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Why You Need a DEI Executive Search Firm

Dei Executive Search Firm

What is a DEI executive search firm?

“DEI,” short for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is a term that’s been in use within certain circles since the late 1990s but has only recently found its way into mainstream usage. Much of this can be attributed to growing awareness of and support for social justice movements such as MeToo and Black Lives Matter over the last several years.

Watching the sudden, explosive proliferation of DEI statements on corporate websites, it’s easy to dismiss the term as yet another trendy abbreviation enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. Nevertheless, to write off DEI as a passing fad would be a critical mistake for leaders in business. 

While terminology is constantly in flux, the underlying concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion are here to stay, and for businesses looking to remain viable in today’s changing world, a deep, nuanced understanding of DEI is an existential necessity. For those playing catch-up, a good first step is to retain a DEI executive search firm for your next executive search.

Why DEI in the C-suite Matters

Though recent decades have seen some progress towards diversity in leadership, the composition of top-level corporate leadership remains overwhelmingly skewed towards whiteness and maleness. This is true both in absolute composition and relative to the larger population of the United States. For example, in 2022, only 44 Fortune 500 CEOs are women – i.e. less than 9% – and that number is a record high. This is obviously a case of gross underrepresentation, given that the gender balance of the population is relatively static, with women comprising slightly over 50% of the population at any given time. 

The racial makeup of the U.S., meanwhile, is steadily growing more diverse, such that by the mid-2040s at the latest, the majority of Americans will be members of a racial minority group. While the prevalence of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) CxOs is also increasing, it will need to grow even faster to keep pace with the underlying population demographics.

The bottom line is that corporate America remains far removed from the American public in terms of its composition, and without a significant increase in the pace of change, it will remain so for quite some time. Setting aside the injustice of the situation (which is very real and not to be minimized), this is a significant practical problem for businesses that fail to stay ahead of the curve. 

A business whose C-suite’s composition is radically different from that of its rank and file (to say nothing of the larger markets and communities it serves) runs the risk of falling out of touch.

On the other hand, a diverse leadership team is likely better attuned to the needs and concerns of the increasingly diverse general public. 

executive search firms specializing in diversity

This is not to say that a business with a predominantly white, male leadership team cannot be successful. However, it is to say that such a business is at a clear disadvantage relative to its more diverse competitors, and that this disadvantage is only going to grow as time goes on.

While the business case for a more diverse leadership team is clear, actually increasing diversity at the top levels of corporate America is easier said than done. There are a number of structural impediments to meaningful change in this area. For example, the “old boys’ club” network that has long been the primary means by which top executives are recruited, promoted, and hired is notoriously difficult for women and people of color to penetrate. This is why, despite decades of effort, the needle has moved so slowly on gender and racial diversity in leadership.

This is where DEI executive search firms come in. These firms are designed to help businesses overcome the structural impediments to diversity in leadership by connecting them with top talent from a wide range of backgrounds. In other words, they provide businesses with the resources they need to build the diverse leadership teams they need to be successful in today’s world.

How the Right DEI Executive Search Firm Can Help You Recruit Diverse Talent

Executive search firms specializing in DEI are a tremendous resource for companies looking to recruit diverse executives. There are several reasons for this:

  • A wider lens. Firms with a longstanding commitment to recruiting diverse executives have traditionally had to look outside conventional channels to identify strong diverse candidates. While this is changing to some extent as diversity increases within the traditional pipelines to leadership, DEI executive search firms are still far ahead of the pack in this regard. An executive search firm specializing in DEI will have a wider rolodex of diverse candidates to contact and thus has a better chance of knowing exactly the right person for the job.
  • Reputation, reputation, reputation. Executive search firms with a strong track record of placing diverse talent in roles that make optimal use of their skills are thus much more attractive from the perspective of the candidate.
  • Inclusion is a skill. Many organizations have learned the hard way that diversity-driven recruiting isn’t enough on its own. For a company with a preexisting diversity problem, retaining diverse talent is its own challenge. For this reason, Ellig Group offers a variety of auxiliary services such as onboarding support and cultural analysis, which help ensure a mutually beneficial relationship between the newly recruited executive and the company.

Traits of Effective DEI Executive Search Firms

Not all executive search firms are created equal, and this is especially true when it comes to those specializing in DEI. When looking for a DEI executive search firm to partner with, there are a few key traits to look for. 

First and foremost, you want a firm that has a deep understanding of the business case for diversity and the challenges businesses face in achieving it. This is not something that can be faked – if a firm does not have a genuine commitment to DEI, it will be very difficult for them to help you build a diverse leadership team.

A longstanding commitment to diversity is also key. Ellig Group has been recruiting diverse executives for over two decades and was one of the first firms to make DEI an explicit focus of our business.

A focus on results. The most important metric for any executive search firm is the quality of the executives it places. To this end, Ellig Group has a proven track record of placing diverse talent in leadership roles that make optimal use of their skills.

A comprehensive approach. In order to be effective, DEI executive search firms need to offer more than just access to a diverse pool of candidates. They also need to provide support throughout the recruitment process and beyond, helping to ensure a successful placement.

A global reach. The best DEI executive search firms are those with a global network of contacts and clients. This allows them to identify top talent from around the world and match them with companies that are the right fit.

Ellig Group is a leading DEI executive search firm with over two decades of experience recruiting diverse talent for businesses across the globe. We offer a comprehensive approach that includes everything from candidate sourcing to onboarding support, and our commitment to results is evident in the quality of the executives we place.

Why Ellig Group is the Premier Boutique DEI Executive Search Firm

Ellig Group’s origins date back to the founding of its legacy firm, Gould McCoy, in 1977. Now a Certified Women-Owned Business with an unmatched drive for purpose, Ellig Group has, throughout its history, been driven by an unwavering commitment to gender parity in the C-suites and boardrooms of the corporate world. As a multiple-bestselling author on the topics of leadership and career growth for women, CEO Janice Ellig is a true thought leader in the field, known and respected by corporate leaders and candidates alike. Janice supervises every executive and board search the firm takes on, giving every client and every engagement the full benefit of her expertise and professional network. 

In today’s social climate, demand for DEI-focused executive search has never been higher, and that’s a wonderful thing. Nevertheless, as supply grows to meet that demand, prospective clients would do well to perform due diligence on any firm trumpeting its devotion to DEI. Ellig Group welcomes such inquiry, secure in the knowledge that their reputation, statistical track record, and satisfied clients all point to the same conclusion: Ellig Group is the #1 purpose-driven boutique DEI executive search firm.

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Tonie Leatherberry was at Deloitte for nearly three decades where she was the principal architect of The Board Leadership Forum and the NextGen CEO Academy, each of which has had a meaningful impact, ultimately placing more than 70 Black leaders into executive-level and board roles. As Chair Emeritus of the Executive Leadership Council, she created the Chairman’s Council of Academic Achievement to address achievement gaps for students of color in America’s educational systems, and as President of the Deloitte Foundation, the mission was to drive initiatives to develop future leaders through education. She is a passionate leader who has devoted much of her professional life to creating opportunities for women and people of color. Tonie is Lead director for Direct Digital Holdings, and a Board Director at Zoetis Inc. and American Family Insurance.

Cindie Jamison was elected Chair of the Darden Restaurants Board (NYSE: DRI) in September 2023, having served as a Director since October 2014 as part of a complete Board replacement slate through Starboard Value’s proxy fight. Since 2013, she has also served on the Office Depot Board (NASDAQ: ODP) where she Chairs the Audit Committee and is a member of the Compensation Committee. In May 2015, she joined the Big Lots, Inc (NYSE: BIG) Board, and became Chair in May 2022. In May 2023 Cindie stepped down from the Tractor Supply Company Board (NASDAQ:TSCO), a position she has held since 2002, where she was Chairman of the Board, after serving as Lead Director, and Chair of the Audit, Compensation & Corporate Governance Committees. Cindie joined the Board of Save the Children in February 2024.

David Chun, Founder and CEO, Equilar, Inc., has led Equilar since its inception to become one of the most trusted names in the corporate governance community. David has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Players in Corporate Governance” by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Disruptor Award by 2020 Women on Boards and Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business. David speaks publicly on corporate governance and board diversity matters, including events hosted by The Conference Board, Deloitte, EY, HR Policy Association, KPMG, NACD, NASDAQ, NYSE, The Society for Corporate Governance and Stanford’s Directors’ College. Prior to founding Equilar, David was a Vice President in the Investment Banking Division of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, a global investment bank that has since merged with Credit Suisse. Before DLJ, David was a management consultant with Bain & Company and also Kenan Systems, a telecom software developer acquired by Lucent Technologies. David serves on the boards of the Commonwealth Club of California, PGA Reach, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG). He is on Nasdaq’s Center for Board Excellence Advisory Board and Catalyst’s Women on Board Advisory Council. David is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Past Chair of the SF Bay Chapter, a founding member of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and a former board member of the Wharton Center for Entrepreneurship and the Asian Pacific Fund Community Foundation of San Francisco.

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Priscilla Sims Brown serves as President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, a full-service bank, lender and investment manager with a century-long commitment to advancing positive social change. Amalgamated Financial Corp., the holding company for the Bank, is the first publicly traded (NASDAQ: AMAL) financial institution to be a public benefit corporation. Priscilla guides Amalgamated Bank in championing social responsibility through values-based banking, customer-centric services, and mission focused lending, serving individuals and organizations, including climate groups, foundations, labor unions, advocacy groups, political campaigns, and other socially responsible businesses, who care that their deposits are put to work for good. Priscilla is also dedicated to addressing environmental and social justice issues at Amalgamated Bank. More than 60% of the Bank’s lending and select balance sheet investments are high-impact through affordable housing, nonprofits, and climate solutions. Named one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2023 by American Banker, Priscilla has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, PBS, and CNBC Changemakers, among others.

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Myra Biblowit is the President Emeritus of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the nation’s highest-rated breast cancer research organization with a mission focused exclusively on funding the world’s most promising research. Myra took the helm as BCRF President in 2001 and, after 22 years, retired in April 2023. During Myra’s tenure, BCRF funding enabled breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, metastasis, and survivorship. Myra was widely recognized for leading one of the most impactful, financially efficient, and transparent nonprofits in the United States. Prior, Myra was Vice Dean for External Affairs at NYU Medical Center where she headed the Development, Alumni Relations and Public Relations departments. Previously she led the capital campaign as Senior Vice President of the American Museum of Natural History. Earlier, Myra served as Executive Vice President of the Central Park Conservancy. Myra is a member of the Board of Directors of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the Housewares Charity Foundation and the Historic House Trust of New York City. She is a member of the New York Women’s Forum, the Yellow for Pink National Council, Extraordinary Women on Boards and serves on the Advisory Board of Project Hope for Ovarian Cancer Research & Education.

Truett Tate is Chairman of a number of Boards, including Reference Point, TLC Lions, Thinkably and the recently retired Chairman of QBE, NA. Truett Tate is also Director of the DEVClever board. Truett has a long and esteemed global executive history including most recently as CEO of ANZ USA, Europe, Japan, Korea and the Middle East. Immediately prior, he was Group Executive (and Board member) at Lloyds Banking Group, responsible for Wholesale & International Banking (Including Global Wealth and International Retail) across the United Kingdom, the Americas and worldwide and prior spending 27 years at Citigroup where he held a variety of senior roles including corporate banking business across each of its regional geographies. Truett’s long board history includes Virgin Group, Ten Group, the BITC, BAB Inc along with many other charitable and academic organizations. A speaker, guest lecturer, philanthropist and professional coach/mentor, Truett has seemingly bottomless energy and passionate interest in a safer, more just, more humane and more sustainable world.

Janice Ellig team image

Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com