There are two main ways that employers work with outside recruiters: on a contingency basis or through a retained search. Each option has its benefits, but which type of recruiting is most effective when the goal is to increase diversity in the leadership ranks?
Toya Lawson, a partner at Bridge Partners LLC, has 20 years’ experience working in both retained and contingent search, as well as corporate human resources and talent acquisition. She spoke with SHRM Online about both types of recruiting, which one is better for finding a diverse slate of leaders and how diversity recruiting has changed since the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
SHRM Online: What are the differences between contingency recruiting and retained search?
Lawson: Contingency recruitment is set up so that the recruiter is working on behalf of the candidate, as opposed to a retained firm that is working on behalf of the employer. When my client comes to me with a search on the retained side, I’m an extension of their talent acquisition group. I represent them.
As a contingency recruiter, I have competition from other contingency recruiters. On the retained side I have exclusivity—the only search firm working on filling that role.
As a retained recruiter, we go through stakeholder calls with the key leaders in an organization. That isn’t really done on the contingent side. They get some information upfront, but it’s not the same. At a retained firm, we can spend several days talking to key stakeholders before the search even begins.
Right now, I am working on a search for the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a deputy director of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. We have talked to the CEO, the CHRO, the board, the search committee and different DE&I leadership groups, all because it’s very important that we understand what the client is looking for, and understand how to sell and pitch the opportunity, as well as understand the organizational culture and the leadership profile before we reach out to candidates.
On the contingent side, the search process is much faster, and contingency recruiters typically have many more job orders on their desks. If you’re looking for fast turnaround for early career positions, it’s best to go with a contingency recruiter. A more-thorough retained search is better suited for looking for a C-suite, leadership level role. The fee ranges are also different [retained search is typically more expensive].
SHRM Online: What type of search is most effective in recruiting senior-level diverse candidates and why?
Lawson: When it comes to recruiting diverse candidates, especially for your C-suite, that’s really where you want a retained firm that is very intentional about who they place.
We recently did a search for a CFO at the Philadelphia Zoo. The last three CFOs were men. We made sure to present a slate that had both women and men, and people of color as well as white candidates. We make sure to present a slate that has at least 50 percent diverse candidates on it. We know that if we have at least that percentage, there is a higher likelihood that a diverse candidate will get considered. If there’s only one diverse candidate on the list, that’s not enough.
Most organizations tell us they struggle when trying to hire for diversity at the leadership level. Because of how focused we are and the limited number of projects we take on, I can take my time to dig deep and find those individuals.
SHRM Online: What has changed since last summer’s renewed emphasis on diversity in recruiting?
Lawson: After the death of George Floyd, we started to see an increased desire from companies to attract and recruit diverse talent throughout the organization, but specifically at the senior levels. We saw an increase in activity that has continued to this day.
We have also seen an increased demand for chief diversity officer positions at organizations. We have completed several of those and have several more on our desks right now. Every single one of those positions that I have been involved with has been an inaugural role at those organizations.