Search 2.0

The Plan

A definitive guide to more inclusive outcomes

Search 2.0

The Plan

A definitive guide to more inclusive outcomes

Search 2.0

The Plan

A definitive guide to more inclusive outcomes

The Search Strategy 

A search strategy is often more precise and prescriptive than it needs to be. The mathematical consequences of precise search criteria on the diversity of the candidate pool can be drastic because of the law of small numbers—the reality that underrepresented candidate pools are not numerous in senior leadership ranks.

Take a search for the CEO of a company in the oil and gas sector, with over $1 billion in revenues, headquartered and publicly listed in the UK, as an example:

  • If the search strategy is designed to hit each of these five criteria (oil and gas experience, revenue over $1 billion, prior CEO experience, prior publicly listed company experience, prior UK headquarters experience), just one female candidate would make your list. Now, let’s flex the search strategy to expand the pool of female leaders who could be a fit.
  • Relaxing just the geographical criteria to include Europe and North America would give you four female candidates, extending to seven if you include the rest of the world. Depending on the degree of flexibility the client is willing to deploy, we have managed to enhance the number of female leaders by 700 percent.
  • Now, let’s assume that the client situation does not allow any flexibility in geographically expanding the search criteria because being UK-headquartered and having experience in a UK-listed company is deemed critical. Relaxing the sector criteria in that instance, while keeping everything else the same, could give you 17 female leaders to consider, an increase of 1,700 percent.
  • A hybrid flexing of criteria is also possible. Say the client is unwilling to compromise on oil and gas experience, publicly listed company experience and the scale (revenue) of the business. However, they are willing to partially flex on geographical criteria (e.g., consider Europe in addition to the UK but not any further, and may be willing to consider any current C-suite leaders as opposed to just CEOs). Even this limited flex on just two dimensions (geography and seniority) dramatically increases the number of female leaders that you can consider to 25, an increase of 2,500 percent.

Flexing our search criteria may lead to two main counterchallenges: First, these leaders may not all automatically be realistic candidates. It’s too early in the process to make that judgment and would be akin to ruling out options before knowing what they are. Second, some may argue this practice leads to positive discrimination. However, this would not be discriminatory if the underlying philosophy were applied to all underrepresented pools to ensure that the long list had a good overall representation (i.e., inclusive, not exclusive, in its approach). For overrepresented groups, tighter criteria are justified, as they would be sufficiently represented on a long list anyway. If they are not sufficiently represented, the expansion/relaxation of criteria to an appropriate level ought to apply to them as well.

Flexing the search strategy

Crafting Role Specifications:
The Importance of Clarity and Inclusivity 

Apart from extraordinarily high-stakes appointments, where the role specification goes through a formal creation and review process (most notably during CEO successions), they are often hastily compiled by either the consultant, client, or both.

Role specifications don’t need to be works of art, but they need to withstand scrutiny and generate excitement. Good writing that conveys clarity of thought, passion and empathy, and an accurate and compelling vision, is the most important differentiator. A good role specification should include the following:

  • Information that gives the reader an understanding of the past, present and prospects of the organization.
  • The organization’s vision, purpose and values.
  • It should set the scene that has resulted in the creation of the leadership opportunity and set the role within the organizational structure and reporting lines.
  • It should describe the objectives of the role and elaborate on the experiential, competency and personal criteria that will drive candidate evaluation and choice.
  • It should finish with important administrative details, such as the role location, travel needs, opportunities for hybrid working and other aspects that may be material to raising and ascertaining candidate interest levels.

We recommend circulating your draft role specification between the consultant and client teams, soliciting input, and expanding this circle of input if the teams are not diverse themselves, with the overarching goal of ensuring that it is pitched correctly in terms of the candidates you want to attract.

This does not mean that the feedback you receive is correct in every instance. Readers have biases just as much as writers do. But it is still worthwhile to do this, as it gives you a glimpse into how information is processed differently by different people.

It is important to note that cognitive biases can flow through writing styles, for example, by choosing masculine forms of words. Some words may trigger others, evoke an emotional reaction or cause offense. However, being overly cautious about the use of language doesn’t aid good writing or the DEI cause. Overenthusiastic DEI policing can create documents so devoid of expression that they create a deflating rather than uplifting experience for the recipient. As your knowledge of DEI improves, it is possible to mitigate these risks.

“A camel is a horse designed by a committee,” as the saying goes. Don’t crowdsource the role specification; retain primary authorship with one person and acknowledge the feedback and integrate what feels appropriate.

Two Cardinal Rules of Engagement 

Every client and consultant team that is sincere about DEI should have no problem agreeing to two cardinal rules, but these are trickier than most people imagine.

Rule 1

A client interview process should not commence unless the candidate slate is diverse.

What diverse means will be situational to each client. Agreeing to this step is an essential moment of truth. Not as a roadblock, but as an iterative dialogue between the client’s diversity objectives and the search strategy—one or both may need to loosen to propel a search toward intended outcomes. Multiple iterations of the search strategy may reveal that a client has reached the limits of the flex they can offer in expanding the search criteria. Candidate feedback may also reveal that clients just don’t have the culture or the market reputation to attract the candidates they seek. This dose of realism may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is ultimately the right approach, and it may be necessary to reset ambitions to more achievable levels as a result. On the other hand, it could be the case that relaxing the search criteria gets the diverse mix of candidates you seek.

Egon Zehnder analysis shows that if a short list is diverse, it materially increases the chances of a diverse hire. For example, our analysis shows that having just one female candidate on the interview slate creates a 30 percent chance of a female hire, increasing to 45 percent when there were two and 60 percent when there were three.

Rule 2

No active or positive discrimination on ethical, moral or legal grounds.

Especially in the United States, Canada and the UK, senior leadership recruitment is treading on dangerous ground, with mandates to only hire individuals from underrepresented minority groups into certain roles. Ironically, the most discriminatory requests are often for chief diversity & inclusion officer searches, where clients feel obligated to not appoint a man and not even a white woman into the role on account of the message that would send to the organization. If this is what DEI championing is coming to, there is a need for greater introspection on the part of DEI proponents. Clients are understandably under tremendous pressure to act on diversity, and consultants are under tremendous pressure to respond and provide solutions. External pressures from various governance groups, shareholders, employees, stakeholder groups and the media are also significant. The collective result of these pressures could be active discrimination against majority groups and positive discrimination in favor of desired minority subgroups on individual search mandates.

In some instances, it may be tempting to justify it as acceptable collateral damage to fair and due process or the only route to progress in a system where the odds have been stacked against underrepresented groups. However, if you cannot document a preference explicitly or cannot say to a candidate openly that they are being interviewed or not being interviewed precisely for a personal characteristic they do or do not possess, you are falling foul of the spirit of DEI—and most likely also of the law of your land. A short list of 100 percent ethnically diverse candidates or 100 percent female candidates does not qualify as a diverse short list, nor is it an inclusive act.

Victory claimed on the back of discriminatory practices by DEI champions is detrimental to long-term legitimacy. Once you discriminate in favor of a particular minority group, you don’t just discriminate against the advantaged majority group; you also discriminate against all the other disadvantaged minority groups you fail to consider.

Establishing clear rules

​ The need for clear rules

About the Author

Your Egon Zehnder Team

Special thanks to colleagues across the Firm who contributed their knowledge and time to this project:

Michael Ensser, Edilson Camara, Helen Crowley, Cagla Bekbolet, Abed Saleh, Fiona McGauchie, Yasushi Maruyama, Chie Iida, Neil Waters, Yan Geng, Namrita Jhangiani, Shilpa Rangaswamy, Lena Kilee, So-Ang Park, Kine Seck Mercier, Sandra Garcia, Ingrid van den Maegdenberg, Marike Kuin, Pam Warren, Dede Orraca-Cecil, Cynthia Soledad, Angela Pegas, Fabio Nunes, Gizem Weggemans, Mark Longworth, Charlotte Wright​ , Obinna Onyeagoro, Paul Havranek, Christian Schmidt, Loula Lefkaritis, Alessandra Tosi, Carol SingletonSlade, Claire Thomas, Anthony Cavanough, Ashley Summerfield, and Andrew Roscoe.

Global Diversity Specialist:​ Katrin Sier
Research:​ Ryan Hoffmann, Raminder Kaur, Kathrin Heinitz, Nathia Pratista
Editorial Team:​ Cheryl Martel, Luisa Zottis
Design Team: Richard Khuptong, Markus Schuler, Kamaljit Marwaha, Vijayakumar Shanmugamani, Dapinder Pal Singh Bahl
Digital Team:​ Amadeu Porto, Becky Neems, Joanna Scheffel, Aditya Gupta, Arnab Kar
Executive Assistant:​ Hannah Hughes