The Future of Chief Diversity Officers

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Various companies are hiring their own Chief Diversity Officers (CDO). The executive position garners a $150,000 dollar salary or more. As in any professional situation, the future of Chief Diversity Officers lies in their success. Unfortunately, the majority seem to be having a bit of trouble. How do we ensure the success of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?


The Wall Street Journal confirmed that the average stay for a Chief Diversity Officer with a

single company is three years. What is the most common reason for leaving? CDO’s reported management’s failure to adequately support them, as well as, unrealistic expectations.


According to Mita Mallick who recently wrote on the subject for the Harvard Business Review, CDO positions are relatively new. Having been initiated in the 1980’s, at that time, they were a political strategy to counteract civil rights lawsuits. Today, they are considered more of a public display of political correctness. At best, hiring a Chief Diversity Officer may be seen as an effort to maintain employee retention. Subsequently, not every company filling that position desires true change.


In order for your corporation to ensure progress with your new CDO, you need to set tangible, realistic goals from the get-go. Understand that a cultural shift is required and that it takes time. It will take months, if not years for your new Chief Diversity Officer to discern the true mindset of your employees. Once the environment and behaviors are established, then the real work begins.


Networking on your company’s behalf within the BIPOC & LGBTQ community is required to increase confidence amongst your minority employees. Simultaneously, the CDO needs to build a rapport with the rest of your team. This requires a master networker with a great deal of diplomacy. Once your CDO proves themselves trustworthy to all of your employees, then you will see real change begin. BIPOC and LGBTQ employees are more likely to be honest regarding their interactions with staff members once this devotion to their community has been established. This infiltration allows your Chief Diversity Officer to best focus on how to shift your company’s culture.


We all know that our culture has evolved over time. Some traditions are devoutly maintained while others seem to fall by the wayside. But who determines what remains? Moreover, how do we change outdated mindsets while respecting everyone throughout the process? Deciding what regulations and expectations to set is an executive responsibility. Once implemented, they can’t be ignored for anyone.

It is imperative that your Chief Diversity Officer have direct access to your Chief Executive Officer. Additionally, your CDO should be included and supported by your entire executive team. Their participation in the process is imperative. Without executive support – across the board – you can’t expect real, long term consequences.


Curtailing the bias within an organization begins at the top. Charlie Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo, recently stated, “While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.” He later apologized, but the truth remains: this viewpoint is all too common with executives.


As I reflected on this CEO’s conclusion and brazen claim I realized something. Many Fortune 500 companies still believe the best man for the job is a White male. Less than 1 percent (.08%) of Fortune 500 companies have a Black CEO. Less than 4 percent (3.8) of senior executive roles are occupied by Black employees. In contrast, 7.8 percent have female CEO’s. There is a huge disparity here overall, most particularly for the Black community. Black employees are twice as likely as White employees to leave their employers within two years. Why? The consensus is that they are not respected or consulted, much less promoted. Consequently, they move on in an effort to find an organization where they will be appreciated. Retaining “good Black talent” is determined by a company’s culture. The representation is in the workforce. Unfortunately, executive powers are overlooking those employees.


My challenge to organizations who want to do the right thing during this tumultuous time is to be honest with your intentions and hunker down for the long haul. This isn’t a sprint. Our society has been battling cultural and systemic racism for centuries. It isn’t going to be solved overnight. Nor is it going to be swept underneath the rug. If you truly want to be a part of the solution, you need to create an atmosphere in which your entire organization is dedicated to the uphill battle that lays ahead.


Furthermore, if you represent or are in control of a corporation that doesn’t want genuine change, then don’t waste the time and efforts of a talented and devout diversity and inclusion officer. They are there to create positive change. You damage their professional reputations when you fail to provide them with the necessary environment to succeed. Worse still, you muddy the waters of your institution’s potential for future progress. If your employees lose faith in the possibility of evolving early on, how likely are they to be a part of the cultural shift?


If you want to set your Chief Diversity Officer up for success, set achievable goals and allow the necessary time to see the change take place. Slavery and racism has suffocated our country for centuries. The solution won’t happen overnight. Nor should we expect it.

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