Originally Posted by Milgo Yonis for TMI Consulting

What is a Chief Diversity Officer and Why Does Your Company Need One?

The Short Answer:

A chief diversity officer (CDO) is an organization’s executive level diversity and inclusion strategist.

The Long Answer:

Today, the number of chief diversity officers in the United States is on the rise. The shift in both organizational and public response to issues of diversity, inclusion, discrimination, harassment, and the impact of globalization on the workforce have brought more visibility to and increasing demand for the role of CDOs.

Issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are present across every sector and at every level of an organization. As a Chief Diversity Officer, it is your role to work across the organization to optimize organizational culture, align the organization’s diversity and inclusion goals with business outcomes, and be able to respond to changes or policies that occur outside of the organization that affect organizational culture, or employee and customer populations.

What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Do?

CDOs are often thought of as primarily being responsible for creating an organization’s strategy for recruitment of diverse and underrepresented candidates. However, their role extends to far more than that. What separates today’s CDOs from previous iterations is how diversity is now recognized by organizations as a resource that can be leveraged to enhance work outputs. In this iteration, CDOs may be responsible for a much wider set of initiatives, such as:

  • Developing, managing, and supporting data-based diversity and inclusion strategies
  • Spearheading or supporting negotiations with foreign business counterparts
  • Identifying new programs or initiatives that can bolster diversity within the organization
  • Overseeing employee complaints related to discrimination and harassment
  • Raising funds for operating and strategic initiatives
  • Supporting strategic collaboration between departments and executive and leadership teams
  • Addressing employee demonstrations and responding to staff needs
  • Developing or supporting change and culture management initiatives
  • Addressing issues facing specific demographic populations

While it is in a chief diversity officer’s mandate to support the improvement of the organization, moving beyond a symbolic figurehead can only be fully realized if an organization’s leadership are supportive of the role.

Making the Leap

In a 2017 survey of 81 chief diversity officers and diversity leaders in higher education across the United States, two-thirds of respondents were the first to hold their position within that organization and over 80% of the organizations did not have diversity and inclusion strategies prior to those hires.

When we look at the larger climate of corporate America, while the majority of organizations cite diversity and inclusion as important and critical to innovation, few have strategies in place to improve diversity and inclusion that extends beyond hiring. Those who have adopted diversity and inclusion strategies as well as CDOs in their organizations have recognized the impact that diversity and inclusion have on business outcomes.

“Diversity enriches our performance and products…Microsoft [is] a company that has not only adapted well to rapid change in the business landscape, [it] has elevated the standards of what we can expect in a technology provider when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”
Microsoft’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre

Today, Microsoft has become a leader in the diversity and inclusion space. They provide resources and solutions for teams and organizations trying to unpack how diversity and inclusion concepts can be incorporated into their businesses. But Microsoft has also embedded this thinking deeply into its work culture and into the technologies it has developed to support individuals with differing levels of ability.

Historically, many organizations have brought on chief diversity officers after a crisis has occurred. This practice can be counterproductive to helping a CDO build credibility and support within an organization. While CDOs are change management specialists, the sudden hire of a CDO can undermine the credibility of the role in the eyes of employees, and cause any initiatives the CDO undertakes to be perceived as witch hunts.

Chief Diversity Officers can be an invaluable addition to a leadership team, especially when organizations are trying to strategize new ways to shift their momentum, enter new markets, utilize untapped talent, or re-engage stakeholders. Whatever the challenge, CDOs bring a valuable perspective to the table, and can mobilize organizations to effectively engage employees and stakeholders at all levels of an organization to achieve the goal.

Find out if your organization needs a CDO here.

Originally published on TMI Consulting Medium by Milgo Yonis