Embracing change: the evolution of C-Suite and Board diversity

Since Audeliss’ formation 13 years ago, the corporate landscape has seen significant shifts in the structure of C-Suite and Board-level diversity. Roles that were previously occupied by an identical group have started to shift into a more diverse and inclusive talent pool.

As we navigate through the evolution of C-Suite and Board diversity, it’s crucial to understand the journey so far and the emerging trends shaping the executive search landscape in 2024.

A decade of progress

Reflecting on the past decade, it’s evident that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) started to move to the forefront of corporate agendas. Organizations, encouraged by compelling research linking diversity to improved financial performance, have embraced the importance of diverse leadership. Initially released in 2013 and reiterated in subsequent years, McKinsey’s research highlighted the correlation between diverse leadership teams and enhanced financial outcomes. The data revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender and racial/ethnic diversity were more likely to experience financial gains, highlighting the tangible benefits of diversity beyond mere representation.

This period witnessed significant cultural shifts within businesses and brought forward initiatives such as Gender Pay Gap reporting now being mandatory for many countries and the formation of organizations like the 30% Club and Black on Board, which underscored the growing commitment to gender and ethnic diversity in leadership.

In particular, the events that took place in the summer of 2020 and the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement opened the eyes of many around the world and provided a wake-up call to society at large, and especially businesses, that action was needed to correct decades of systemic racism for Black people. “As a result, there’s been a notable shift towards amplifying Black talent and fostering increased representation across boardrooms, leadership roles, and senior positions”, states Paul Reynolds, Audeliss’ Head of Financial Services and Technology Practices.

Boards also started prioritizing diversity of thought and experience alongside traditional metrics of industry expertise. PwC’s Annual Corporate Directors Survey highlights a growing appetite for directors with varied lived experiences, recognizing the value of diverse perspectives in decision-making. This shift reflects a broader acknowledgment that diversity extends beyond demographic attributes to include a range of backgrounds, skills, and viewpoints.

Regulatory boards and government-backed agencies were also eager to ensure companies were diversifying their leadership teams. In the U.S., for example, Nasdaq introduced Board Diversity Rules, which mandated companies to disclose Board diversity metrics, signaling a pivotal moment in boardroom accountability. These measures not only emphasized the importance of diversity but also laid the groundwork for a more inclusive corporate culture.

With organizations and government alike invested in increasing representation of diverse leaders and employees in the workplace, it seemed like change was finally underway.

DEI under attack

As progress seemed to be happening, opposition has been building as the landscape changed. This culminated in a more vocal attack on DEI in 2023. In the United States, the landscape of workplace diversity has started to face significant challenges, spurred by legal battles and regulatory shifts. Conservative advocates, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, launched a barrage of legal challenges against corporate diversity and inclusion programs. Many of the recent lawsuits are specifically targeting programs that aim to increase diverse hires, with critics arguing that such programs contribute to hiring decisions based solely on race.

The legal backlash against diversity programs has sent ripples through the corporate world; several challenges have centered on initiatives implemented following the 2020 protests sparked by George Floyd’s tragic death. However, other challenges have taken aim at longstanding diversity programs that have been the target of anti-affirmative action advocates’ efforts to dismantle them.

These legal challenges have created a climate of uncertainty, prompting corporations to tread cautiously in their diversity initiatives. While many major corporations have stood by their diversity efforts, some have made adjustments to mitigate legal risks by going under the radar with their programs. Prominent law firms, for example, modified their diversity fellowship programs to allow applicants of all races, aiming to preempt potential legal challenges.

Emerging trends in executive hiring

Executive hiring is bringing a new set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to meeting companies’ evolving needs. Manuel Heichlinger, Audeliss’ Managing Director, observes, “The definition of diversity has evolved from focusing mainly on gender 13 years ago, to a more intersectional approach. To note, social mobility and race representation have recently emerged as specific diversity focus in the UK and U.S., respectively.” This results in companies now requiring that their executive search partners provide a balanced or diverse shortlist of candidates before they move to interviews.

Another notable shift is the increasing demand for candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as social action, irrespective of their functional roles. Companies now recognize that driving diversity initiatives, alongside broader sustainability efforts, requires leadership at all levels, and not just within dedicated DEI departments. This reflects a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of social action within the context of a wider Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) driven agenda.

At Audeliss, we meet our client’s needs by identifying candidates who have a track record of fostering inclusive environments and driving cultural change. “We have built an extensive and strong diverse database throughout 13 years, making us a destination agency for inclusive talent. This guarantees that are providing the best talent globally to our clients,” explains Priyanka Malik, Audeliss’ Research Lead.


As the landscape of C-Suite and Board diversity continues to evolve, the need for DEI remains as crucial as ever. While the past decade has seen significant strides towards fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces, recent legal challenges pose a threat to the progress made. It is vital for organizations to navigate these challenges with resilience and determination, reaffirming their commitment to fostering inclusive environments where every individual can thrive.

At Audeliss, we remain dedicated to championing diverse talent and building better businesses, ensuring that organizations are equipped to meet the demands of an ever-changing world. To find out how you can contribute to driving cultural change, get in touch.