The Changing Roles of the Chief Diversity Officer

As diversity recruitment is threatened by record layoffs, CDOs must strive to be strategic partners

Business people partner with other business people. As many CDOs don’t have a deep business background, this makes it much harder for them to be seen as a business partner. They lack the commercial understanding and don’t speak the common language of the astute business professional. CDOs who don’t understand their business have a difficult challenge making the business case for diversity and inclusion.

Lack of diversity. The longer we continue placing primarily women and people of color into the CDO, role the longer we reinforce the notion that the important work of D&I is not an important function for all executives to consider. Since the utilization of human capital is essential to the success of every business doesn’t it make sense for companies to be more inclusive?

I have observed all four types of CDOs. They are not mutually exclusive roles. The best diversity and inclusion executives are a mixture of all four. To be an effective CDO one has to call for a level playing field. You have to be an ombudsman and you have to be courageous when you smell “something rotten in Denmark.”  As a search professional, I seek out clients who want a full partner in their CDO. The full-partner CDO can report to the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Human Resources Officer. More important than the reporting relationship is the substantive nature of that connection. A partner CDO has to be involved on the front end of succession planning, compensation, recruitment, and training and development.

Some may feel that their organization doesn’t have a partner CDO. The good news is this can change. Although I do believe that a savvy CDO can become a true partner, it will take a lot more than just training, coaching, and commitment to change.  We need to open up the dialogue and talk about the existing CDO reality.  It is amazing how far this function has come.  Who would have believed that so many CDO positions would ever exist? That CEOs would care where their company ranked in the various diversity polls [such as the Black Enterprise Best Companies for Diversity] or that the business press each year would trumpet best company for minorities, working women, gays, physically different etc.  That being said, what has brought us here will not get us to the next level.

Gregg Smith is managing director at Boyden Global Executive Search in New York

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