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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Building Strategic Leadership Pipeline: Identifying and Developing Diverse Leaders

Learn how to build a robust leadership pipeline by identifying and developing diverse leaders. Gain insights and strategies for strategic leadership succession.

Diversity in leadership has been a topic of discussion for many years and the data shows it is more important than ever. Despite the clear advantages of leadership diversity, many organizations still struggle to increase diversity in their leadership pipeline.

Companies that embrace diversity in their leadership can enjoy many benefits including:

  • Making better decisions: Diverse teams are more innovative and make better decisions 87% of the time according to Forbes. This is because diverse teams bring a variety of perspectives and experiences to the table, which can lead to better problem-solving and more creative solutions.
  • Improving employee morale: Employees who see that their organization values diversity and inclusion, they are more likely to feel valued and included. This can lead to higher levels of engagement and productivity. In fact, 83% of millennials across all diversity groups are more likely to be engaged with companies that have DE&I initiatives. 
  • Increased profitability: Companies with more diverse leadership teams outperform their peers financially. This is because diverse teams are better able to understand and serve diverse customer bases, which often leads to increased sales and profits. McKinsey found that public companies in the top quartile of diversity in management had a 35% increase in financial returns above their industry mean.

Below we will explore some of the diversity barriers in leadership and suggest practical steps that organizations can take to build a more diverse leadership pipeline, including the development of practical initiatives to ensure better representation among top management and other organizational levels. 

We’ll also share how Heidrick Navigator can help you see the potential to integrate DE&I more effectively into leadership decisions and development for the good of your people and the organization.

Three of the barriers to diversity in leadership and how to increase diversity in leadership:

Unconscious bias

People tend to gravitate toward others who are similar to them in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. This can lead to a lack of diversity in leadership, as people tend to promote and hire those who are similar to them. 

  • How to address: Identify and address unconscious bias. This can be done through training programs that help people recognize and overcome their biases. 
  • Organizations can also implement blind hiring practices to reduce the impact of unconscious bias on the hiring process.

Lack of access to opportunities

Many people from underrepresented groups may not have access to the same opportunities for professional development and networking.

  • How to address: Provide equity through access to opportunities. This can be done by offering mentorship programs, professional development opportunities, and networking events to all employees. Organizations can also create leadership development programs that target underrepresented groups to ensure that they have equitable opportunities among their peers.

Lack of role models

When people do not see others who look like them in leadership positions, they may believe that leadership is not a viable career path for them. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the leadership pipeline as people from underrepresented groups may not pursue leadership roles.

  • How to address: Increase the visibility of diverse leaders. This can be done through internal communication channels such as newsletters and town hall meetings, as well as external communication channels such as social media and press releases. By highlighting the accomplishments of diverse leaders, organizations create role models for others to follow.

The Promise—and Challenge—of DE&I in Succession Planning

While wide-ranging organizations today seek to prioritize DE&I, most find it’s more easily committed to than actually implemented. Here are some of the specific, challenging questions businesses encounter as they strive to incorporate greater representation into their advancement and hiring practices:

  • How to develop and implement succession plans that consider attrition (expected and unexpected) and address DE&I targets related to current and future leadership decisions.
  • How to increase the visibility of underrepresented candidates in leadership pipelines, including identifying promising, rising leaders and ensuring they have meaningful high-profile growth opportunities.
  • How to refine and streamline existing succession plans built on inconsistent, incomplete, and/or siloed data sources—such as sources that include conflicting role definitions and performance metrics.
  • How to understand, at a glance, the current leadership talent in the organization and cross-index that with key DE&I goals.

Answering these and related questions requires a comprehensive, systematic approach to delivering effective strategies at the intersection of DE&I and succession planning. But most organizations lack a proven system that delivers the information and insights they need in this space. 

Leaders genuinely may want to prioritize DE&I in assessing and advancing promising candidates, but simply don’t have the tools to achieve effective results. That’s where Heidrick Navigator can be a critical asset.

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Assess, manage, and develop your leadership population at scale to achieve your goals.

Heidrick Navigator: A Systematic, Digital Approach

Heidrick Navigator provides a dynamic digital solution to leadership and diversity: a research-based system that will help you make truly data-driven succession and other leadership decisions that take DE&I and other key, measurable talent metrics into account. 

Navigator delivers high-value reports, metrics, and insights for leadership-related decision-making based on the full set of talent data available across your business. All outputs can be customized to include diversity information that is of high priority in your organization. Among these deliverables are:

  • Leadership overview report: This provides a snapshot of your current leadership talent across key dimensions to understand how it aligns with current and future needs, including in relation to diversity
  • Successors report: Navigator presents lists and assessments of rising leaders in three categories—Ready Now, Ready Soon, Ready Later—to prepare strategically for natural and unexpected attrition with representation top of mind
  • Assessment results: You will be able to instantly access results of ongoing leadership assessments on leadership talent dimensions such as business impact, leadership capabilities, leadership potential, and culture impact, in line with the Heidrick Leadership Framework™; again, all of these can be cross-indexed with diversity information
  • Pipeline visibility: Navigator enables you to see who’s in the talent pipeline (such as the Ready Now and Ready Soon leaders from the Successors Report) and how representative these groups are as compared to organizational goals or targets, with measures such as “% of Pipelines aligned with DE&I targets.”
  • Unconventional matches: Sometimes the best fit for a leadership role is a less traditional one; that can especially be the case when seeking first-time leaders from groups with less representation at the top; Navigator unlocks these high-value potential matches more easily than intuition or traditional systems

In this way, Heidrick Navigator’s outputs and insights will help you integrate DE&I more fully into succession and other leadership-related activities, including:

  • Understanding and assessing your current leadership talent pool on the dimensions of DE&I that matter most to your organization
  • Creating comprehensive succession plans for organizational leadership roles using measured capabilities, potential, and formerly siloed data to true consistency and comparability related to leader impact and potential 
  • Identifying a wider, more representative set of potential successors to drive faster, more efficient, and more equitable succession and development decisions
  • Tracking DE&I metrics against succession and advancement goals in real-time to know whether, when, and what talent-related initiatives to pursue

The benefits of diversity in leadership are numerous and representation matters—more than ever. 

Understanding DE&I within your organization and integrating it into succession and other advancement decisions are critical and should lead to better performance, culture, and morale. 

Heidrick Navigator provides the visibility and insights you need to embed DE&I goals and measures more fully into all your talent development activities for the good of your business and your people. 

Learn more about Heidrick Navigator
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