The Responsibility to Lead
Diversity in Executive Search and Leadership Consulting
The AESC's Executive Talent Magazine article, "The Responsibility to Lead," features how Russell Reynolds Associates is taking action to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry and quotes Consultant Tina Shah Paikeday. The article is excerpted below.
Diversity has long been a cornerstone of the profession, but something changed in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. “It was almost like a sledgehammer to the head, a wake-up call to the opportunity we had as a profession to truly be leaders.” Karen Greenbaum, President and CEO of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) describes what happened within the leadership of AESC. “Clarke Murphy, the CEO of Russell Reynolds, sent me a text at 7:00 am on a Friday. I won’t forget it, with the headline ‘Black Lives Matter’ saying, ‘can we talk?’”
Greenbaum immediately called Clarke back, and within a few days, they were convening a meeting of the CEOs of some of the largest and most influential search firms. “We had eight CEOs who came together, all competitors, all CEOs. We had some of the largest firms in the world represented. We had the largest woman-led firm represented. We had the largest Black-led firm represented. And we decided that what we wanted to do is begin by creating a CEO pledge, pledging the commitment of our member firms to diversity and that we wanted to quickly follow that pledge with action because we knew that a pledge was not enough.”
They also developed an action plan to give teeth to the pledge, predicated on themes of accelerate, educate, advance, and advocate. “In order to sign the pledge,” Greenbaum explains, “you have to submit to AESC your plan, what you are actually doing. Those who have signed the pledge have fulfilled that obligation. We have well over a hundred firms who have signed the pledge.” Greenbaum explains that these plans are carefully reviewed and if the plans are not robust and actionable, they are returned with the message, “do better.”
Creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is important worldwide. But the lens from which we look at diversity itself varies around the world.
“Diversity means different things in different places.” Tina Shah Paikeday leads Russell Reynolds’ global Diversity & Inclusion advisory services as a senior member of the Leadership & Succession team. She says, “The U.S. issues today are largely focused on race and ethnicity, whereas in Europe, squarely, the issue is women.” She adds, “As we think about the LGBTQ population, we can’t talk about that in certain parts of the world as openly as we do in the U.S.”
Shah Paikeday adds, “The problem around diversity and inclusion, it’s almost a first world problem to some extent. As countries are developing, there are more basic survival needs that companies in those regions are thinking about.”
Diversity in the Profession
In the Asia Pacific region, Shah Paikeday says, “For Western headquartered executive search firms, the challenge is focusing on the local talent and how do we recognize the difference in leadership styles that may be prevalent because of cultural norms, so that we are grooming locals to be in leadership positions in major search firms.”
One way to talk about diversity that transcends the differences among countries is through the lens of inclusion. “Inclusion is that universal umbrella that enables us to talk about the issue globally and in every region,” Shah Paikeday explains. “The caution that I give there is that in some places, hierarchy is actually so important that the notion of everybody having voice and influence doesn’t necessarily lend itself, take China, for example, where hierarchy is expected and valued. Whereas ‘belonging’ is a sense that somebody could be their true selves, no matter what background they have and that, that I believe is a universal concept and the way that we can talk about the same topic all over the world.”
The Role of Allies
“No one is intentionally wanting to behave badly,” Shah Paikeday explains. “There is a lack of recognition that one’s background may dictate the level of social capital that one would have within the organization. We’re commonly talking about it as white privilege, when it comes to race. I would say let’s just call it privilege.” For example, Shah Paikeday describes the power of her credentials. “I went to Stanford business school, my first job was at McKinsey and Company, and I can carry that CV with me wherever I go, and I often do open what I’m saying with those things, because it lends me some credibility.”
“And I think it’s just an awakening,” she says. “Whether it’s me or the straight white male, there are certain places where I’m going to have more social capital than somebody else.” How people use their privilege is a form of allyship. “We can play to amplify somebody else’s voice when they don’t have that privilege in the room.”
To read the full article, click here.