Bassett Blog, 2011/08: The Diversity Factor in Leadership Searches
The Diversity Factor in Leadership Searches
By: Patrick F. Bassett
Published: August 17, 2011
Updated: November 23, 2011
Independent schools have come part way on the journey to becoming inclusive institutions where the adults, students, and leadership reflect the mosaic that is our country. One element of the journey where we seem to have hit a speed bump is manifest in a key industry challenge: the underrepresentation of women and people of color in independent school headships and in some of the other senior leadership roles. While virtually all searches advertise and seek a “diverse pool of qualified candidates” and increasing numbers of women and people of color are represented in the “finalists” stage, too frequently, they end of being the “close second,” especially for headships. That reality is illustrated by independent schools in the data NAIS collects on senior leadership team members by gender and race, where heads are disproportionately white and male in comparison to the general population and in contrast to some of the other senior leadership roles in the school.
|Percent||Male||European American||People of Color||Not Reporting|
|Financial Aid Officer||31.8||77.8||16.5||5.7|
|Lower School Director||15.9||85.6||7.5||5.9|
|Middle School Director||51.7||83.4||9.5||7.1|
|Upper School Director||62.2||86.5||6.3||7.2|
|2010 Census: 49% of Americans are male, and 80% are European-American/White.|
According to a recent study produced by Georgetown University (“The College Payoff” reported in Inside Higher Ed, 8/7/11), persistent and systemic undervaluing of women and people of color occurs at all levels in the economy. In terms of lifetime earnings at the top end, college-educated employees (related, of course, to promotion into higher-level positions), women and people of color must have to have at least one degree higher of educational attainment to earn comparable pay to white males: e.g., a master’s degree to a white male’s bachelor’s degree; a doctoral degree to a white male’s master’s degree; etc. So prima facie evidence #1 is that the glass ceiling continues to exist, and independent schools that one would hope would shatter such a barrier have yet, as a sector, to do so — especially at the head, associate/assistant head, and upper school director levels.
Prima facie evidence #2 emerges in Unlocking the Full Potential of Women in the U.S. Economy (McKinsey Report for the Wall Street Journal — 2011 by Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee), another recent report that opens with the observation that...
Women have been a growing factor in the success of the U.S. economy since the 1970s. Indeed, the additional productive power of women entering the workforce from 1970 until today accounts for about a quarter of current GDP. Still, the full potential of women in the workforce has yet to be tapped. As the U.S. struggles to sustain historic GDP growth rates, it is critically important to bring more women into the workforce and fully deploy high-skill women to drive productivity improvement.Paralleling the NAIS data in the chart above, the McKinsey Report findings about leadership by women in the U.S. economy is matched by significant underrepresentation of women in most upper level leadership roles (and not surprisingly, by extension, our data reflects what other studies show in the larger economy, that the same conditions exist documenting the unrealized potential for leadership from people of color in our schools).
Many of the same factors identified by the McKinsey Report for such underrepresentation in the U.S. corporate and business world also applies, of course, to independent schools. Key themes from the McKinsey Report include the following:
Still Aspiring: An Examination of Why Women and People of Color Are Less Likely to Attain Head of School Positions Following Completion of the Aspiring Heads Fellowship (a study commissioned by NAIS and produced by Belden Russonello & Stewart, July of 2011) echoes in many ways the McKinsey Report’s findings. NAIS commissioned the study to help us understand the complex issues involved in the under-representation of women and people of color in school headship appointments. The study’s researchers interviewed five cohorts of the NAIS Aspiring Heads program, the classes of 2004–2008, to determine from these potential heads and those who had been appointed heads where differences in attitudes and experience might account for the differences in results for white males vs. women and people of color in terms of success in being appointed head of school. The findings (see the executive summary) revealed that, while a high majority of women and candidates of color felt that gender or race was either not a factor or was actually an advantage in their searches, there emerged some significant differences between NAIS Aspiring Heads program candidates successful in landing a headship and those “still aspiring” to become heads of independent schools:
- At a corporate level, where many high-skill women are employed, the opportunity exists to advance women into leadership positions where they can make the greatest contributions. Yet, despite the sincere efforts of major corporations, the proportion of women falls quickly as one looks higher in the corporate hierarchy. Overall, this picture has not improved for years.
- The reasons why women choose to remain at their current level or move on to another organization — despite their unflagging confidence and desire to advance — include specific barriers they cite: lack of role models, exclusion from the informal networks, and lacking a sponsor in upper management to create opportunities.
- Another phenomenon that limits diversity at the top: Women often elect to remain in jobs if they derive a deep sense of meaning professionally. More than men, women prize the opportunity to pour their energies into making a difference and working closely with colleagues. Women don’t want to trade that joy for what they fear will be energy-draining meetings and corporate politics at the next management echelon. (Or, I would add, in the case of independent schools, taking on roles in such areas as fund-raising and finance that they may have little or no experience in).
- Managers — male and female — continue to take viable female candidates out of the running, often on the assumption that the woman can’t handle certain jobs and also discharge family obligations. In its Centered Leadership research, McKinsey found that many women, too, hold limiting beliefs that stand in their own way — such as waiting to fill in more skills or just waiting to be asked.
- These imbedded mindsets are often institutional as well as individual — and difficult to eradicate. A CEO’s personal crusade to change behavior does not scale. A diversity program by itself, no matter how comprehensive, is no match for entrenched beliefs. Targeting behavioral change without mindset shifts generally leads to an early burst of achievement followed by reversion to old ways. McKinsey’s evidence points to the need for systemic, organizational change. Companies that aspire to achieve sustained diversity balance must choose to transform their cultures. Management needs a powerful reason to believe in the benefits of this transformation, such as the potential competitive and economic advantage from retaining the best talent.
Key Factors for Under-Representation of Women in Head Appointments
Women in the fellowship do share some of the characteristics of successful male candidates for heads’ positions: They have comparable maturity and experience, but they are also:
Key Factors for Under-Representation of People of Color in Head AppointmentsCandidates of color apply for more positions than their white counterparts and are interviewed and considered finalists in roughly the same proportion, but they are often disappointed to be the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Compared to successful candidates who are selected to be heads, candidates of color are:
- Less likely than the men to have risen to the rank of assistant head or upper school division head (that important precursor to securing the job as a head);
- Less confident in their connections and interviewing skills, the reputation of schools where they have worked, and their ability to fit into a new school’s culture;
- Less urgent about finding a position, looking at a desired time frame of five years or longer;
- Less likely than men to pursue headships vigorously, foregoing such efforts as registering with multiple search firms and applying for multiple positions;
- More doubtful about undertaking a position as a head and sacrificing their home or personal life;
- More likely than men to say that the time commitment associated with the head of school position is unappealing; and
- More apt than men to say that staying in their local area is an important factor, often due to children and working spouses.
All of which leads one to wonder, “What’s the path forward from here to achieve the equity we seek at all levels in our schools?” The McKinsey Report offered some promising rays of light:
- Younger (as most candidates who are selected are over 40, whereas many aspiring leaders of color tend to pursue heads positions actively at a younger age);
- Less experienced than current heads and successful candidates; and
- Less often in assistant head or division head roles (the typical launch positions for headship) in their current jobs.
So, dear readers, there are three questions for this blog:
- Many major corporations recruit their “fair share” or more of women into the leadership track (as do NAIS schools).
- Many companies have introduced structural mechanisms — such as parental leave, part-time policies, and travel-reducing technologies to alleviate work-life constraints (as have many NAIS schools).
- While the many barriers that remain are substantial, interventions by organizational leaders at critical career points can have outsized impact (a reality current school heads have recognized for generations as they mentor “rising stars” for headships at other schools).
- Many “rising stars” in the corporate world are younger women with relatively light work/family concerns who, if companies can win their loyalty at this stage of their careers, will be more likely to stay the course. “These women are ours to lose,” McKinsey notes, for the corporations they study. (Ironically, in our industry, we promote our rising stars into headship at other “companies,” not to be our successors at our own school.)
- What must candidates who are female and/or people of color do to increase their likelihood of being appointed to headships?
- What must search firms do to help candidates and schools see women and people of color as equally appealing as white male candidates?
- What must boards do (since boards ultimately make the head selection) to make it more likely that women and candidates of color are more proportionately, not just included in the pool, but also seen as the right choice?