In a climate of social justice concerns and an increasingly polarized society, the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role has remained a critical lever for creating a more inclusive and united workplace. But as organizations strive to achieve diversity goals amid many obstacles, this impactful member of the C-suite will need to continue evolving and working in partnership with other leaders to make measurable progress.

The Current Landscape for Chief Diversity Officers

Organizations have been hiring diversity and inclusion leaders for decades, but in recent years, the CDO role has joined the C-suite in spectacular fashion. According to LinkedIn, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer hiring increased by nearly 170 percent between 2019 and 2021, spurred in part by a renewed commitment to workplace diversity following the George Floyd murder in 2020. 

Since then, however, the CDO hiring frenzy has cooled, and an increasing number of Chief Diversity Officers have left their roles. Turnover for individuals holding the top diversity position in their organization is now estimated to be 40 percent higher than for other executive positions.

While every organization is different, there are several possible reasons why the Chief Diversity Officer role may be evolving into more of a revolving door than anyone intended.

Key drivers include:

Waning organizational commitment: Organizations quick to release racial justice and diversity statements still have more to do in following up those statements with action. As a result, many diversity heads have grown frustrated and have chosen to move on to new roles. Though the reasons are not always made public, heads of diversity have already left companies such as Nike, Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros., and Twitter, to name a few.

Stress and burnout: Diversity and inclusion are hard to measure, especially once you go beyond hiring and workforce composition metrics. DEI work can also be stressful, as it touches on employees’ hearts, minds, and long-held biases (many of them unconscious). These difficulties may help to explain the lower average tenure for Chief Diversity officers of 1.8 years, compared to 4.9 years for other C-suite roles.

Recent layoffs: Layoffs can affect any job function, but diversity roles are often hit harder. Analysis by Revelio Labs found the attrition rate for DEI roles (33 percent) was much higher than for non-DEI roles (21 percent).

What’s Next For Chief Diversity Officers?

The CDO role has continued to evolve as diversity and inclusion initiatives have expanded. For many organizations, especially those with a large, global workforce, DEI work no longer fits nicely within the HR function. After all, diversity leaders today don’t just support the organization’s talent strategy for hiring, retention, and employee advancement; they are also fully integrated into business processes related to supplier diversity, customer relations, and external partnerships with local communities. 

No company has cracked the code on diversity and inclusion, and few would argue they have met all their goals in this area. In fact, when ForceBrands surveyed employees on LinkedIn last year, many agreed their employer still had more work to do to fully bring company DEI initiatives to life.

As the DEI landscape continues to evolve, here are some ways you can gain the most value from the Chief Diversity Officer role:

Improve Leader Accountability

Simply having a Chief Diversity Officer doesn’t mean you will meet all of your organization’s diversity and inclusion goals. Building a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) requires buy-in and support from everyone, including frontline managers and other leaders. 

A recent Gartner survey revealed that the No. 1 concern among diversity leaders was business leaders failing to take ownership of DEI outcomes. DEI success can’t be limited to training programs, employee resource groups (ERGs), and inclusion events. Company leaders must also share accountability for diversity hiring, retention, and building a culture where employees from all backgrounds and perspectives belong.

Reassess diversity goals

A Josh Bersin Company survey of more than 800 organizations found that 76 percent have no diversity or inclusion goals. Even if your organization has DEI goals, reassess them and seek opportunities to refine accountabilities, metrics, and timelines. It’s also critical to ensure goals are balanced and culture-driven, not simply based on mandates and compliance. Diversity and inclusion can’t be limited to making social justice statements, submitting EEO-1 reports, and adding Juneteenth to the company calendar. Goals must also include measurable actions around hiring, retention, and celebrating diverse perspectives and experiences.

The world of diversity, equity, and inclusion is ever-evolving, but with a capable and committed Chief Diversity Officer, your organization can move closer to achieving its DEI goals rather than becoming stagnant, or worse — moving backward.

ForceBrands offers end-to-end hiring solutions for all stages of growth. Whether you’re just starting to hire or are looking for the next step in your career, we’re here to help you be a positive Force that makes an impact.