We see a growing awareness of the value of recruiting diversity to organizations… adding or at least systematically considering both women and minorities… and it comes as no surprise. What may have begun as something imposed from the outside has moved on to Diversity 2.0, internally motivated for a variety of reasons. There is a growing awareness of the real, measurable value diversity contributes to an organization and, with that, has come greater pressure to achieve diversity in key corporate leadership positions like the General Counsel (GC).
It’s a case where doing good also means doing well. Doing good, because it provides all people with the opportunities they are entitled to, and because it is responsive to calls from shareholders and other quarters to have a workforce and leadership that are more reflective of clients and customers. And doing well, because there is growing evidence that companies with greater diversity in their ranks actually perform better. An April 2012 article in McKinsey Quarterly entitled, “Is there a Payoff from Top-team Diversity?,” shared the results of a study of 180 publicly traded companies in France, Germany, the UK, and the US. For companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity… in this case women and foreign nationals on senior teams… returns on equity (ROE) were 53% higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile.
Why is diversity lagging in the GC position?
Despite all the benefits that accrue to a diverse organization, diversity among those currently in the GC role has not yet caught up with awareness of the value it contributes. According to two 2011 surveys by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), women now hold the top legal spot at 20% of Fortune 500 companies, while minorities represent 8.6% of general counsels in the same group. There have been advances for both groups in recent years, but nothing yet in line with the number of potential candidates available for these positions.
There are several barriers that still prevent organizations from achieving greater diversity in the GC role; some are a result of inadequate recruiting strategies and some related to a lack of internal structures to support candidates once they are hired.
To identify diversity candidates, companies should rethink traditional recruiting methods that may have severe limitations in their ability to identify a broad range of candidates. This is particularly true for companies that merely tap traditional networks. Additional methods are required to identify diversity candidates, particularly for those who would be moving up and thus be new to the role.
Assuming a company has been able to assemble a broad slate of qualified candidates for the GC spot, and a diversity candidate is deemed best qualified and hired, leading companies ensure support systems are in place so the new hire has the best chance to succeed long-term. Companies must actively and consciously create an environment for success to flourish. They can do this by recognizing that being the only woman or minority in a department and among senior leadership can be a lonely place, and no one wants to be viewed as a token hire. A greater support network demonstrates that this key hire is important to the company for more than superficial reasons. More than likely, diversity candidates will already have done their own research and will draw conclusions about the organization, its pattern of hiring diversity candidates, and career paths.
Recruiting & retaining the best diversity candidates
Even in a challenging economy, the best qualified candidates will continue to be in great demand for the GC position, particularly women and minorities, because they are even scarcer and thus more difficult to identify and recruit. Following are some practices that will enable your organization to compete for the best: Cast a wide net If you have made a commitment, like many organizations, that your slate of GC candidates will include diversity candidates, make sure you are not looking only at current GCs. Widen the net to include up-and-comers who are still a rung below, but may also be highly qualified. Refine data collection to ensure you are gaining access to more than the “usual suspects.” Don’t stint on compensation While we are still coming back from a weaker economy, the best talent always has options. Do your benchmarking homework and be prepared to compensate properly to attract the best GC candidates. Compensation is also a demonstration of commitment.
Sell the opportunityDon’t act like it is a “buyer’s market.” Demonstrate the importance of diversity, and a commitment to the successful career of the candidates, by implementing such support systems as affinity groups, mentoring programs, and career development and planning. Diversity candidates won’t consider positions where they perceive they will be viewed as “window dressing.” They need to be convinced they will be an equal partner with others on the executive team.
Match words and deedsMake sure your representations about the position and the opportunity are in tune with reality or risk being exposed on websites and in social media. Candidates can now tap many outlets for candid, insider views on what it is really like to work at a particular company.
Address the realities of relocationWith real estate depressed in many markets, people are more challenged to sell, and thus may be unable to accept otherwise desirable positions. Consider helping to remove this barrier as part of an overall relocation package if you want to attract the best candidates.
A diversity mind-setWith companies feeling the pressure to become more diverse and increasingly understanding the benefits that flow from becoming a more diverse organization, we continue to experience greater competition for the most capable diversity candidates.
A General Counsel recruiting strategy, bolstered by the best practices just mentioned, will help you to recruit the best talent. But, in addition, try to build a pipeline of qualified people for succession planning in the GC positions, keeping an eye on talented individuals farther down in organizations that are in the earlier stages of their career.
Finally, don’t forget that diversity starts at the top. That includes both diversity representation in other key leadership positions as well as other messages that organizations broadcast, deliberately and inadvertently, not only to candidates but to employees, customers/clients, and shareholders. For good or for ill, your organization’s track record speaks volumes about the sort of employer you are and will affect, positively or negatively, your ability to attract and retain the best diversity GC talent.
Deborah Ilic focuses on developing relationships to engage with clients in the placement of Board Members, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officers, and senior level members of these departments.
Looking to recruit General Counsel or get started on succession planning? Download this guide, "7 Steps You Should Be Taking Now to Find Your Next GC."