What does a Chief Diversity Officer do?

In early 2020, when the pandemic first took its toll and businesses began to realize its economic implications, guess which jobs were first on the chopping block?

If you guessed jobs in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), you are absolutely right. In the frenzy of response strategies and emergency planning, Many businesses determined that these positions were expendable., This was partly due to a business logic – the diversity position isn’t exactly responsible for supply chain or sales – but it was also the product of 50+ years of corporate America undercutting the product and disregarding the role of DEI.

So it was an ugly irony when the May 2020 killing of George Floyd prompted many of those corporations to reconsider their position. Suddenly, corporate leaders panicked about how to respond to their employees. Movements such as Black Lives Matter took center stage and encouraged us all to question what role our institutions – government, business, education – are playing in the systems that see the killing, brutality of so many black bodies. and enables imprisonment.

There was an unprecedented surge in DEI appointments. New Heads of Diversity Hired in S&P 500 Index at the rate of about 12 per month In the period following the death of George Floyd – nearly three times the rate 16 months earlier.

And of course, interest in hiring chief diversity officers wasn’t new at all: According to LinkedIn data, the title of “head of diversity” increased. 104% from 2015 to 2020 (68% for “Chief Diversity Officer”). Still, only . about S&P 500. half of the Have a chief diversity officer (CDO) role or equivalent (53%), and most of them were hired between 2016 and 2022.

The market is full of demand. This is one reason why CDOs experience such high turnover: Average tenure is now less than 2 years (1.8), compared to 4.9 for CEO, While some of these come into the competitive marketplace for the job, it also points to the tremendous burnout experienced by those in the role. CDOs have not stayed because they often have too little support and too much responsibility.

The industry of diversity is certainly booming. But in my view, one of its biggest impediments is the widespread misunderstanding of the role of the chief diversity officer. I’ve talked to dozens of people in this position – you can listen to one of them, along with Donna Johnson, former CDO of Mastercard, my running to work podcast, Most have expressed deep dismay at their lack of resources, not to mention the lack of recognition they receive for a seemingly impossible task.

Part of the problem is the George Floyd effect: When diversity executives (chief or not) become the solution to improving a company’s reputation, they join companies that are responding, not strategizing. The events of 2020 forced companies to recognize that a CDO is a must–not only a good-to-have, but it did little to educate organizations about what the role is. Is And how do people succeed in this?

What is the role of the Chief Diversity Officer?

And that question is a good place to start: what Is The Role of a Chief Diversity Officer? I guess the answer depends on what role you think DEI plays in the first place.

If you believe that DEI exists to make people feel At work, the Chief Diversity Officer becomes a hand-holder, guiding the organization through training and difficult negotiations. If you think DEI exists protect A company, especially a legal and reputable one, then the chief diversity officer is more of a spokesperson. They exist primarily to represent the company’s commitment to DEI issues and to communicate its successes, especially during times of increased investigation (eg litigation).

But what really helps a company is if you believe that a diverse workforce, uniform policies, and inclusive cultures perform better, then the task becomes somewhat more complicated. This includes end-to-end strategy development and execution, which means operations, human resources, marketing and communications, consumer/customer insights, research, data analysis, employee engagement, governance, compliance, executive coaching…, many some.

Even if the CDO’s responsibility is only to improve performance, it would be a huge task. But the truth is that the role of the CDO is also expected to be the first two options: an internal leader and a public-facing ambassador.

ever changing role

That’s an incredible amount of work for a department, let alone one person, so it’s no surprise that CDOs report frustration. Some companies make it even more difficult for them: 53% of CDOs One in the S&P 500 Index Excessive Role that is not related to diversity and inclusion.

Given that the nature of the role is evolving, the disappointment should not be such a big surprise. The dispatch of CDOs changes from one year to the next, especially as our culture becomes more passionate about diversity issues at work. And the role was not created out of thin air: it is the product of a long history of diversity initiatives met with nostalgia and derision in private and public organizations.

When you are the first, second or third person to hold a CDO position in a company, you have a lot to learn and persuasion to do. Unfortunately, many people in this situation lack the resources available to achieve both of those goals. In a survey of 100 CDOs conducted by Russell Reynolds, 65% of respondents said they do not have the resources to track employee demographic data, These CDOs may not even understand the impact of their own work with one of the company’s most basic metrics. Some CDOs are even hired to head a department that consists of none other than themselves.
Many CDOs also rely on their internal relationships to see the changes implemented, monitored and refined. But with high levels of turnover and resistant internal cultures, they have to constantly renegotiate those relationships.

Changing the way we think about DEI

So how do we work around these myriad obstacles? I think we need a change when it comes to thinking about the role of CDOs, which means how we think about the value of diversity, equity and inclusion.

It begins with expanding the business case for DEI beyond financials. Several studies have now shown that more diversified businesses are related to better financial performance., And it makes sense intuitively: More diverse teams working in companies that prioritize DEI will experience a more dynamic, empowered environment. Which helps in getting better results.

But we can get more specific than that. Researchers have now shown that companies that prefer DEI There are cultures that are more open to learning from people’s differences., When people aren’t afraid to ask questions or share their authentic experiences about a difficult topic like gender, identity or race, it builds trust. And trust builds relationships, which in turn helps teams weather the variety of storms they might face with knowledge gaps or other obstacles in their processes.

Often, this openness is enough to help an organization’s culture become more focused on learning in general, leading to better performance, products, and relationships among people. In other words, DEI strategies are not right now About the bottom line: They are also about learning and team effectiveness.

If we look at DEI as a means of improving performance, the imperative for the rest of the C-Suite to fund and support CDOs becomes very clear.

But that support also has to come from the rest of the organization. CDOs must clearly have the right people, budget and senior support behind them. Equally, they require support from the rest of the organization, starting from the bottom up with everyone who recognizes their role in executing the DEI strategy. Again: the CDO is not a silver bullet in itself.

This reminds me of one of the earliest examples of the DEI strategy in US history. In 1941, a group of civil rights leaders including A.I. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were involved, planning a march on Washington. They were, in part, opposed to discrimination in the Defense Department, which was reluctant to hire black workers, even when they had the skills needed to help prepare the nation for WWII.

Thankfully, in June 1941, President Roosevelt finally recognized what was at stake and issued an executive order banning “any discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin” in the national defense program. .. … in the firm belief that the democratic way of life within a nation can be successfully defended only with the help and support of all groups within its borders.” , Executive Order 8802 (1941)

FDR was progressive, sure, but he wasn’t stupid either. He understood that in order to meet the demands of the US war, “All groups within its borders” was to be involved.

A good example of what happens when pressure is applied from top to bottom and bottom to top. The tussle between the president and civil rights activists led to that executive order being obtained and change swiftly.
A policy change is only effective if it is designed for a receptive environment. Unless everyone in an organization believes in the value of making systemic change, CDOs will continue to fight their battles with soldiers who don’t know what or what they are fighting for.

retelling the story

The first step, as always, is to redefine the narrative. CDOs don’t exist just to solve problems, save face, or ease crises. They are integral strategists and implementers whose business is improving performance of an organization. By improving diversity metrics and implementing DEI strategies, they are able to change culture. It goes beyond the bottom line: CDOs help companies build the internal resilience and external reputation they need to thrive in a world of intense scrutiny, disruption, and competition.

Consumers and talent, which are becoming more diverse every year, are watching more closely than ever before. and if He Not a persuasive business case, I’m not sure what is.

This article was adapted and reprinted with permission of definition of diversity,

!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s)
{if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod?
n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)};
if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′;
n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0;
t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0];
s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window, document,’script’,

fbq(‘init’, ‘1389601884702365’);
fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);