Chief Diversity Officers – Game changers or mere figure heads?

Today many companies are moving their diversity initiatives from their human resource departments, who historically have held a lower power level within the corporate pyramid, to a senior executive level position known as the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).

By allocating a powerful seat at the leadership table to diversity and inclusion, organizations are sending a signal that these subjects matter and they are investing with their dollars and resource capital. Armed with significant budgets and teams, the CDO is responsible for driving the diversity and inclusion platforms, but they are also tasked with tackling cultural norms and biases that are firmly implanted and difficult to root out.

With 60 percent of Fortune 500 firms employing a CDO, and many of these reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the subject of diversity, inclusion, and equality have reached a new high in modern day organizations.

Investigating the Standard and Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) companies, before 1995, there we four named CDO positions.  From 1995 to 2012, there were 198 organizations with a CDO. This dramatic jump in senior level roles dedicated to diversity should have impacted its goal, but the data doesn’t support it. These companies continue to report they are highly committed to gender diversity, however that commitment hasn’t translated into meaningful progress. The percentage of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed.

In 2017, more than 90 percent of organizations stated a priority to gender diversity due to better business results, but the employee’s sentiment shows a lack of trust for this commitment. A mere 42 percent of employees believe their companies are committed to gender diversity and the hiring practices support this lack of commitment. A study that replaced a woman’s name with a man’s name on a sample resume improved the candidate’s odds of being interviewed and hired by 71 percent. The mere presence of a gender diversity commitment and a CDO are not having the cultural impact in organizations that they are intended to elicit.

So does this mean the CDO position is a failure? Should they all be moved to greener pastures? Based on my research, I would say no. Diversity and inclusion are not departments – they are cultural values. The creation of a CDO role can drive initiatives, but until all leaders consider adding diversity champion to their development plan, the efforts of a few will continue to have a minimal impact.

Does your organization have a CDO or someone tasked with driving D&I? Here’s something you can do…

THIS WEEK: Write down how you view diversity in your organization. What is going well and what are the stumbling blocks?

THIS MONTH: Meet with your CDO or someone tasked with moving D&I forward and share your thoughts – start a conversation.

THIS YEAR: From the meeting this month, make a plan to help move things forward. This could be to continue to meet with your CDO on a regular basis to understand how you can be included in the solution. It could mean that you attend diversity group meetings and seek to understand more about their experience. It could be that you ask someone that you view as a champion of diversity to mentor you and help you make strides in the next 12 months to create more inclusion on your team.  It can be so many things, but it can’t be left to the CDO – that is not working.