Each year, Witt/Kieffer, Ford, Hadelman & Lloyd, a healthcare executive search firm, analyzes data on its executive placements to see how often minorities are selected from the candidates presented. Among more than 370 executives the firm placed in 1996, 6% were minorities. Of those, 3.3% were African American, 1% Hispanic, 0.6% Asian and approximately 1% other.
As low as those numbers might seem to some, most African Americans would consider them unusually high. And, in fact, the most recent study on the subject in 1993 by the American College of Healthcare Executives and the National Association of Health Services Executives showed that for the top healthcare spots-chief executive officers and chief operating officers-less than 2% were minorities.
Arguably, healthcare may have more opportunities for minority executives than other industries because it includes a large measure of public-sector organizations that actively recruit minority candidates and provide fellowship opportunities to minorities. Still, the perception exists among minorities that they continue to be shut out from all but the smallest fraction of top positions in the industry.
The first step in breaking down both perceived and real barriers to recruiting and retaining minority executives is to confront the facts. Calculating your organization's level of diversity-by race, ethnicity and gender, particularly at higher management levels-I can assure you will reveal an under-representation of minorities.
Then, look beyond the organization to evaluate the community's racial and ethnic composition and compare that with your own employee and management population. Again, you are virtually certain to find under-representation based on the community in which the organization is located and from which it should be cultivating management talent.
But arming oneself with the facts is not enough. Most organizations, even when they appreciate that minorities aren't adequately represented within management ranks, are reluctant to do much about it. The reason isn't necessarily because they don't have a genuine interest in solving the problem. Often, it's because they fear drawing attention to the problem.
That's when you call in an organizational development or change specialist. Such a person performs statistical analyses, conducts reviews of job content and evaluates personnel actions such as promotions, hiring, etc. The specialist subsequently makes specific recommended actions to promote diversity in each of these areas.
Even more important, an organizational development specialist can help overcome the single biggest stumbling block to greater minority representation in top management: preparing the organization for the inevitable changes to come.
Preparing an organization for an increased number of minority executives must be part of a comprehensive process dedicated to encouraging diversity, team-building, resolving conflict and getting diverse groups of people to work together. Including such an effort in a total-quality-improvement process often is less threatening than specifically equal-employment-opportunity-directed activity.
How then do organizations committed to greater diversity find and recruit more minority managers and executives?
Get involved with professional organizations that assist and support minorities, such as MBA and CPA groups for blacks. In healthcare, there's the Washington-based National Association of Health Services Executives, a 27-year-old organization representing black healthcare executives. Also, learn about minority executives by reading lifestyle and business magazines such as Black Enterprise and Urban Health.
Get minorities in the pipeline for moving up the ladder within your organization. Actively identify and develop talented managers, promote from within, and make your efforts widely known internally and externally.
At the same time, bring more outside minority executives into senior management positions. Some organizations typically shy away from these high-profile minority placements, and instead stick with developing early career people. This sends a "too little, too late" message to minorities and others.
Be as thoughtful and deliberate in the selection process as you would any other candidate. One person rushed to select an African American for a senior-level spot, but then felt so bad when he realized he had made the wrong choice that he admitted to holding onto her longer than he would have had she been white.
Negotiate contracts with qualified minority-owned and -operated firms and suppliers. This sends yet another signal for broader minority representation.
Use an executive search firm that is committed to an across-the-board approach to developing a slate of candidates that includes minorities. Some firms have jumped on the diversity bandwagon with what they call an "affirmative action practice," consisting of one or two diversity specialists. The flaw in this approach is thinking that a single consultant or two can make significant inroads into executive minority placement. Rather, a search firm must have an overriding commitment to cultivate minority candidates on behalf of all clients, using its entire consulting staff.
If you are a minority executive or aspiring executive, I also urge you to participate in the executive search process whenever you have the chance.
At one time in my career, I decided not to participate with search firms, feeling as if I were only there so the firm could say it had looked at someone black. However, I soon realized that my refusal to participate became a self-fulfilling prophecy for minority under-representation. I now encourage minorities to participate in the search process as much as possible, particularly because it helps them learn the rules of the game and find ways to improve the process.
Finally, there are actions individuals within the majority can take:
Be the person who makes the decision to hire a senior-level minority within your organization.
Be an active mentor to minority executives or managers, and encourage other executives to do the same.
Show up at civic and community functions sponsored by and for minorities. You may feel intimidated at first, but the experience itself allows you to empathize with both the perception and reality that minorities experience.
Jessamy is an executive search consultant for Witt/Kieffer, Ford, Hadelman & Lloyd in Bethesda, Md. He is a former hospital CEO and former president of the District of Columbia Hospital Association.