Sunday, April 17, 2011

Are executive recruiters discriminating against non-Whites?

You might think so if you just glanced at a recent study by Dreher, et al. in the Journal of Management. But what if we read the study...are the results more complicated?

Here's the background: The authors distributed a survey to over 13,000 U.S.-based BlueSteps subscribers. BlueSteps is an "executive career management service"--essentially a place where $100k+ job seekers and executive recruiters can connect, seemingly similar to TheLadders. It is maintained by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

Due to various reasons (including the survey being blocked as spam), the researchers ended up with a final sample size of 572. So keep that in mind when interpreting the results. Also, nearly 90% of the respondents were male, and around the same number of respondents were White. So the non-white, non-male sample was relatively small.

What the researchers found was that white male respondents were significantly more likely to report being contacted by executive recruiters. And it wasn't because of factors like individual education or work experience--these were controlled for. Interestingly, further analysis revealed that race appeared to be the driving force; there was no difference in contact between female and non-White male respondents.

They also found that switching employers ("pursuing an external labor market strategy") resulted in a compensation premium only for White male respondents. Not surprisingly, those who reported receiving more contacts from search firms had greater compensation. But White males who had received the most number of contacts reported the highest level of compensation compared to other demographic groups.

Here's how the authors summarized their results: "...our study suggests that the White male advantage associated with external job change is, to a meaningful degree, sensitive to the processes and practices of executive search firms."

The authors do point out that the small size of the non-White male sample may have something to do with the results, and they caution readers about generalizing the results to other populations. However, they also state: "...the executive search industry would likely benefit from in-depth internal reviews regarding a variety of diversity-oriented issues. It is in the search firm’s likely best interest to present a diverse slate of candidates to its clients; as such, search firms would benefit from pursuing internal studies designed to determine if and why female and minority male managers and executives are underrepresented in their databases (or in databases of the BlueSteps variety)."

Is this an example of blatant racial discrimination? It's suggestive but not conclusive. The authors even write "we are not suggesting that anything sinister is going on or that search firms are intentionally discriminating against women and non-White males." But the fact that a large percentage of top search professionals appear to be White males should factor into the conversation. It may not be intentional, but that doesn't mean it's not discrimination. More research (e.g., controlled laboratory studies) would help us answer this question.

1 comment:

Pitch Black said...


I think I will pass on this research because I do not agree with fundamental population selection.
Research sample base wasn't very diverse in a sense that it became more sort of spray rather than selective approach especially in the matter of race.

May be whites are on the receiving end and are actively looking for job, whereas all others don't have time for surveys. Before pointing as White preference Researchers should have done research on percentage of races in ivy league population or time frame of reaching any C-suite. Eg how long it takes to reach C-suite for classes of 1970s and 1980s, and how many other races were present in those classes in 1970s and 1980s.