The stakes have changed Featured

10:32am EDT September 20, 2006
Astute corporate leaders recognize that ignoring diversity hiring issues can result in unnecessary and unwanted tangible and intangible costs in time, money, productivity and lost investments in recruiting and training. As a result, they are focusing more on recruiting and retaining diverse talent for their management teams. Doing so enhances their companies’ competitive advantages in the global marketplace and helps them avert significant problems, such as a loss of productivity because of conflicts between different groups of employees and legal actions. And it creates a cycle that perpetuates their ability to build a more creative work force, which is a natural byproduct of diversity.

Smart Business talked to Paula Harrison of TNS Partners Inc. to learn more about the changes in the strategies corporations use in their attempts to attract diverse talent into leadership roles and how they can benefit from this process.

Is corporate America aware of the need to attract diverse talent to strengthen its position in the global business environment?
The real-world challenge of identifying and hiring the right people who are racially and gender-diverse is faced again and again in corporate America. A recent situation with a Fortune 500 global market leader is a clear example.

Having successfully identified and recruited multiple individuals to a highly specialized and important sales function, the company needed to address the same need by also identifying the diverse executives. After extensive efforts, the company found it much more difficult to identify similar talent who met the same qualifications. Ironically, the difficulty arises at a time when leadership opportunities abound for professionals of color, as well as women.

How does a company operating globally benefit from filling leadership positions with a spectrum of talent that reflects diversity?
The world is getting smaller at breathtaking speed, requiring us to adapt constantly to new ways of doing business. Companies are compelled like never before to understand how a competitor, customer or alliance partner halfway around the world is motivated and thinks. Strategically employing a racially and gender-diverse work force helps meet that challenge.

Have factors like globalization, the Internet and the transition to a service economy increased leadership opportunities for people of color and women in the business world?
The realities businesses face to attract strong leaders who reflect diversity is that career choices and opportunities are expanding. Just 20 years ago, globalization, the impact of the Internet and explosive growth in the service economy had not occurred. All executives now have career path and options that did not exist for earlier generations. A college graduate can now almost as easily be interviewed for a position in Bangalore as New York City. Also, the new business opportunities that the Internet has created are required subject matter in most business schools. Corporate America’s plan for identifying and attracting diverse talent has to be no less adaptive and innovative.

Have the increased opportunities resulted in an equal playing field as far as factors like pay scales and perks are concerned?
The current business environment has changed how we think about pay scale and perks. Competitive pressures are forcing companies to recruit and employ the best talent and compensate them accordingly, whatever their racial or gender background.

How do long-term business plans affect short-term plans to attain diversity?
In the war for market position, quarterly results, and — many times — a company’s fiscal survival, we often see tactical, short-term results in attaining diversity. A company frequently will identify diversity as an objective. Then, in a specific position it will narrowly set job criteria only to be diverted by other candidates who are readily available and who may exceed the criteria.

Can companies fulfill their diversity objectives and meet short-term business goals simultaneously?
Companies can take a more pro-active approach while addressing short-term needs by building position definitions that allow for growth, development and mentoring as well as short-term career development. In the longer term, a specific plan for identifying and recruiting diversity into ‘feeder’ positions can be implemented, building bench strength for top leadership roles. In most successful business situations in which diversity is achieved, the commitment has come from the top leadership and it is unwavering.

How can executive search firms help in the diversity recruiting process?
They can assist in identifying, evaluating, and recruiting individuals who possess the specific knowledge, expertise and personal qualities required by clients who are seeking to create a diverse work force. As part of the process, they match individuals who best fit their clients’ philosophies, management styles and cultural environment in view of their expectations and the realities of the marketplace.

PAULA HARRISON is a vice president of TNS Partners Inc. Reach her at (214) 369-3565 or