Fostering inclusivity and representation resonates louder than ever before. Visionary leaders stand at the forefront of this global change—Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs).
Adding CDOs has been an integral part of every business strategy for the past two years. But now, the DE&I initiative is evolving again. Let’s take a deep dive into the shifts and challenges Chief Diversity Officers experience in today’s ever-evolving workplace landscape.
What Is the Role of a Chief Diversity Officer?
A Chief Diversity Officer’s primary responsibility is to draft and implement diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, programs, and initiatives for organizations, including schools. Some of the primary duties of a CDO are:
- Spotting areas in the organization with less diversity.
- Making plans for diversity across the whole organization.
- Hiring a mix of employees or students from different backgrounds.
- Listening to and handling employee concerns about discrimination.
- Gathering data from different groups and how they’re represented in an organization.
A Chief Diversity officer reports to either the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), the Chief Operating Officer (COO), or the President.
The Exit of the Top Chief Diversity Officers
Some of the world’s biggest brands were the first to experience the fallout of their Chief Diversity Officer roles.
After two years in service, Felicia Mayo, Nike’s CDO, was the first to go in July 2022. In the same year, Gucci’s first CDO, Renée Tirado, followed and resigned after holding the position for a year. Latondra Newton from Disney exited the post in June of this year, followed by Vernā Myers, who will step down in September.
Interviews with both former and current CDOs said that some executives did not want to change processes, especially in hiring or promotion, despite CDOs being hired to improve the pipeline. This leaves CDOs questioning their purpose and career path.
The Challenges and Shifts Chief Diversity Officer Competencies Face
What once became an overly in-demand role is now losing touch due to the changing landscape of DE&I. Let’s take a look at some of the shifts and challenges diversity and inclusion officers face that ultimately led to the role’s decrease in demand.
Falling Demand in the Workforce
Over the years, CDOs have worked and focused on retention, eliminating systemic biases that can be crucial to retaining the best employees and candidates. Even with those efforts, their role has still fallen under the demand.
A survey from the Pew Research Center said that 32 percent of workers said it is “very important” for them to work at an ethnically diverse workplace, while 38 percent said it doesn’t have much impact.¹
In the same survey, 26 percent said that an equal mix of men and women is “very important,” while 44 percent didn’t mind. Part of the decrease in demand is the reaction. During the pandemic, most companies assigned diversity leadership to people who were an ethnic minority without checking their qualifications intensively.
Uninspired Diversity Executives
According to a report by Wall Street Journal, Jason Hanold, Chief Executive of Hanold Associates Executive Search, said that the common reason he heard when executives are offered the role is that they would only accept the position if it involves other functions, leading to many business leaders removing the position from the organization.²
He estimates that about 60 percent of the CDOs they hire share their titles with another function in the company, which was only 10 percent five years ago. This increase meant that more and more people are becoming disinterested in DE&I roles today and would compensate by adding another function to their role.
Whether executives lack inspiration, the spread of misinformation, or the role handles too many responsibilities, CDOs are increasingly becoming nervous and hesitant to commit to the position.
CDOs today receive less support than they had a few years ago. A survey done by World 50, featured in the same post by the Wall Street Journal, found that U.S. employees have distinct decisions in seeing the importance of a diverse workforce.
In the survey comprising 138 CDOs, 82 percent had the right influence in the organization to accomplish their jobs, which dropped from 90 percent from the previous year. Also, 42 percent felt that their managers supported them, which also experienced a drop from 48 percent.
While the numbers have not significantly dropped, and there’s still ongoing support, this change is already affecting CDOs, reducing morale, dedication, and inspiration.
The Best Practices in Bridging the DE&I Gap
Let’s talk about the different ways of building an inclusive employment landscape in the future.
1. Teach What Inclusivity Is
Inclusivity is about making everyone feel welcome, starting with the proper foundation. If some team members aren’t sure how to practice it, extend a hand and help them. Chat with your human resources department about arranging informative and engaging training sessions. These sessions can teach everyone how to show appreciation and respect to everyone they meet in the workplace.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals DE&I Vice President Diana Cruz Solash says that everyone in the organization must see the value of DE&I for themselves to succeed, as she said in a Spencer Stuart article.³
“You may have all the systems in place, but you won’t be successful until everyone in the company believes that inclusion, diversity, and equality are important to them, that they have a part to play, and that we can jointly question the norms that may not be in our best interests.” – Diana Cruz Solash
2. Embrace Differences
Our world is rich with different traditions and backgrounds. Encourage acceptance by implementing zero-tolerance policies against discrimination to gender, ethnicity, or disability. Let your employees know that if they feel left out or discriminated against, they can speak up and let their managers know their experiences.
- Make spaces accessible and available to anyone by giving access to every employee.
- Encourage and inspire your employees by acknowledging their efforts and contributions to the company.
- Practice inclusive verbal and non-verbal communication, like using a people-first language.
In the same Spencer Stuart article, KPMG Chief Diversity Officer Elena Richards says that when we talk about diversity, everyone should be included and responsible.
“I just want to engage everyone so people do not perceive this as a “us versus them” conflict or a zero-sum game. We want people to understand that they are a part of the equation when we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion. The surroundings that we build for one another, including the cultures of the teams we work on, are all our responsibility.” – Elena Richards
3. Set Inclusivity Goals Together
Involve your team in setting inclusivity and equality goals. Let them share their insights and start the initiative by letting your employees onboard on day one. Ask them these questions:
- What does an inclusive workplace look like to you?
- What can you suggest in achieving this goal together?
- Is there anything that you want to change?
- Are there any practices in the office that are not inclusive for you?
Sheree Atcheson, Global DE&I Director of Peakon, said that most initiatives fail because of focusing data on diversity alone.⁴
“DE&I efforts frequently fail because they are not assessed to gather data and determine if they have the desired impact. Make sure your DE&I data focuses on inclusiveness as well because one without the other is useless.” – Sheree Atcheson
Related Article: 3 Things a Diversity-Driven Culture Says About You
4. Invest in Diversity Planning Tools
Many companies and organizations took immediate action in 2020, but their efforts have since failed mainly because the right resources and diversity teams weren’t implemented.5
The appropriate analytics, tools, and resources can give you both the progression and transparency you’re looking for that you can inject into compensation, hiring practices, and the unique needs of some employees.
STRATEGIZING A DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE FUTURE IS NONNEGOTIABLE FOR SUCCESS
A successful DE&I future starts with the right employees. When it comes to making an inclusive future, starting with how you hire new team members is crucial.
Here at Focus People, we believe in the value of uniqueness. We create rich and meaningful opportunities through powerful relationships. We understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity and how it can help you in finding success.
Work with Focus People to create, establish, and nurture a diverse workforce.
Contact us today and take one step forward in building your diverse and inclusive future.
1. Minkin, Rachel. “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace.” 17 May 2023. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/05/17/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-in-the-workplace/.
2. Chen, Te-Ping. “The Rise and Fall of the Chief Diversity Officer.” 21 Jul. 2023. “The Wall Street Journal.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/chief-diversity-officer-cdo-business-corporations-e110a82f?mod=djemCareersLI.
3. “Making Progress on DE&I: What Leaders Can Learn from Their Digital Transformation Journey.” Oct 2021. Spencer Stuart. https://www.spencerstuart.com/research-and-insight/making-progress-on-dei. 31 Aug. 2023.
4. Percival, Alaina. “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Thought Leaders on What Companies Should Do to Be Better in 2021.” 12 Feb. 2021. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alainapercival/2021/02/12/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-thought-leaders-on-what-companies-should-do-to-be-better-in-2021/?sh=53b2ffabb183.
5. Sherman, Lee. “Were Chief Diversity Officers Set Up to Fail? Recent Exits Indicate This Could be the Case.” Visier. https://www.visier.com/blog/chief-diversity-officers-exits/#:~:text=Not%20enough%20resources%20A%20lack%20of%20executive%20support,on%20the%20human%20element%20of%20equity%20and%20inclusion. 30 Aug. 2023.