Chief Diversity Officers in Demand at Companies
Over the last couple of years, despite the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chief diversity officer (CDO) role has become one of the hottest and most important job positions around the nation. The overall societal trend toward inclusion and diversity has fueled this growth for CDOs, and there doesn’t currently appear to be any slowing down in the trend.
Chief Diversity Officers Are Being Hired at Record Rates
Companies are hiring Chief Diversity Officers at rates never seen before. Many businesses are hiring their first-ever CDOs. Over 50% of respondents to a recent survey of business professionals by Korn Ferry said that their companies had created the position of CDO after the summer of 2020. Even in the midst of a pandemic the position was seen as vital to company growth and culture. The same survey saw almost 80% of those questioned saying that the CDO position is more important now than it was even a mere year and a half ago. “A massive wave of social unrest in 2020 created a heightened awareness on the issue of racial equity,” said the Global Leader of Korn Ferry’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practice Alina Polonskaia. “Chief diversity officers bring visibility to their organization’s commitment to DE&I as they lead efforts to activate change.”
Data collected from the job website LinkedIn backs up the rise in hiring of CDOs. In June of 2020 the number of diversity and inclusion jobs was over four times higher than it had been five years prior. Additionally, those companies with dedicated diversity and inclusion officers are viewed more favorably than those without such employees. Such companies are 22% more likely to be seen as industry leaders with high-quality employees, and 12% more likely to be a better place for minorities to work.
Interestingly, chief diversity officers have a rather high turnover rate. CDOs average only about three years in their position. There are numerous reasons for this, some discussed in the next section, but one worth noting here is that due to the intense competition among companies for CDOs, and the general lack of highly qualified prospective applicants, many businesses are finding their next CDO by hiring them away from another firm. CDOs are moving around rapidly, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This trend will likely last until the pool of candidates grows to meet the demand.
Lack of Resources
The high turnover rate of CDOs is not just due to the supply not meeting the demand. Another key issue is that CDOs are not always being given the resources necessary to do their jobs properly, and this is causing a high level of frustration. Some companies think that just having a CDO is enough. It isn’t. A newly hired CDO requires considerable support from the company to operate effectively. A dedicated assistant and an adequate staff are not always forthcoming, leaving CDOs to do far too much of the work themselves. The departmental budget needs to be big enough to allow for not only enough personnel, but also to fund the key programs that are intended to further the diversity and inclusion agenda.
Oftentimes, to implement the changes the CDO wants requires a change in the company’s culture. To do this requires a total commitment from the C-Suite that isn’t always forthcoming. Without the support of the top echelon, the CDO is left out on a limb with no real authority to do what they want. This problem may not always be as obvious at first as a lack of staffing or resources, but it is equally a barrier to any D&I changes. These obstacles to success are very disheartening to a new, idealistic CDO and the frustration they cause has added to the short tenure of most CDOs.
“It can be adversarial at times,” said Lissiah Hundley, Head of Strategic Partnerships and Client Fulfillment at DiversityInc, regarding the relationship that often exists between the C-Suite and a newly hired CDO. “If the organization isn’t willing and open to listening, they won’t let you challenge and question their norms, you’re not going to be happy. They brought you in for a reason. Something is broken that needs to be fixed. If you can’t challenge it, what are you there for?”
This is the dichotomy that exists in the chief diversity officer position. On the one hand, the job is one of the hottest going right now, with many more openings than qualified candidates. On the downside, however, is that many firms are not fully onboard with the D&I agenda and are not willing to spend the resources, or give the support, necessary for a CDO to be successful.