The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer in Advancing DE&I

This article on the Chief Diversity Officer is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared by Kindred Concierge. Concierge is our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to navigate complex decision-making within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here. For existing members, log in to the member portal and maximize your Kindred experience through Concierge today.

The demand for diversity leadership professionals is on the rise. Between 2015 and 2020, there was a 71% increase in DE&I job listings globally, according to a LinkedIn study. Specifically, the number of professionals with the title of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) grew 68%.

The growth of the CDO role is driven by a greater focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Among employees and job seekers, the diversity of an organization’s workforce is an important consideration when evaluating job offers. Organizations are also making dedicated efforts to bring progress to their corporate policies and cultures, particularly in light of last year’s demands for systemic change. As leaders realize that DE&I is a core business function, there is a greater need to recruit, hire, and retain professionals to drive this strategy. While responsibility of improving diversity and inclusion falls to leaders and employees across an organization, the Chief Diversity Officer helps to shape and lead strategic initiatives and ensure alignment between DE&I principles and business strategy. 

According to Gartner, the Chief Diversity Officer is “an executive leader who is responsible for designing and implementing an organization’s diversity and inclusion strategy. Their goal is to ensure equal opportunity for employees and candidates across dimensions such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, and disability.” In some organizations, the leader of the diversity function may use a different title — per the LinkedIn study, there was also significant growth in the number of people with the title head of diversity (107%) and director of diversity (75%).

Considerations for Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer

The demand for CDOs may be high, but many often face a lack of resources and inadequate support from senior leadership that make it challenging to do the work. As a result, company leadership must ensure that they are providing the resources, such as sufficient budget and a team, and the environment necessary for the CDO to thrive in their role. 

Before hiring a CDO, Russell Reynolds Associates recommends that senior leadership align on the organization’s core DE&I mandate, get leadership buy-in for the role, and understand the readiness for change within the organization. These considerations are crucial in identifying the best candidate for the organization’s needs and setting them up for success. 

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Mita Mallick, Kindred member and Head of Inclusion, Equity, and Impact at Carta, suggests that leaders asking the following questions to ensure organizational and leadership readiness:

  • Why now?
  • What are the job requirements?
  • Where does the role sit?
  • What size budget and team will you provide as support?
  • What metrics will you use to track success?
  • Will the CDO influence your products and services?

As diversity leaders come from different employment backgrounds, the best fit will depend on an organization’s DE&I goals and priorities. Some professional experiences CDOs consider crucial to the role include human resources, D&I work, local community work, global exposure, senior-level leadership, and technology. 

Key Responsibilities of the Chief Diversity Officer

Because CDOs can have various professional backgrounds, they can take on different responsibilities to embed DE&I throughout the organization. They work collaboratively across departments and lead efforts to define and cultivate diversity within a company. Below are some key responsibilities of the CDO, broken down by business function.

  • DE&I Strategy: The CDO helps develop and implement organization-wide diversity objectives, goals, and reporting system. They also analyze the return on investment gained from DE&I initiatives across the organization.
  • Talent and HR Support: The CDO works with HR to recruit, hire, and train diverse employees. They are also key to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace by planning DE&I training sessions and using data to uncover biases in policies and practices, among other efforts.
  • Governance: In this function, the CDO ensures compliance with internal DE&I programs and external laws and policies, and advises on inclusion-related policies that impact employees.
  • Products and Services Design: A core responsibility of the CDO is providing guidance on DE&I issues related to products and services. In addition, they must understand the external trends that impact the business and develop external partnerships to position the organization’s DE&I initiatives. Furthermore, the CDO helps ensure that an organization’s products and services address DE&I issues and represent the communities they serve. 

Diversity and inclusion will continue to be a shaping force for organizations reckoning with intersectional issues of justice and equity. The importance of building equitable workplaces requires the participation of all individuals in the organization, from senior leadership to employees. As organizations continue to work toward building diverse and inclusive workplaces, the Chief Diversity Officer is necessary to help ensure that policies and practices are implemented effectively at all levels. With the proper support and resources, CDOs can effectively help change inherently inequitable systems and policies. 

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Published on October 07, 2021