Diversity and inclusion are more than just HR buzzwords – they can be the key competitive advantage of a global company, according to Lotika Mahindra, Partner at Spearhead InterSearch in India and Global Lead for Diversity & Inclusion Practice at InterSearch Worldwide. “DE&I is a highly prioritized area for InterSearch Worldwide and we are committed to this progressive ethos. To ensure deeper involvement, we must build a culture of people first, ensure everyone’s voice is heard and all viewpoints are considered. That way we can enable greater employee engagement and a growth mindset – the fundamental core of DE&I,” she says.
Management must embody Diversity, Equality & Inclusion
DE&I is an ever-evolving project at InterSearch – one that is never quite finished. According to Mahindra, an organisation’s commitment to diversity needs to come from the top and should be made clearly visible. “Organizations need to make diversity a strategic priority and leadership must embody it to accelerate business and drive innovation,” she says.
Mahindra adds: “Diversity alone means very little but when we combine Diversity with Equality & Inclusion, that is when we truly drive value. Because when everyone feels a sense of belongingness and when there is a culture of equality, people want to stay in an organization – that is an organization’s real success.”.
She does not believe a women’s quota or other quotas to be effective means. “Diversity goes way beyond gender and race. It is about bringing unique experiences and perspectives to the organization that fuel creative disagreements and in turn propel organizational growth”.
Why Mahindra’s team always provides at least two diversity candidates
For most of their searches, Mahindra’s team puts forward at least two diversity candidates in the final candidate pool who are perfectly qualified for the role but may not be an ideal match given the client’s preference towards gender, location or even age criteria. She believes in a “two in the pool effect” as a promising method for overcoming unconscious bias and increasing diversity in the workplace.
Mahindra cites a Harvard study that found that if there are at least two female candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater. If there are at least two-minority candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater.
“Clients usually approach the specifications with a pre-conceived mindset vis-à-vis age, gender or experience. In many of our recent searches, our conscious approach of “two in the pool” has worked well, as the clients are refreshingly surprised with their final choice of hire. Whilst the hire may not necessarily fit their original preference criteria, it is usually an ideal match with regards to skillsets required for the job,” Mahindra adds.
What are the best practices companies can adopt to ensure diversity?
Your leadership must embody and promote diversity and inclusion – but what does that mean in practice? Mahindra is seeing a huge shift in mindset among many companies. “Most companies lacked measurable practices to improve diversity. But today, it has become a competitive business strategy with proven return on investments. Investing in company-wide sensitization programs, retaining high performers, regularly evaluating your internal talent, ensuring the under-represented employees are part of the leadership development pipeline, imparting training for unbiased interviewing and selection process are some of the most effective steps to integrate and ensure diversity is an indispensable part of the company’s culture,” she adds.
What are the challenges to making boards more diverse?
“By expanding our horizons and moving past the misconceptions we can truly make valuable progress towards ensuring diverse boards,”Mahindra states. For example, timely and proactive succession planning rather than a last-minute reactive approach can play a crucial role in ensuring an effective and diverse board hire.
Recognizing one’s own biases and moving beyond one’s comfort zones can ensure successful diversity hiring. Often, we assume that there is a lack of qualified diverse talent to choose from, because we believe that an ideal candidate has to be an existing CEO, or a retired executive, or has to have board experience. While they bring great experience to the board, it may be equally important to consider the operational expertise of a candidate. “We can actually open up the talent pool by focusing on different skill sets and experiences rather than just the position title of candidates,” Mahindra says.
What does the future of inclusive executive search look like?
Executive search consultants can play a crucial role in spearheading change and ensuring an unbiased and discrimination free interviewing and selection process. According to Mahindra, they are currently in a strong position to influence hiring trends by collaborating with clients on the overall business strategy – thus focusing their attention on being more diverse and inclusive across their board and all levels of the organization.
“We also have a responsibility to ensure that we represent candidates who otherwise go unnoticed – the under-represented category. By acting in an advisory capacity, rewriting our job descriptions to be more inclusive and gender neutral, coaching clients on compensation structures and parity and by supporting candidate onboarding and integration, we can contribute great value towards the outcome of a hire,” she explains.
Mahindra’s team has created a Playbook, a comprehensive “best practices list” covering key aspects of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. “This is a work-in-progress, as we are continuously evolving and learning,” Mahindra states.
Lotika Mahindra has been in leadership executive search for over 2 decades. She is a Partner at Spe
arhead Intersearch. She holds additional responsibilities at Intersearch Worldwide where she leads the Lifescience / Heathcare Practice for APAC. She is also the Global Lead for D&I Practice and thus instrumental in driving the corporate value system at Intersearch to hold D&I as a fundamental belief.