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Why the role of chief diversity officer is so fraught

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ellevest improves its impact investing for racial justice, we mourn Zindzi Mandela and Naya Rivera, and the CDO job is hot—and hard. Have a thoughtful Tuesday.

– The revolving CDO door. It will likely come as no surprise that chief diversity officer is among the hottest jobs in corporate America, with CBRE, General Electric, and Zoom Video Communications all naming CDOs in recent weeks. Protests demanding racial justice have put a spotlight on employers’ roles in perpetuating inequality like never before, and firms are newly committed to diversifying their internal workforces and to making that clear in their public personas.

But the CDO job is fraught. A Wall Street Journal story published yesterday describes the revolving door of the CDO office. Current and former CDOs told the WSJ the high turnover of the role is due to “lack of resources, unrealistic expectations, and inadequate support from senior executives.” 

The current social climate has elevated the profile of CDOs, but the challenges that plague the position have deep roots. My colleague Ellen McGirt (author of Fortune’s must-read newsletter raceAhead) framed the issue in stark terms last year in a story titled: “Chief diversity officers are set up to fail.” Her piece featured Russell Reynolds research that found that 47% of companies in the S&P 500 index had a CDO, but two-thirds of those executives had been hired or promoted to the role in the past three years. The major hurdles facing CDOs? Insufficient power within their organizations, spotty demographic data, and too little support from other company leaders. 

What’s more, the job is flat-out taxing. “It requires an emotional muscle unlike any role I’ve ever worked in,” Joy Fitzgerald, the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Eli Lilly & Co told the WSJ. “You’re dealing with polarizing topics, and these topics and issues are very nuanced. There are not a lot of best practices you can point to that are easy or quick. You have to be comfortable knowing that the norm is managing discomfort.”

Given the avalanche of corporate pledges and platitudes about diversity in recent weeks, firms should be eager to address the shortcomings of their CDO offices. For starters, organizations should ensure CDOs report to the CEO so they have real influence on company culture; reporting to legal, marketing, or HR reduces a CDO’s reach.  

As Ellen reported last year, the problems facing CDOs are not new; the solutions can be.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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