Many years ago, before more earnest efforts began to recruit more diverse and representative workforces, we were sent by the COO of a FTSE 100 company to solve the problem of executive talent in their Caribbean operation.
On arrival we discovered the executive team was overwhelmingly composed of white expatriate males – and the sixth such team in seven years attempting to run what was regarded as the most important economic driver in the region.
Whilst the majority of the company’s employee base was recruited from the region, the leadership were, in the main, a conveyor belt of white, expatriate men who flew in on private jets, postured change, made little impact and eventually gave up; a circle of recruit, repeat and resign. There had never been an all-local leadership team. It was more than a blind spot, it was verging on wilfully ignorant.
The job was eminently clear to us; to create a talent strategy that would secure the very best leadership.
‘Yes!’ said the company. ‘Except the talent you need, doesn’t exist. We’ve tried.’
Of course, this was absolute baloney - although at the time, we may have been less measured in our response. And the reason for our forthrightness was simple…
There is no such thing as talent scarcity – nor has there ever been. There is only organisational ignorance, where intentionally or not, hiring and development systems work to narrow a talent pool to a small homogenous group.
The talent this company needed was under its very nose. But it used a stat to convince itself otherwise; that ‘brain drain’ was leeching 10-40% of its skilled workforce to OECD companies, ‘forcing’ it to look elsewhere. Sadly, it was giving up before it had even tried. Even if this statistic was right, from my viewpoint, that still meant 60-90% of nationals were choosing to stay and work in their home nation. It did not justify in any way why there was no black Caribbean representation at board level.
What did we do?
We started where we always do; by defining What Great Looks Like (WGLL™) for each of the vacant leadership roles.
Two, we worked with the folks at Spencer Stuart to initiate a local and global search for the national ethnic diaspora.
Three, we cultivated relationships with the local educational institutions to track and trace talent as well as US and UK universities.
The outcome of establishing these networks was a longlist of candidates for the CEO to interview – and hire.
The newly hired leadership team transformed the business, winning back market share from an aggressive competitor and turned the existing punitive relationships with regulators, the government and unions into relationships that were productive and cooperative. This was a team which was entirely local in origin.
Often when we share this story, we get a volley of questions on the unfairness of quotas; a leap which still puzzles me. Positive discrimination is not about hiring people of colour at the expense of white people, it’s about reflecting the society an organisation serves; exactly what the FTSE 100 company had to do with its regional division.
Inclusivity in your hiring is not a question of spending more money. It’s about thought and purposeful effort. We all, collectively, need to try harder, to create opportunities for everyone to be brilliant at work, which means broadening your networks and your frames of reference.
Removing unconscious bias and identifying the talent that organisations are failing to notice is part of The Chemistry Group’s everyday work. We hope it’s part of yours too.