy, Frank Emory, Partner at Hunton & Williams, and entrepreneurs like Stoney Sellars, CEO — StoneLaurel, bring a unique perspective to leadership development only they can impart. These executives are not giving your standard “secrets to success” talk, but instead informal coaching, bringing real-life experiences and wisdom to the region’s most promising, diverse executives and entrepreneurs. This is not simply a series of workshops, but rather unabridged conversations with rich dialogue that gives insight on how to chart a course toward an executive position, while appreciating the nuances of being a minority in today’s corporate environment.

Talent must be championed. And you must have the right champion relationship to be considered for opportunities. The reality is diverse talent often does not have the relationships with key executives to achieve greater levels of success in organizations.

At Cameron Carmichael, we believe that our clients’ most important responsibility following a candidate’s hiring, is the manner in which the client helps accelerate the new employee’s integration into the company. When a company can genuinely display an environment that is committed to diversity, inclusion and advancement, where clear opportunities exist and examples of professional growth for high-potential talent can be demonstrated, then the resulting outcomes are predictably enhanced — innovation improves, problem solving improves, culture improves and performance improves.


Martin Godwin is Managing Director of the Charlotte-based retained executive recruiting firm, Cameron Carmichael.

Steven Mast