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Egon Zehnder's global survey on diversity and inclusion spotlights disconnects between intention and realities

  • October 2012

Companies remain conservative on accountability and approach

London, October 24, 2012 – Diversity and inclusion remain much more an ideal than a reality, according to a global study released today by Egon Zehnder, the world’s largest privately-held executive search and talent management firm. More than 500 executives from around the world participated in the firm’s eleventh International Executive Panel (IEP), a global leadership survey focusing this year on understanding attitudes and actions affecting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Study participants were almost unanimously committed to diversity and inclusion (D&I) with 96 percent stating that working in a diverse and inclusive environment is personally important to them. Nearly all executives surveyed believe there is a strong business case for diverse and inclusive organizations, with North Americans, Australians, and women ranking the highest. However, fewer than one third of the participating executives believe their companies have made good progress in promoting D&I relative to ethnicity, age, people with disabilities, or sexual orientation. Slightly more than half (53 percent) said their company is making real progress in gender diversity. Similarly, less than half of respondents reported good progress in promoting diversity of perspectives and thinking, nationality, industry backgrounds, or educational backgrounds.

“Our study shows that leaders clearly understand that diversity and inclusion is not a necessary duty that should be driven by compliance and number-oriented strategies, but instead leverages their companies to perform at much higher levels,” said Damien O’Brien, CEO and Chairman of Egon Zehnder. “The key to real progress on the diversity front will be significantly embedding the diversity charter into the company’s DNA.”

Leadership Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion

The top executives demonstrated a very sophisticated and progressive attitude toward diversity: Among the benefits of diversity cited by leaders, a substantial majority (91 percent) noted that D&I is key to broadening their personal horizons, stimulating more lively discussions (81 percent), influencing the quality of their decisions (69 percent), and contributing to innovation by generating new ideas and solutions (63 percent). Most concurred that D&I can help their company build a more socially responsible culture (66 percent), show greater respect for individuals (73 percent), and create access to new markets (58 percent).
Despite this great appreciation of diversity, less than half (48 percent) of respondents said working in a diverse environment was easy. When asked about the factors that help dealing with diversity, the study hints at a broad awakening among top executives: 72 percent cite the importance of understanding how their own biases affect their judgment – a realization that even well-intentioned leaders can succumb to unconscious stereotyping. Similarly, having an inclusive corporate culture and personal experience with diversity were cited as beneficial when working in a diverse environment by 85 and 83 percent of leaders, respectively.

Company Approaches to Diversity and Inclusion

While most executives (80 percent) said that their company actively promotes diversity, many organizations retain traditional rationales for D&I, including access to top talent (63 percent) and equal opportunities and fair treatment (60 percent). More progressive rationales such as fostering a learning organization, access to new markets and customer bases, and innovations are a top reason for promoting D&I for less than half of companies.

Only 32 percent of participants noted that their company has publicly communicated its diversity commitment and only half ranked diverse thinking as a company priority. Additionally, survey participants in North America ranked access to top talent as a higher priority for promoting D&I than Europe (68 percent), Australia (55 percent), South America (50 percent), and Asia (43 percent).

“When fostering diversity and inclusion, companies need to take a more rounded view,” Laurence Monnery, head of the Diversity Council at Egon Zehnder, said. “The study shows that the answer is not official measures such as workshops or quotas but is essentially a leadership challenge. The key lies in promoting inclusive leaders who can better embed diversity in their organization, processes and culture. This is particularly important as current leadership teams are often far from diverse themselves.”

About the Study

Egon Zehnder’s eleventh International Executive Panel was conducted in the summer of 2012 and included executives from the firm’s online community “Club of Leaders” across Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America. Over 500 senior executives from a range of industries and organizational sizes participated in the survey. To access the full survey, please contact

About Egon Zehnder

Egon Zehnder is one of the largest privately-held executive search firms in the world with 420 consultants operating from 65 wholly-owned offices in 39 countries. The firm specializes in senior-level executive search, board consulting and director search, management leadership appraisal, and talent management. Egon Zehnder’s clients range in size from the world’s largest corporations to emerging growth companies to government and regulatory bodies and major educational and cultural organizations. Egon Zehnder has sector specialists organized into global practices. These include Industrial, Financial Services, Consumer, Life Sciences, Technology & Communications, Services, Private Capital and Sovereign Wealth Funds. For more information visit .

For media inquiries, please contact:
Egon Zehnder, Corporate Communications at +49 (0)211 55 02 85-0 or

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