Why chief diversity officers often fail
April 30, 2019
Many companies are introducing a new position within corporate leadership that focuses on how to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.
The newest addition to many C-suites across organizations is the chief diversity officer (CDO). Pinterest decided to hire its first CDO, Candice Morgan, in 2016. At the beginning of 2018, Uber hired its first CDO, Bo Young Lee. The hire came with the intentions of revamping the company’s image following several high-profile scandals, including claims of racial and gender discrimination within the company. WarnerMedia also recently announced that it would be adding a chief diversity and inclusion officer to the team of executives at the company. The announcement came following reports that then-CEO of Warner Bros., Kevin Tsujuhara, had an inappropriate sexual relationship with an actress affiliated with the company. Google’s chief diversity officer, Danielle Brown, stepped down a few weeks ago. Brown was hired in 2017 and had to deal with several diversity-related issues that Google experienced, including an employee walkout and a viral memo alleging the company’s discrimination against white male employees.
A common practice following public and high-profile discrimination scandal is to hire a CDO or to create a similar position within the organization. While having a CDO is better than not having one at all, tasking one individual with the job of changing toxic workplace culture, implementing employee resource groups, developing strategies to attract and retain diverse talent and figuring out how to create a more inclusive environment for employees is a lot, to say the least. Many companies set their CDO up to fail by placing an unreasonable amount of problems on their plate, along with unrealistic expectations. Having a CDO allows a company to have a scapegoat if diversity and inclusion initiatives fail. If these issues persist, organizational leadership can easily transfer the blame and responsibility to the CDO. This is problematic because it doesn’t allow individual employees and corporate leadership to take responsibility for their contribution and perpetuation of toxic work culture. It’s important to remember that changing work culture takes time—one person can only move the needle but so much.
In addition to a CDO, your company would benefit from having a diversity task force of some sort. Many organizations have a diversity task force or council that consists of a group of individuals that are passionate about creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This task force should consist of employees and also change makers and change agents within the organization. Organizational leadership should also be represented on this task force; change will be more challenging without executives and leadership representation. In order for diversity and inclusion initiatives to be successful, employees must understand that it is everyone’s responsibility to create an inclusive environment. Research indicates that inviting non-managers to diversity workshops can increase the likelihood of workshop success. Every leader in the organization is responsible for creating a culture of equity and inclusion because diversity starts at the top. Attainment of diversity goals is contingent on leadership accountability. It isn’t just the CDO’s job to ensure that the organization is fostering an inclusive environment; each employee is instrumental in creating an inclusive workplace for all.
By Janice Gassam