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SBJ: Diversity: Front and center

Subject comes up in every meeting – here’s what firms are doing

By John Lombardo, Staff Writer, SportsBusiness Journal

The following was published in SportsBusiness Journal on July 31, 2017, Vol. 20 — No. 15, Page 24. Prodigy Sports is not responsible/attributed for the original creation of this article.

Longtime sports industry recruiter Buffy Filippell has spent decades handling countless job searches, and she knows all too well the challenge of bringing diversity into the industry.

Some years ago, she was hired by the LPGA for an executive placement but finding qualified female candidates proved difficult.

Progress has been made since then, but increasing diversity remains a major issue within the sports executive recruitment industry.

“The challenge for the recruiter is to take one more step and keep digging for the next diverse candidate,” said Filippell, founder of the TeamWork Consulting search firm. “Then there is the challenge of how do we keep them.”

Diversity has become such a priority that most search firms will recruit diverse candidates regardless of client demands.

“One of the trends we are seeing is more and more of our clients are asking us [to present diverse candidates],” said Billy Dexter, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles and co-leader of the firm’s diversity advisory services practice. “In taking on a search, we focus on diversity because of client requirements but in general because it makes sense. We are seeing barriers go down.”

Tying a recruiter’s compensation to their search for diversity is one method that is pushing search firms to boost their inclusion efforts.

At Diversified Search, managing partner Tracy Murdoch O’Such is evaluated on her diversity efforts with a portion of her pay tied to diversity.

“We have our own criteria and we as managing partners are graded by our firm on diversity,” she said. “Every search I do, I have to do a diverse slate when a client asks for it or not. Diversity is front and center.”

Search firms are devoting more research resources to increase their pool of diverse candidates through bigger databases while also increasing networking across the industry with the difficulty of a gender or ethnicity search depending on the type of position. O’Such said that female candidates for senior level technical jobs are a particularly difficult search.

“We have a robust database of names who we flag in terms of gender and ethnicity,” said Scott Carmichael, founder of the Prodigy Sports search firm. The company has nine staff members, including four researchers, whose duties include focusing on diversity efforts. “It is about going out and finding more people.”

It is also about the willingness of an organization to focus on inclusion.

“It takes top-down behavior modification,” said Michele James, founder of James & Co. search firm, adding that in the last 10 searches her company has handled for the NBA, seven of the placements were diverse candidates. “That comes from a culture that wants to mirror its fans through its brands,” James said. “It is good for business.”

The pressure to deliver those diverse candidate slates demands a deeper pipeline of diversity, part of the reason why CAA is planning to launch a new program next year to attract minority and women candidates.

“It is massively relevant,” said Joe Becher, who co-leads the recruiting practice at CAA. “It literally comes up in every meeting. We are launching a diversity effort next year to be a catalyst to bring more diverse talent to the sector from other businesses. The way to look at it is two-pronged: There needs to be a focus to bring in talent, and there needs to be a focus on nurturing talent.”

While increasing diversity is growing more important, it often means a more expensive effort.

“If you do a gender-based search, it is a smaller candidate pool and you have to cast a wider net,” said Becky Heidesch, a former sports marketing executive who is North American practice leader of diversity and inclusion for the executive search firm Stanton Chase. “It can be four or five times more exhaustive. You put more research into a diversity assignment, and it will be a lower return on investment.”

Heidesch cites progress made over the past few years, but diversity is still an issue plaguing the industry.

“It is changing, but there is a long way to go,” she said.

There is a greater need for midlevel diversity hires, particularly in sponsorship sales, according to Liz Boardman, senior client partner for global sports at Korn Ferry.

“There is a need for more women,” she said. “One of the things I am working on is getting midlevel talent to groom talent. It is very personal to me and important to me that I help with client diversity.”

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Megan Meisse

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