How does perception and company culture contribute to Leadership talent gaps?

If a candidate has the skills, experience and education, does that automatically mean they are the most qualified candidate for a leadership role?

Behavior-based interviews in panel format have been the typical process for hiring professional level positions for at least a decade or more. Candidates have become very familiar with this approach and typically have generic answers ready. How relevant is this screening process in helping organizations to identify the most qualified candidate for leadership roles? In over 25 years of interviewing, staffing and HR, I found that many experienced, degreed applicants did well in behavior-based interviews but when challenged to solve relevant real-world business situations, they lacked the ability to do so.

Therefore, I moved to a scenario-based screening process almost 5 years ago. I strongly prefer using scenario-based screenings especially when the selected candidate will need to hit the ground running or have a short learning curve. I found that using scenario-based activities dramatically revealed the candidates capabilities or lack there-of. Basically, I identify one or more real business issues the organization is facing. I then develop a brief summary of the situation to include basics on history, dynamics and perimeters to be mindful of. I have candidates respond to the scenario(s) in writing prior to organizing the panel to ensure I am only using my panel for the top qualified candidates. At the next stage, candidates are to work through the real-world business situation which has been a bit more developed with the stakeholder panel prior to or even instead of the typical interview process. Candidates have the option to meet with key members of their would-be team if they so desire. I found, this process truly tests the candidates technical, communication and leadership abilities under pressure far better than any profiler tool or behavior-based interview process.

Are skills, experience and education strictly the only factors being considered in the search and selection process? Are ethics, honesty and integrity important? Can your organization take for granted that candidates for a leadership role have these qualities? If not, how do you screen for it? If this is an important criteria, then embed it into the scenario or provide an opportunity within the screening process for the candidate to reveal, not just state, their level of ethics and character.

Increasingly organizations are using the term “fit” as a reason to select or disqualify a candidate. “Fit” can mean very different things to each organization. If “fit” is part of the criteria, can you definitively communicate it to candidates in advance? If so, should it be on your job posting/ job description? If doing so would open your organization to bad PR or legal risks, then should it be used as criteria at all?

How often has your organization disqualified a woman or diversity candidate because of lack of “fit” or because their personality characteristics were “too strong” or aggressive? Adversely, how many white males have been turned down for the same factor? After all, isn’t the organization looking for a leader for a leadership role? Or does the organizations culture perpetuate very different expectations based on gender, race or ethnicity?

Looking only at *S&P 500 in 2013, white females make up approximately 25% of executives and CEO’s while Asian, Black and Hispanic women combined are fewer than 4%. Why? There are some organizations and executives, including incumbent women executives whom actively advocate for the hiring and promotions of qualified women and minorities through various initiatives and mentorship programs but they are the exception. Even so, what inhibits these efforts within the organization? Are their some incumbents that are less than supportive of other diversity candidates? If so, why? Is it possible that at least some incumbent women executives believe they and other women need to restrain or tone down strong personalities or aggressive traits to be exhibited less than their male counterparts and superiors to be successful (or at least retain employment) within the organization? If that is true, what does that say about the organizations culture? Is that what is in the organizations best interest with or without the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1619)?

White male candidates are highly probably to have more experience than diversity candidates simply because they have more access. While women are outpacing men in completing their degrees, their employment and compensation levels continue to reflect disparity and misaligned results. Why? Are women trying to compete with males for leadership roles by obtaining degrees and certifications, something they can control, while men don’t necessarily need the degree or certifications to obtain the leadership role?

The diversity candidate often exhibits strength of character traits such as determination and perseverance by overcoming significant barriers to achieve the education, experience and credentials they do have. If your organization is selecting the white male candidate on the basis they have more experience and therefore that automatically means they more qualified, is that factual or an excuse to perpetuate the status quo? For the record, I greatly appreciate the important contributions of white males, they just shouldn’t have the executive monopoly to the degree that currently exists.

As diversity candidates experience direct and indirect (4-6+ month’s interview process) dismissals from an organization, they tend to share these experiences with each other. Therefore, the amount of diversity candidates even applying may decline due to the organizations reputation even when it contradicts the company website value statements. Unfortunately, this dynamic undermines the effort and expense of Talent Acquisition Marketing Programs and perpetuates the issue of under-representation. Organizations that want to be “Employers of Choice” should purposefully investigate their company culture and challenge their selection process to mitigate gaps in their leadership pipeline.

I would love to hear from the professional community as to successful and not so successful diversity efforts.




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