The Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role is its own unique roller coaster. It’s the C-suite position that has seen the most growth in recent years, along with the highest rate of attrition and turnover. If you’re not preparing your chief diversity officer for success, your organization may experience this same disruption.
WMFDP | FDP Global empowers leaders to go all-in on their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts without shame, blame or fear. Our professional facilitators equip you to lead across differences while embracing your personal learning journey. We offer you and your team cutting-edge opportunities to move forward with meaningful DEI work. Contact us today to learn more.
Preparing Your Chief Diversity Officer for Success
The CDO position originally existed primarily for legal compliance for HR departments. The number of companies employing this role grew gradually until 2020.
Then, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers in May 2020, companies began hiring a CDO or similar executive at a rapid rate. One report shows that 56% of the companies surveyed established their diversity position after Floyd’s murder. Suddenly, the world was watching businesses to see how they would respond.
Unfortunately, many organizations created and filled this role with little planning or understanding of how it should function and how to sustainably support it. Burnout and turnover in the position skyrocketed. Now, most CDOs have a tenure that is only about half that of the average CEO.
The reality is that if your chief diversity officer has been in their role for at least a year, they may be ready to leave your organization. How do you stop this from happening? How do you intentionally and authentically support the CDO position for long-term success? You do it by focusing on these “five Cs”:
Let’s examine these areas and how they can prepare your diversity executives to be successful and impactful in your organization.
A 2022 McKinsey & Company article notes that companies may create the CDO role “with the best of intentions, but many organizations don’t seem to know quite what it is.” That is, the position is ambiguous and undefined from the start.
The first step in preparing your chief diversity officer for success is to clarify the role and expectations. This includes outlining the position’s responsibilities, reporting structure and goals.
Many executives are unsure how to set realistic and measurable goals for the CDO and ensure they align with the overall business objectives. Working with DEI facilitators will help you clarify these expectations so your CDO can focus their efforts and prioritize tasks accordingly.
Clarity can also involve streamlining the communication lines by ensuring the CDO has direct access to the CEO. This connection empowers your chief diversity officer to work with precision, authority and speed by eliminating unnecessary layers between the two positions.
Many employees and leaders still see DEI work as unimportant at best and distracting and divisive at worst. To prepare your chief diversity officer for success, you must develop executive consensus about the role’s value.
It is vital to establish a supportive organizational culture that prioritizes DEI initiatives. This support includes leadership buy-in and employee engagement throughout the organization. The CDO needs recognition and help from all stakeholders to successfully implement their initiatives.
If your C-suite team refuses to go all-in on diversity and inclusion efforts, your CDO will become part of the turnover statistics. And your bottom line will suffer.
Naturally, building this consensus is easier said than done. Since most Fortune 500+ leaders identify as white heterosexual males, their lived experiences may not have helped them develop an understanding of why companies need the CDO role.
Gaining consensus may require outside expert help to facilitate conversations around privilege and exclusion in leadership. Events such as the White Men as Allies Learning Lab will help executives and other leaders to move forward in agreement about the critical nature of the CDO position and responsibilities.
Diversity and inclusion work isn’t a one-time event, and it isn’t only one person’s job. Authentic progress in DEI demands consistent, continuous education and training for everyone involved to support the CDO in doing their job.
The overarching communication of any organization must be consistent in its pledge to create an equitable work environment that accurately reflects and includes all employees. This need for continuity relies on the clarity and consensus discussed above. With those pieces in place, you and your CDO will be ready to present a unified, consistent message.
Collaboration is key to the success of a CDO. Your diversity executive needs to work closely with other leaders and stakeholders across the organization to be effective.
To make this collaboration possible and productive, your leadership team must present DEI initiatives as crucial to everyone’s success. Because they are. Diverse workforces consistently outperform homogenous groups in all kinds of metrics, creating a more profitable organization.
When your leadership takes the time to develop clarity and consensus, collaboration can flow easily. Effective DEI work requires executive buy-in, and it demands everyone’s awareness and effort.
No, we are not suggesting that you bribe your chief diversity officer. But we are saying that the CDO position requires sufficient financial resources to be successful:
- Compensation and a budget on par with other executives in the organization
- Appropriate and ongoing funding to develop, implement and maintain an effective DEI program
- Outsourced training programs from professional facilitators
- Sufficient staffing to implement and monitor initiatives
In addition to the financial resources needed to prepare your chief diversity officer for success, you must ensure that your CDO has the authority to make decisions. They need consistent access to the CEO without being pushed aside or needing to jump through hoops.
The reality is that a diversity executive inherently impacts every facet of an organization. From hiring and HR to marketing and sales, the CDO’s efforts should reach all parts of the company. It takes an investment of time, energy and money to make that happen.
Set Up Your CDO for Success
Diversity and inclusion work is not a quick fix. Attending one workshop isn’t sufficient.
Bold, productive leaders understand that they need to commit to these efforts for the long haul with patience, persistence and the vulnerability to know they’ll make mistakes. They also recognize the power of confidently preparing their chief diversity officers for success by ensuring the role has a clear purpose, executive buy-in and robust resources to make it happen.
WMFDP | FDP Global helps courageous organizations address these “five Cs” through our unique, collaborative learning events. Our team helps your staff develop clarity, consensus, consistency and collaboration so that your cash and other resources work effectively. With both virtual and in-person options, we are sure to have a program that meets your needs. Connect with our staff today to learn more.