How CEOs Can Interview for Competency in Diversity (Part 3 of 4)

What CEOs Need to Know to Make Diversity and Inclusion Really Work

Laurence Monnery

Laurence Monnery Egon Zehnder, London

When hiring or promoting top executives, CEOs should not only insist on competency in diversity, but probe for it, just as they do for functional expertise or strategic acumen. A deft interview can make all the difference.

Diversity truly starts at the top when it becomes a competency required of everyone in the C-suite and, just as important, everyone who aspires to the C-suite. By engaging candidates on diversity when considering new members of the top team, CEOs can signal how seriously the company takes diversity and make sure first-hand that the candidate has the degree of competency required.

If the candidate is internal, of course, the CEO may know of specific diversity situations in the company and can ask probing and pointed questions. With an external candidate found through the assistance of external advisors, the CEOshould be well supplied with interview fodder, assuming the advisors have done their homework.

The key to interviewing is not simply to ask candidates how they feel about diversity. It is far more revealing to ask interviewees to tell stories about their experiences:

“Tell me about a time that you felt yourself in conflict with a clearly definable group or someone you regarded as fundamentally different from you in your company. What was the nature of the conflict, and what was your part in it? How was it resolved?”

Ask them to describe instances in which they saw diversity contribute to business value. What, specifically, was the nature of the contribution – an idea, a way of working, a perspective that would otherwise have gone unconsidered?

Ask for instances in which problems of diversity hindered the realization of business value, and what role the interviewee played. The goal is to talk about behavior, which is far more revealing than abstract talk about attitudes. And no one is likely to have a better view of the big picture – the entire fabric of diversity throughout a company the world over – than the CEO, who is ultimately responsible for making it work.

Many companies realize that they have to address diversity processes and infrastructure. Fewer, however, understand that diversity is an essential leadership competency on which every top executive should be expected to perform well.

CEOs who hire, in part, for competency in diversity will find it is well worth the effort. With the commitment to diversity – and leadership competence in addressing it – flowing from the top, such CEOs create the potential for a wealth of business benefits. The organization becomes open to infusions of fresh ideas and new perspectives that can lead to previously unrecognized opportunities in products, services, and markets. Operations across borders and cultures benefit from greater understanding and cooperation, boosting productivity and effectiveness. The company earns an enviable reputation that strengthens the brand, appeals to increasingly diverse customers, attracts top talent from whatever source, and energizes all employees – across all differences.

Co-authored by Michel Deschapelles, formerly with Egon Zehnder (2007-2014).

Laurence Monnery

Laurence Monnery Egon Zehnder, London

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