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New study shows value of chief diversity officers

Deidre Montague
New study shows value of chief diversity officers

Banner Business sponsored by The Boston Foundation

A new research study reveals that the role of chief diversity officers is a major corporate asset in helping boost finances and strengthen the functioning of workplace organizations.

The study comes at a time when many diversity, equity, and inclusion job positions are being cut from businesses.

According to The Washington Post, DEI job positions “peaked in early 2023 before falling 5% that year and shrinking by 8% so far this year based on data from Revelio Labs.”

Business Insider reports that this trend was escalated by the 2023 Supreme Court’s decision to ban race-conscious admission practices, coupled with some billionaires launching anti-DEI campaigns using their finances and influence “to shape narratives, distorting or ignoring history, while bending organizations to their will.”

According to  The Associated Press, some of these challenges to DEI have focused on policies accepted after the murder of George Floyd by police and the protests that followed, as companies pledged to increase their efforts to rectify racial inequalities in the work space.

However, The AP also said that other challenges to DEI include targeting previous diversity programs, many that are from decades ago, that those against affirmative action have tried to take apart for a long time.

Center Focus International, Inc. is both the primary author of the study and creator of Martha’s Vineyard Chief Diversity Officer Summit. 

The organization’s report shows the impact of the chief diversity officer role, while illustrating the daily activities that those in this role execute at nearly 50 Fortune 500 companies.

It provides an examination of the role from the inside through interviewing chief diversity officers directly, showing how the role has evolved and expanded from compliance and affirmative action to a vital business strategy driven by equity for all.

Dani Monroe, founder and CEO of Center Focus International, Inc. said that their findings give an intimate understanding of how this position is more complex, expansive and demanding — requiring a specialized skill set than many other executive-level roles.

“The significant worth of that role often goes unrecognized within organizations. It is time for the innumerable responsibilities of this role to be defined, and to showcase how DEI makes a huge difference in a company’s bottom line and in the overall functioning of organizations.”

Through interviews with close to 50 chief diversity officers, findings showed that this position requires broad business, organizational and interpersonal skills, while being everything to everyone during complicated situations in today’s cultural climate — making the role emotionally challenging.

Despite these challenges, the report shows that chief diversity officers do not allow the challenges to impact their work and remain committed to guiding their organizations and their workforce.

One of those individuals is Melonie Parker. As the chief diversity officer at Google, she said that she uses diversity as a superpower to ask strategic questions about what is missing at the table in a May 2023 interview with World Economic Forum.

“(I) open up the space for dialogue to do a calling in, not a calling out. And that has helped. Often, I have found that there are blind spots that happen, and people don’t recognize some others are being left out or that people don’t enjoy the same access or advantage that they have. And it’s appreciated to help bring that insight to them in a way that is a ‘calling in’,” she said.

Other major insights from the report include how chief diversity officers are accountable for managing an expansive and complex set of responsibilities that encompasses every department in their organization and are required to bring a full complement of key competencies to perform their wide-ranging tasks (expertise and experience leading DEI, organizational leadership knowledge and exceptional management skills).

Another highlight in the study

showed how chief diversity officers broke down their role’s impact into four categories, which they use to pursue and create transformational results individually, interpersonally, organizationally and societally.

The report also shares that driving impact at these levels simultaneously is not an easy feat to achieve for those in this position, as they are pulled in many different directions. This role requires them to manage people from every area of their organization, who call on them to participate in programs, solve complex problems and create resources to support a multitude of communities — all under the banner of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Lastly, the study aims to be a roadmap for maximizing the impact of this role by providing a series of recommendations to companies and chief diversity officers.

The study’s greatest recommendation is the strong need for universal standards for the chief diversity officer role.