If you believe Black Lives Matter:
And have the hard conversations about why they might turn down your offer.
Are you recruiting them simply for the color of their skin, to check a box, or because you are interested and actually making space for their point of view? And are you assuming you know that point of view just because of the color of said skin?
Would they be the “first of” in the building, in the managerial ranks, in the c-suite? What are you doing to ensure that the disruption brought by any “first of” of any race, sex, orientation is appreciated and encouraged in the practical reality as much as in the theoretical recruitment process (when they get there, but also long before they walk in the door)?
Are you mentoring them and training them the same way that you are their white colleagues? Are you being mentored and trained by them in the same way you are by their white colleagues? Is your confidence in them the same, or are you suffering from the subconscious bias and racism of reduced expectations?
Recruitment and retention are different animals.
Diversity and inclusion are different animals.
As background, if you don’t know my life before my current iteration, I spent 20 years doing executive search for mission-driven nonprofits, foundations, advocacy groups, universities, and socially responsible corporations. For 15 of these years, I ran a firm that I founded and grew alongside an all-female leadership team to be a global presence. That firm not only bested industry standards in recruiting and retaining women, women of color, people of color, and LGBTQIAA+, it demolished them. I don’t say that to virtue signal, though I am damned proud of this body of work, I say that to ensure you that I know from which I speak. And from which I speak is this: that this was not by accident.
Far too many hiring practices satisfy themselves by having diverse pools of candidates. Far too many hiring practices satisfy themselves by having a diverse candidate in the pool. (Spoiler alert: a person cannot be in and of themselves “diverse,” they are a single people. What you mean is “different,” check your bias.) So what does it take?
It takes education, for you, your teams, and your clients. Some of the best in the business when it comes to education and training and keynoting about diversity and inclusion are Tony Chatman and Jackie Summers and Orlando Bowen. I wish I knew them back when I was fighting in boardrooms about why this mattered — they are so much smarter than me on this — but I’m glad I know them now. You should, too.
It means taking candidates seriously. If you don’t have a pipeline, I’d encourage you to examine why not. To be successful in recruiting candidates of color, we made extra effort to call sources of color, leaders in the field who could give us names to call. (This isn’t asking black people to do the work for us; this is knowing the those not yet in leadership, not yet googleable, were most likely in mentorship relationships with those who looked like them, and that we knew that there were certain names, these “acceptable black folks” who if their name was attached to a rising star, would make it easier to open previously shut doors. We called “acceptable white people” to do exactly the same thing. This is how executive search works. “This candidates, recommended by this source, whose work has included…”) But here is the trick: black sources have been mistreated themselves in recruitment processes where they were the token “diverse” candidate, so getting them to open up their contact lists to us meant trust. That meant relationship building and having real conversations; I’ve had those real conversations with a lot of you as clients and friends reading this now. That meant ensuring them that their recommendations would be taken seriously and not tokenized. That took track record of successful placement and retention, and self-examination of systems and processes when we failed. It took effort and time, and more than once, firing otherwise lucrative clients who would jeopardize that bond.
And it means being prepared to hear what you might not want to hear about who you are, how you act, what you say, and the systems, culture, and metrics by which your team runs. I know I’ve had to come to terms with that, and am coming to terms with that more and more each day, and I’m sure you do to. It’s awkward and it’s hard and it’s important.
Again, I say this not to virtue signal, but because in this role I saw otherwise self-assuming good white liberals in mission-driven good progressive work not realizing that their recruiting and retention practices didn’t reflect their values. And I saw what it took to make that right.
I could make an argument that your companies will be better and more just and more profitable with diverse leadership teams, but that’s been proven time and again. And it hasn’t made much of a dent in the boardrooms of America. (See: recent BLM-washing statements of so very many companies. Don’t show me your marketing propaganda, show me your leadership makeup. Then we’ll talk.)
Instead, I’ll speak from what I know and what this post from the firm I founded said last week even better:
Black Lives Matter, and that includes black economics, black voices, and black leadership.
And that includes you.