Why Every Company Needs A Chief Diversity Officer

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Chief Diversity Officer

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Yon Na, PhD10
Organizational Psychologist and Consultant
May 25, 2024 at 9:15AM UTC
Recruiting, compensation, benefits, employee relations, leadership development, employee engagement, change management and diversity and inclusion. These are the areas that comprise the human resources profession. Now that diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, the pressure is on more than ever for HR. But which position is responsible for the successful management of D&I? Is the HR/chief HR officer the person who should identify ways to embed initiatives and programs into the organizational culture and processes? 
The spotlight has been shining on D&I has some time now, but the responsibility should not rest on the shoulders of the HR department. Instead, every company needs a chief diversity officer. Here's why.

What is a chief diversity officer?

Companies need to identify ways to keep up with an evolving and more diverse workforce. Chief diversity officers (CDOs) must define strategies that support the quickly changing demographics and the varying needs of workers and staff. By leveraging external data, the CDO can make a data-based decision and develop a strategic plan to shape D&I practices. For example, according to Pew Research, expanding populations of working women and millennials are creating a more diverse workforce. A changing demographic means that the employees have new and different needs. According to a study conducted by Fairygodboss, women view compensation and flexibility as high priorities when seeking employment. These are examples of critical external trends that will continue to influence the needs of the workforce. 

Why is a CDO necessary?

Diversity is a sophisticated topic. It encompasses more than race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and cultural values. And it certainly goes beyond affirmative action (protection from discrimination). D&I also includes the current conditions of an employee’s life, such as age, marital status, family stage, economic status and geographical location (situational diversity), as well as the personal characteristics of an employee, such as work style, problem-solving styles, needs, desires and values (behavioral diversity.) This complex area needs care and attention, and an experienced leader is required to support D&I by defining what diversity inclusion means, why it is a corporate responsibility and how it should live within the organization and its community.

Evolution of the role

HR is overworked. Over the past several decades, the department has evolved from acting as a policy driver to becoming a strategic partner to the business. This evolution can be credited to the former CEO of GE, Jack Welch. Famously known to be a champion of HR, Welch expected the head or president of the department to contribute to business strategy. Today, the scope of HR has grown even more, and staff have far too many responsibilities. It is not fair to add D&I efforts to the long list of these employees' tasks. D&I needs a separate inclusion officer to work alongside the head of HR to develop a strategic plan for diversity ensure its successful implementation. In fact, the roles of the CHRO and CDO are interdependent: one cannot exist without the other. The focus for the CHRO should be on strategy related to people and company growth, whereas the CDO’s responsibility is creating D&I strategies for inclusive excellence and successfully implementing them.

Responsibilities of a CDO

HR handles everything related to people. It is responsible for the ways in which employees are rewarded and developed and now, more than ever, how employees feel. While companies categorize employees by title, level and employee IDs, employees are people first, and caring for how they exist in the workplace is critical to a company’s success. 
This is where CDOs can add a great deal of value. An inclusion officer's focus should be to cultivate an environment where all people, regardless of their background, can feel included. While this may sound simple, it carries several complications, because the area is still being defined. Inclusive excellence in one organization may not be the same in another. There is not one ideal way to create an inclusive environment. The culture of the organization and the employee make up will dictate how inclusion is defined and managed.

How much does a chief diversity officer make?

PayScale reports an average annual CDO salary as $122,536. Keep in mind that this can vary significantly depending on the nature and size of the organization, experience level, location and other factors.

A final note

Lastly, a word of caution: just because a D&I program launches, it’s not a done deal. A mechanism is required to measure the effectiveness of programs and initiatives. This way, the leadership team can make improvements for the future. It’s a continuous loop of implementation, feedback, improvements and actions.
Not only does this process require time and energy, but it also needs the right experience and capabilities to successfully fulfill the needs of the position. Diversity and inclusion professionals likely have the experience and knowledge needed to define diversity, create inclusive environments in the company community and measure the effectiveness of the efforts. More importantly, a C-suite leader must make D&I a priority by embedding it into the company culture and processes. By creating a specific role, especially for a senior-level leadership team member, D&I will get the attention it deserves. 
Yon Na is a leadership and organization development professional with 20 years of corporate experience. She has worked with some of the most admired companies on the planet, including Warner Bros. Entertainment, The New York Times, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson. As a leadership development professional, Yon has helped hundreds of individuals fine-tune their unique talents through coaching and facilitating workshops. To learn more, please visit https://yonnaphd.com

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