Without Access To Talent Data, Chief Diversity Officers Are Ill-Equipped For The Job

There are a few signs that a company isn’t serious or doesn’t understand what it takes to advance racial equity, and not giving their chief diversity officers (CDOs) access to talent data is one of them.

I am blown away by how many CDOs tell me they do not have access to this information. Think about it. How can a CDO establish a diversity strategy without vital information about where the organization’s gaps are? How does a CDO have a substantive dialogue with their HR colleagues, talent management team, or senior leadership about driving a diverse talent strategy without underlying talent data? Does an organization truly trust their CDO if they are unwilling to give them access to the information?

These are the kind of questions CEOs should ask themselves, and ones CDOs should ask prospective employers before accepting an offer to work for an organization giving them a lofty title with no ability to make an impact.

Too often, corporations under pressure to meet diversity goals place people of color into virtuous-sounding roles without any power. CDOs without talent information may focus on marketing, branding, business resource groups, and inclusion efforts instead. More recently, they may even host Truth Talks or Courageous Conversations but to what end?

Eradicating systemic racism in the workplace demands more than fan-fared announcements of individuals with no resources to affect change. CDOs running intangible programs not intentionally focused on equity don’t fix the core problem either. A commitment to digging into organizational talent data to identify, analyze, and rectify problematic trends is what’s required.

It is also essential for CDOs to have more than headcount and representation figures, which typically only gives point-in-time information. We know that Black and Latino headcount is flat or down in many organizations, especially at executive levels — the real questions are why and in which businesses do the gaps need the greatest focus?

Data access should include everything from sourcing, recruiting, progression, culture, and exit information. The reports educate the leadership team about unique organizational challenges they must commit to addressing. The board and CEOs of organizations should also hold leaders accountable for improved results like any other business strategy critical to the organization. Only through intentional analysis of this information can CDOs start recommending targeted actions to fix issues.

CDOs do not own the outcomes; business leaders who hire (and fire) the talent do. However, CDOs can be change agents in this space if they have adequate tools to work with, including data to understand where problems exist. Factual trends can’t be denied, and once presented to the rest of the C-suite, it is hard for business leaders to keep up the facade of diversity and inclusion versus doing real equity work.

What current statistics show

According to a report by Russell and Reynolds, only 35 percent of CDOs have access to employee demographic data, which makes it clear why their impact has been marginal, at best. From 2019 to 2020, Facebook reported a tiny jump in Black leadership staff — from 3.1 percent to 3.4 percent. It made much better improvements for hires in non-technical, non-leadership roles.

Microsoft has similar results, although its gender gap closed at a more significant rate from 2019 to 2020. According to its blog, “Black and African American employees are 4.9 percent of our U.S. workforce and 5.2 percent of individual contributors, but only 2.9 percent of managers, 2.6 percent of directors, and 2.9 percent of partners and executives.”

The solution to this dilemma doesn’t have to be a complicated or drawn-out process. It’s in the data, and CDOs can drive change if given a fighting chance.

While many have applauded companies for hiring CDOs and taking a public position on racial equity, neither of those matter without results. The only way to get results is to know what you are solving for, have a baseline to measure outcomes and hold leaders accountable for them. There are still too many leaders who confuse goals and success metrics with quotas and hold their organizations back. Leaders who understand the advantages of a diverse team to an organization’s success will embrace a metrics-driven strategy and arm the CDO with all the tools to drive change.

Lack of diversity in the workplace has been problematic for a long time, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. Building equitable processes to recruit and retain diverse talent is possible. It takes intentional focus by the CEO and a CDO partner who is empowered with facts to work with the leaders who ultimately own improving diverse talent outcomes for their businesses.

The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not necessarily the opinion of Black Enterprise.