The recruitment, retention, and advancement of diverse talent is a strategic imperative in corporate America—more so today than ever before. Companies need to attract, develop, and promote diverse talent with a heightened sense of purpose, vigor, and rigor, as it would with any other strategic imperative it was facing.
A recent study by BarkerGilmore found that lawyers who identify as Asian American or African American were least likely to aspire to become the general counsel at their current company. This finding begs some questions: What factors are causing these diverse attorneys to be less inclined to aspire to become the GC or chief legal officer at their companies—a position universally considered as one of the most coveted and prestigious roles within the legal and corporate sectors alike?
Of course, the reason could simply be that the sitting GC isn’t expected to move on any time soon, or the company is going through a particularly turbulent or uncertain time. Or perhaps these diverse attorneys aren’t experiencing the professional development opportunities or support of leadership they feel are necessary for them to grow and advance.
Perhaps the absence of real diversity on their company’s board of directors or within the C-suite makes it difficult for them to envision themselves reaching the most senior leadership ranks of their companies (i.e., not seeing evidence of something puts it beyond one’s reach, reality, and imagination).
Indeed, it should surprise no one that aspiring young professionals and lower-level managers often peruse the headshots and bios on the “leadership” pages of their companies’ websites to see how they “measure up.” Moreover, what they see—or don’t see—influences how they view their chances of career success at their company.
With employees, shareholders, regulators, and other stakeholders all calling for more concrete evidence of an increased focus on ESG initiatives by companies, it is imperative that diversity, inclusion, and equity (DI&E) be truly prioritized in terms of the time, resources, plans, and actions companies actually commit to their improvement. It is more than just a numbers game or simple headcount tally. Diversity should permeate all corners of an organization—from its lowest ranks all the way up to its C-suite and board—for true inclusion to be achieved.
DI&E Needs to Be Central Theme in Everything a Company Does
As a strategic imperative, companies need to elevate their DI&E efforts to something far more than an HR-sponsored initiative or printed core value. With its workforce being an organization’s most important asset, DI&E should be a primary pillar in a company’s strategic long-range plan and hold supporting prominence in every underlying plan, policy, and procedure.
DI&E should be a central theme in everything a company does, including a company’s annual operational goals, recruitment and hiring objectives, executive succession plan, performance review process, leadership and professional development programs, executive incentive compensation plan, and so on.
Even an organization that lacks diversity within its workforce and is not actively hiring can still promote DI&E. For example, they can publicly memorialize their commitment to DI&E on their company website and back it up with vendor contracting programs, outside counsel guidelines, and internship programs that set metric-specific goals for, and promote, the increased engagement of minority- or women-owned firms or individuals.
Companies can also provide support and resources to both internal and external DI&E affinity groups or organizations. Improved metrics in these areas can then serve as credible evidence to stakeholders that DI&E is indeed being prioritized and advanced.
Ensure Current Employees See a Positive Future
For those organizations with diverse talent already within their workforces, sufficient, purposeful, and sustained efforts must be undertaken by the employer to ensure these individuals become well integrated into the mainstream of the organization and are able to see a positive future for themselves at the company.
In the case of high-performing and/or high-potential junior-and-mid-level professionals, it is critical for companies to provide them with meaningful and multi-faceted professional and leadership development opportunities, ensure they have access to potential mentors, advocates, and sponsors, and are assured meaningful exposure with individuals or groups of influence within the organization.
Another productive and proven way of enhancing an aspiring professional’s readiness for, and progress toward, the achievement of career objectives is to engage a career or executive coach to provide one-on-one, tailored support and guidance.
Experienced Coaches Can Help Navigate Workplace Nuances
When coaching or mentoring diverse talent, there must be a deep understanding, appreciation, transparency, and candor around the unique hurdles women and minorities will likely encounter along their professional journeys. Experienced coaches can help these individuals recognize and adeptly navigate these workplace nuances that might otherwise impede their professional advancement, leadership opportunities, and ultimate career success and satisfaction.
Women or minorities who are seeking coaching or professional development but are not offered such opportunities through their employer should be encouraged to proactively network and develop relationships with established leaders, certified coaches, and the like, who could provide support or guidance.
Not all help has to come with a price tag. Indeed, there is no shortage of proven leaders, experienced coaches and advisors, and sage mentors who are passionate about the advancement of others and are willing to give of themselves, their time, and their talent.
In summary, for a company to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, it must make DI&E an integral part of most every structure, plan, policy, and procedure, and then dedicate the requisite time, attention, and resources over the long haul.
Further, it’s essential that the foregoing include the active engagement and sustained investment in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of its diverse talent, which is greatly enhanced by tailored professional and leadership development opportunities and access to mentors, advocates, sponsors, and coaches.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
A.B. Cruz III is a senior adviser with BarkerGilmore LLC, where he provides executive coaching, leadership, development, and executive search services. He has served as general counsel and chief legal officer at a number of corporations and served as a Navy admiral for 33 years. He currently serves as the president of the Board of Governors for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
Taylor Powers is a senior research associate and marketing coordinator at BarkerGilmore LLC where she is responsible for identifying and recruiting top legal and compliance talent across roles and industries.