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How Bolster is Helping CEOs Diversify Their Teams

At Bolster, we believe that diverse and inclusive teams and boards are more innovative, drive better business outcomes, and are stronger than homogenous teams. We aren’t the only ones that think that way. According to Forbes, there’s a lot of evidence that proves this. And, yet, most executive teams and boards are not diverse. Egon Zehnder published a great study that demonstrates this. We want to change that.

Two common reasons hiring managers give for not having a diverse team are: “There aren’t enough qualified candidates applying” and “We don’t know where/how to find the candidates that meet the criteria.” We’d like to change the script on both of these. The work we are doing to help fix this problem falls into two buckets:

  1. Broadening our clients’ pipeline of qualified candidates
  2. Changing the recruiting process to be more inclusive

In all likelihood, for many of us, what is being referred to as “a pipeline issue” is probably more of an untapped talent issue. As Dick Parsons says in this article about underrepresented talent, “It’s not that they get overlooked. They don’t get looked period."

The talent exists, but you can’t find it. Go on to your LinkedIn network and scroll through to see how diverse your network is. Chances are, if you are like most LinkedIn users, your network consists of people who look like you and may have similar backgrounds. And since many people share their job openings on their LinkedIn, it is highly likely that they aren’t soliciting the strongest breadth of applicant diversity. Just using the tools you’ve used in the past won’t get you diversity of candidates. You have to broaden your network, and that’s on you to do.

It’s hard to know where to begin to connect with people from networks different from your own. But we’re here to help. Bolster is focused on providing a diverse slate of candidates for every role and board seat we are charged to fill. To achieve this, we partner with underrepresented executive organizations to ensure that our talent marketplace is inclusive from the start. Our “Membership Partners” help us source not only the most talented execs from across the country, but the most diverse, united in the shared mission to change the face of leadership by bringing their members more opportunities through Bolster. In fact, we now source nearly half of our new members from partner organizations.

Of course, just presenting a diverse slate of candidates isn’t enough. It’s also important to ensure a fair and unbiased interview process that is built to welcome and consider this diverse slate. So, we do a few things to help guide CEOs to make decisions that truly put the best person in the role.

Our Goal: help CEOs look for moments at each step of the hiring process to broaden the candidate pool, rather than shrink it.

  1. We focus on skills rather than on where someone worked or went to school. Putting skills front and center helps you make more of an objective decision about an individual. While previous employers and educational background are also important, this isn’t our only focus. If a candidate has a non-traditional resume (e.g. they’ve taken time out of the workforce, or moved into nonprofit work or changed industries), looking at a candidate’s skills helps to tell a story of their ability and fit to do the job. It’s just a different way of looking at a resume, acknowledging that the best candidate doesn’t need to have the same career path as the hiring manager to be a fit for the role.
  2. We encourage each CEO to really examine the “required” qualifications for the job. Often hiring managers ask for a laundry list of skills required for a job, which are often not truly “required” skills. And, the final candidate usually doesn’t fulfill every requirement anyway. Often, people from underrepresented groups don’t apply unless they think they meet all the skills required, so you are limiting your candidate pool, but still accepting majority group candidates who don’t have all the required skills (see Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified?).
  3. We ask questions in a different way that helps the CEO think about transferable skills. When new members apply to join the Bolster member network, our intake process is designed to maximize experiences from many populations. We also encourage CEOs to think outside the box on their own searches. For example, when we ask CEOs what they are looking for in a board member, we offer options such as “previous nonprofit board experience” rather than just “previous board experience.” This is short-sighted. You’ve just changed the bar (limiting a search to only those with prior corporate board experience will likely return a more homogenous candidate slate). Again, this also focuses on skills over experience.

It takes a real commitment and different way of thinking to truly be an inclusive CEO and diversify your leadership team and board. It takes more time and intention to find a broad talent pool, but it’s worth it, from setting the company tone to impacting products and services, to actual business outcomes: diverse teams build better businesses. So if accelerating the process of diversifying your team and board is something you’re interested in exploring, Bolster can help.

- Cathy Hawley, February 10, 2021