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Why Executive Search Firms Should Assume a Fiduciary Responsibility to Represent a Diverse Candidate Pool

As seen in American Business Journals – Apr 16, 2018

All too often, search firms compare themselves to the professional services offered by a law firm or management consultant. The firm wants to offer, then reap all the benefits of a trusting (and at times, confidential) client relationship, but assume none of the related responsibilities.

In order to offer a similar high-caliber suite of professional services as an expert in the executive search field when it comes to talent management and selection, it is imperative to step up and acknowledge a fiducial duty to present diverse candidate pools to clients.

As leaders of human capital management, it is incumbent upon us to not expect nor wait for clients to request or mandate this goal, especially during diversity searches. In fact, we, as the talent selection industry, must become the driving force in reflecting within the workplace the diversity already found within our society, stakeholders, and customers.

In short, the time is now to deliver diverse candidates as a standard default, not by initiative.

Search firms are retained to find the unobtainable, the unfindable, the rare, and uniquely qualified, and yet many keep perpetuating the narrative that it is difficult to find minority leaders qualified for the job, resulting in the fact that we must settle on one or none.

As an industry, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our clients, their shareholders, and our society to provide a diverse candidate pool.

It is time to get creative, upend the status quo, and no longer accept past excuses for “business as usual.” The goal is not to assume expertise in diversity, but, rather, exhibit cultural humility in our policies and actions for not just ourselves, but also for our clients.

Candidate representation must be equally representative of our society, saving our clients from the very public shaming that occurs all too frequently in the press. We have all seen large and well-known public companies make the news for their lack of diversity, or unfair/misrepresentation of minorities.

This is not a new problem, but taking stepping forward to shoulder responsibility for offering and implementing solutions is a new approach. Acting as thought leaders and leading the way by providing actionable steps on how to improve candidate sourcing, we eradicate previous mindsets and fulfill diversity promises with equal minority representation.

The tools are all there; it is our commitment to using them to their fullest potential that will help us meet those benchmarks. It will also require getting creative by identifying industries, fields, or regions with minority candidates.

If it happens that qualified minorities are in short supply or nearly impossible to find, the next step is to know and understand unique sources of alternatively qualified minorities. Additionally, digging deeper with the client to fully explore the position demands, then developing a progressive candidate profile can help with augmenting sourcing efforts.

Former CEO and corporate director at multiple public companies, Colleen Birdnow Brown says that when it comes to director searches, “Broadening the scope beyond the traditional CEO and CFO backgrounds by recognizing the complexity and needs in the boardroom have grown and changed over time. For example, by considering CMO, CRO and CHRO positions, the number of female candidates can grow significantly.”

These are simple concrete steps we can all take, without being asked or directed, but doing so by default because it is our fiduciary responsibility to our clients.

Learn more about services at Cowen Partners.

Cowen Partners supports executive leaders in the pursuit of exceptional talent. The company focuses on delivering stand-out candidates for executive and leadership positions across the country.

Shawn Cole is an executive recruiter and co-founder of Cowen Partners, a national executive search and consulting firm.