Hunter Executive Search

D&I with Gillian Harford: The Great Hack


From understanding the changing dynamics of the D&I (Diversity and Inclusion landscape) to defining it for your organisation, the first step to solve any problem is to understand it.  

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

– Albert Einstein 

Now that you have defined diversity for your organisation you can tackle the problem effectively.

How to Tackle the Lack of D&I in your organisation 

Multiple touch points 

With years of experience designing and implementing diversity strategies, HR Expert and country executive for 30% Club, Gillian Harford says,

You have to have a very definite action plan, look at a range of key tipping points where diversity needs to be very actively focused on, and be relentless in that focus until such time as changed behaviour becomes part of the norm.” 

Diversity and Inclusion
Photo credits: fauxels from Pexels

She further explains that “Typically, companies tend to have a very singular focus, but I’ve learned along the way that there are a number of tipping points where you have to step in…. for example, yes, you have to look at recruitment, but you also have to follow up with progression policies, you have to look at promotion, you have to look at succession planning, because there is a perception that, once you hire diversely, the problem is solved but diversity can only be maintained into more senior roles with constant action at every career stage

Unconscious Bias 

Unconscious bias has the potential to eat away at objectivity required in all “people processes” within the organisation.  From performance appraisal, work allocation, project assignments, to day-to-day respect for individuals.  Overcoming bias and redefining leadership to be more inclusive, particularly in creating a fair selection process is key to creating a more balanced organisation. 

As a leader ask yourself: 

  • Have I set out the genuine requirements for the role? 
  • Will I follow a structured process that will give every candidate the chance to present at their best? 
  • Am I making the decision based on a full and fair assessment of all the relevant factors? 
  •  Am I making sure to discount any stereotypical assumptions that could cloud my judgement, and which should have no basis in the decision? 

As a matter of fact, unconscious bias is not only present in the heart of the selection process but it remains the main barrier that women face when being appointed to boards as directors in Ireland. (Institute of Directors in Ireland) 

According to the ‘Diversity in the Boardroom 2019 report, (54%) of female respondents cited lack of access to the same networks/information of contacts as men, as the main reason for fewer women on boards.   

Commenting on the subsequent report from the Balance for Better Business group, Maura Quinn, Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors in Ireland, said:  

“Board diversity – in all its forms – is not just ‘a nice to have’, it’s about being commercially effective. It allows the best mix of skills and expertise to be harnessed to drive long-term shareholder value and business growth. We need to address some of the barriers to more diversity in the boardroom, such as unconscious bias and less access for women to the same networks of contacts as men.” 

Diversity and Inclusion
Photo credits: Prateek Katyal from Pexels

Designing a training plan that focuses on the fact that having an unconscious bias is ‘being human’ and recognising that it can lead to action, is significant to encouraging sustainable behaviour change.  

For me, just raising the awareness of unconscious bias in isolation is not as helpful as it could be as it only helps to reinforce in us as individuals that we are not as inclusive as we would like to think we are.  But what can be really helpful is a more rounded approach to unconscious bias/inclusive leadership training that focuses not just on the fact that we all carry some form of bias as human beings, but which moves on to what are we going to do about it and how can we translate it into how we manage what we do in a more inclusive leadership style which doesn’t impact or detract us from making good decisions. I still think that can be very impactful in any organisation.” says Harford.   

A more agile way to work 

Every cloud has a silver lining – The pandemic has proved that working remotely can be as effective as working from the office for certain tasks and this can offer great opportunities for D&I, for recruiting talent in new locations and with different skills.   

In terms of gender progression, companies that had never previously considered the idea of remote and agile working are now redesigning their workforce models with significantly more flexibility. Harford further adds that in research carried out by the 30% Club both men and women have equally stated that

The biggest barrier to moving on to the next step [career progression] is the lack of control on how and where the work is done. Both men and women, look for greater flexibility and greater control over when and where they work”. 

To draw women back into the workforce, to retain talent that is demanding more options in the workplace, and to boost corporate performance through gender progression and diversity, organizations must embrace the many lessons of flexible work that have been learnt over the course of the pandemic and build forward. 


Sponsors are senior-level executives who use their network, influence, and voice to advocate for others.  When that advocacy is for underrepresented groups, it can be a powerful force for change.  

“Sponsors put skin in the game, using their network and connections to advance sponsees via guidance and, crucially, endorsement.” 

Yolanda Lau (Co-founder and Chief Talent Officer at FlexTeam)  

Harford talks about sponsorship as one of the key tipping points of diversity and inclusion and says that

Within the 30% Club, we never talk about fixing women, we talk about fixing the system and removing barriers that get in the way of equal progression of talent.” 

While mentoring and self-awareness go a long way in career progression “a lot of it can come from the benefit of great sponsorship.” 

Diversity and Inclusion
Photo credits: Anthony Shkraba from Pexels

“Who speaks on your behalf when you can’t be in the room, especially when those conversations are about pay, progression and promotion?  A key force for achieving greater gender balance at more senior levels is encouraging a sponsor culture in your organisation. 

Like many other aspects of business, D&I is a journey of a thousand miles that begins with a single step. This part of our D&I series is akin to beginning with the end in mind, the best is yet to come.  

Who speaks on your behalf when you can’t be in the room, especially when those conversations are about pay, progression and promotion.

Gillian Harford

How can leaders and executive search play a pivotal role in D&I strategy? Can Executive Search firms go an extra mile for you? Find out here.

Read Part 3 of our series here

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