Diverse Executive Candidates Demand a Commitment to DEI

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Psychological safety is vital for diverse leaders once they’re in the door.
More and more these days, diverse candidates for top executive positions want proof that the companies they join are truly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Many of these top candidates will turn down offers if they don’t see diversity at the executive level.

Diversity Influences Employment Decisions

In a survey of 200 diverse executives conducted by theBoardlist and Felicis Ventures, 84% of respondents said that a company’s commitment to DEI is an important factor in their decision to accept a role. At the board level, 78% of those responding stated that a company must have diverse directors to merit consideration. Michelle Delcambre, operating partner of early-stage venture capital firm Felicis Ventures, was not surprised by the high percentage of respondents who are prioritizing DEI when considering an opportunity but was taken by the lengths that candidates are now willing to go to prove their commitment.
“I was surprised by how often these more diverse candidates are willing to both remove themselves from the process or not join an organization, relative to what might have been true maybe even five to 10 years ago. It’s encouraging to see this population of people taking the power back and not feeling forced into these opportunities just because they present themselves.”
Indeed, the number of survey respondents willing to take a pass on employment is revealing. More than a third turned down an offer because an organization lacked diversity at the leadership level, while 55% said it would be unlikely for them to join an organization if that company had no women in a VP role or above. Perhaps this is because 78% of respondents strongly believe diverse leadership bolsters work culture and overall company performance. Megan Wang, chief operating officer at diverse talent marketplace theBoardlist, says diversity in the boardroom benefits the company in several ways, as it helps to address boardroom blind spots and aids in navigating and preemptively mitigating risk., “I think that all ties to better outcomes in company performance.”
However, both Delcambre and Wang agreed that it is not enough to gather a group of diverse individuals in a room and let the magic happen. As 85% of the respondents stated, it is important that company cultures feature the “psychological safety” that encourages directors to speak their minds freely and honestly. 
What is psychological safety? “The term psychological safety means ‘an absence of interpersonal fear.’ When psychological safety is present, people are able to speak up and offer relevant thoughts. It is about speaking your mind with no fear of judgment or retaliation,” says Wang.
Delcambre agrees and says that many companies miss the boat by doing the work to bring together a diverse pool of talent, but then failing to set up an environment that allows those individuals to thrive and contribute to their fullest potential. “Sometimes companies get these groups together and they believe that they are focusing on diversity, but they don’t prioritize the creation of an environment that allows them to maximize the outputs of getting that group together. I think creating psychological safety and eliminating the fear of using their voice and bringing their unique perspective and value to the table is the one thing that companies can do to make that diverse group of people most successful in driving the business forward and impacting the company goals.”
The good news for companies that have not committed to diversity – or have had other issues such as retaliatory behavior, bias and discrimination, or even sexual harassment – is that diverse candidates indicate a willingness to give a second chance as long as companies are willing to publicly commit to making a change and correcting the problem. Of the 90% of respondents who indicated that they are willing to reconsider companies that made renewed commitments to improve on DEI and other concerns, Delcambre says, “This population cares a lot about intent. So that was what I found most meaningful there: As a company, you can acknowledge the mistake and you can take corrective action. That leads to strong outcomes in terms of willingness of this population of people to make a different decision than they would have otherwise.”
While diverse candidates are clearly willing to forgive companies their past indiscretions when it comes to DEI, Delcambre warns executives who think the drive toward diverse representation in C-suites and boardrooms is a passing fad.
“DEI and building psychologically safe environments are becoming more and more top-of-mind, and will become things that candidates push for and care about even more.”

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