March 3, 2011

Russell Reynolds Weighs in on Diversity Recruiting

There used to be a time when many big financial firms, both on the sellside and buyside, would wince at the thought of diversity recruiting and skirt over the issue. But over the past couple of years, Lyndon Taylor, head of the diversity recruiting practice at Russell Reynolds, has been noticing a change in attitude, observing that the reluctance firms once had to go down that route has actually lessened.

Today, he says, many firms--hedge funds, private equity firms and others--are actually taking a real interest in promoting diversity within their workforces.

“There’s a voluntary emphasis on diversity recruiting and when these firms come to us, they’re actually walking the talk and saying ‘please help us identify diversity,’” he says.

Taylor’s theory is that firms are taking their cue from their customer base: “The sources of capital put a lot of emphasis upon diversity because they themselves are so diverse,” he says. “The capital has the power to ask the people who are managing it ‘how diverse is your workforce?’

Investment management firms have also noted the changes that have impacted the wirehouses and brokerages and distribution networks. They have noticed, Taylor says, that the clientele that wirehouses cater to is far more diverse these days and is going to become even more so going forward.

“There’s an opportunity here for many firms to really make some serious efforts at diversity recruiting,” Taylor says.

Taylor believes that one of the best ways a firm can make a genuine and sustained commitment toward increasing diversity in its workforce is by investing in top-level talent whose sole focus would be that. Someone, he says, like Subha Barry, chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac and former head of global diversity and inclusion for Merrill Lynch.

Barry’s reputation precedes her: In 2001, she created Merrill’s multicultural and diversified business development group to help establish the firm as the preeminent wealth management firm among diverse and multicultural markets. She headed the group until 2005 when she was appointed to the chief diversity officer role, through which she was responsible for managing and integrating existing and new diversity efforts across the corporation globally.

Barry will be responsible for developing business strategies focused on the needs of the company’s diverse workforce for Freddie Mac, working with the company’s senior management team to ensure that it is effectively utilizing diverse talent (both within its employee base and its suppliers), enhancing the annual diversity planning process and managing performance against the company’s diversity plans. Barry will also design and launch the company's Executive Diversity Council and will work with business units to maximize opportunities in diverse markets.

Says Taylor: Investing in talent like Barry’s is key for firms that want to do more than just pay lip service to diversity recruiting.

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