On Community on Meaningful Diversity Progress

Feb 25, 2021

Neurodiversity, D&I Councils, the Frozen Middle: Listening to Our Community to Make Meaningful Progress on Diversity


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As a values-driven executive search firm, ON Partners believes a better experience starts with a more diverse experience. We understand that our role in placing senior executives and board members is an important driver of organizational change. ON remains committed to further integrating diversity initiatives into the fabric of our daily operations and client deliverables to take an active approach to DEI – not simply in words, but with tangible actions and results.

Notes partner Matt Mooney, “Today, every search has to be a diverse search. Having a “diversity practice” is inherently antiquated – it’s not one of the things we do it’s everything we do, and it should cut across every aspect of every search assignment.”

As part of ON Partners’ commitment to building more diverse organizations, we’re actively listening to our community of leaders and executive influencers to understand what actions they are taking, where the challenges are, and what organizations they admire for their diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Following is a sampling of what we’ve heard so far, both from our community of executive influencers, as well as insights from our own consultants. And to continue to build on these learnings, we want to hear from you.


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DEI Initiatives: What’s Working?


Influencers in the ON community were asked, “What diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives are you most proud of at your organization?” Responses varied widely, revealing that some organizations are much further along in their diversity journeys than others.

Some executives have launched D&I councils, others have created training and executive mentoring programs, and still (many) others have yet to take real action or feel their barriers lie in the “frozen middle” (management).

Respondents understand that making real, measurable gains around diversity requires efforts on many fronts. Noted one, “We recognized the need for a multi-pronged approach – DIB is not a one size fits all initiative and requires multiple approaches.”

According to another respondent, “We have apprenticeships, returnships and amazing hiring programs. Additionally, we have a program called Equitable Ecosystem that works to change the financial infrastructure for better inclusion.”

Some organizations have established groups to drive change. “The small groups focused on difficult topics in phase 1 and then in phase 2 in making personal and company commitments to change. The actions were remarkable and the surveys show a greater level of understanding about systemic racism as well as intent to change.”

Noted another respondent, “We have recently just established a cross-functional team focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and I’m most proud that we have come together to create some short-term and long-term strategies. I am also proud that we recently just launched an outreach partnership with Project Success.”

Some organizations have established specific goals, such as “Committing to having three diverse candidates for every job before moving forward with a candidate,” and “Adding ‘be a diversity and inclusion champion’ to all employee objectives, including front line supervisors. Making our 2021 People Leader Training focus on how to be an inclusive leader and making that training available to all employees. Developing dashboard and scorecards to keep leaders accountable.”

Identifying and dealing with bias is another activity in which companies are engaged. “We are focused on helping our leaders uncover their own personal biases first…diversity and inclusion rises and falls with leaders given they are the ones that hire, promote and set the cultural tone.”

“It’s critical to move beyond diversity for diversity’s sake,” noted ON’s Sean Cantarella. “Plenty of companies talk the talk, but as they move through the hiring process, all too often those who are directly responsible for hiring end up gravitating toward candidates who look and act like them. When you encounter individuals who aren’t willing to push beyond their comfort zone, it may mean having a conversation with the senior managers who have committed to diversifying their workplace to ensure that same commitment spans all levels of the organization.”

Who Are The Diversity Leaders?


Influencers in the ON community were asked, “Outside of your organization, who do you look up to and admire on their diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives?”

Organizations and people cited more than once include Netflix, Proctor & Gamble, and SAP. Others mentioned as leaders in their diversity efforts include Amazon, Bank of America, IBM, Microsoft, Starbucks, and TIAA.

Notes ON’s Lynda Robey, “For any type of transition or cultural transformation, it’s critical that the CEO and C-Suite lead the way with their behavior and activity. It has a tremendous impact on the end result, more than anything else.  If the CEO is out in front, participating in listening tours, actively engaging during diversity training, driving core programs to increase belonging and rewarding leaders in the organization that make tangible progress; it is very powerful.”


“We see diversity and belonging programs lose traction when a CEO hires a diversity leader to the team; but does not make it a key objective of every executive team member to engage and deliver on shared goals. The CEO has to be involved in leading the way to identify where organizational barriers exist and modeling new behaviors.  It’s no different than when companies began their digital evolution – if the CEO walked around still using paper and pencil, it didn’t work.”

Exploring Barriers To Building More Diverse Organizations


When asked, “What are your biggest barriers to reaching your diversity, equity & inclusion goals?” the ON community of influencers answered with a range of responses.

“Once you cross the hurdle of only hiring people who are similar in terms of race or background, your organization becomes more whole and you start to see different types of paths forward” notes Cantarella. “It broadens the possibilities, changing the organization for the better from the inside out.”

One respondent noted that, “Relatively low turnover makes recruiting our way to a more diverse population more challenging.” Another said, “the biggest issue is pipeline, but I think we have to think differently about how to get execs into pipelines, especially in tech.”

Another response echoed that sentiment: “Not having enough diverse talent in the labor market with the technical skills we need. This is why our outreach effort is so important. We need to do a better job reaching young people to get them interested, excited and prepared for technology careers.”

Education is also key. Noted one respondent, “An important part is the education of others on the nuances of inclusion and how we can all play our parts thoughtfully. The more we address this within the workforce, the more evident it is that there are knowledge gaps at all levels of businesses.”

Said another executive on barriers, “Reaching all levels of a large organization. Getting the “frozen middle” (white, male managers) not just bought into the value, but willing to put the effort in to shifting their actions.”

“There’s no question that diverse teams work better, and stats show when a female or ethnically diverse individual joins a team it’s more productive and profitable,” notes Tara Flickinger. “But the pandemic has exposed the fragility of the progress we’ve made on the diversity front for a couple of reasons: Females have been much more likely than men to leave the workforce because of the pandemic, and racially, more eliminated jobs have impacted ethnically diverse individuals.”

We’re letting our executive influencer community guide our actions and we’d like to hear where you are in your diversity journey. Take the survey yourself here.


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Earlier this year, we recognized exceptional actions and progress made by the ON community in this DEI journey, including the appointment of new diverse leaders across organizations and companies that are leading the way.

And for more information on how to build diverse leadership organizations, read ON’s strategic guide of six key considerations when evaluating your own organization’s DEI practices and how to work toward a more diverse and inclusive labor pool.


See our successful, diverse work with extraordinary clients here.

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About ON Partners

Since 2006, ON Partners is the only pure-play executive search firm building diverse C-level and board leadership teams. We rebuilt the institution of executive search for the way you work. Our approach includes present partners who engage with their clients from the first brief to the final decision, individually crafted solutions that are unique to each client, and an easier experience all around. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists nine times, ON Partners is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S.

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