In this moment of racial reckoning, with gross inequities finally being spoken about openly, many corporate leaders are turning to their chief diversity officer as a lifeline. Some who lag behind the times are looking to hire for this role for the first time ever.
Is that what this moment calls for? No.
For too long, organizations have placed on diversity heads the responsibility of solving deep systemic issues that drive deep inequity throughout their ranks. Barriers to racial progress and widespread socioeconomic disparity continue to persist and even grow. People of color face higher unemployment rates and widening wealth gaps.
The CDO has been tasked with a breadth of responsibilities to address gaps related directly to these issues by trying to encourage greater diversity and inclusion within their organizations. This breadth has driven progress in some areas, but it has not advanced equity, as evidenced by consistently decreasing representation at progressive leadership levels within companies. Given this, why do leaders expect that in the current moment, a CDO will solve their internal problems related to equity?
We need to do better. We need true equity codified and institutionalized within our companies. We must eliminate the chief diversity officer role.
Is any single person in the organization equipped to effectively solve such systemic, widespread issues? CEOs and brand leaders must acknowledge the reality and respond decisively to the urgent needs of the moment.
The CDO role must be eliminated and instead replaced and expanded upon with a newly created role designed and developed to ensure equity as a core function across the organization. Equity must be the clear, focused outcome. Much like a chief marketing officer leads the marketing function and the chief financial officer leads the finance function, a chief equity officer must lead the equity function.
Across corporate and startup environments, agencies and brands in the U.S. and abroad, when resources are put behind an effort and that effort is tracked and measured, it drives results. Each of these requires a structured approach.
If a company states racial and socioeconomic equity as a priority, it must recognize that this is not a one-person job, and it is not a passion project that a volunteer-based employee resource group leads in addition to their functional roles.
As we’ve seen with core functions such as marketing, finance, product and technology, when a function is a priority, it must have people placed in roles to support it. Full time.
This means building an equity team, whose responsibility is to ensure equity at all levels, including racial representation, socioeconomic class representation, pay equity and health equity across diverse groups. It involves efforts focused on recruitment, retention, development and promotion—all of which can enhance belonging and deliver growth.
Goals will not be achieved without properly funding the work needed.
Once the equity function is established, the team must be given a budget that directly reflects the investment needed to achieve organizational goals. And when times get tough financially and budgets are cut, as they were during the last recession, consider the signal sent to prospective talent by holding steady on this budget—or the signal sent by cutting it.
Without the right tools, it will be impossible to dismantle structures that aren’t effective and to build something new that delivers what’s required.
This means processes and technology need to be put in place to enable measurement and tracking with benchmarks and targets directly aligned with companywide strategic and financial goals. This should also include shared objectives in performance reviews and ongoing research to drive measurable, positive change.
There must be recognition that issues will not be solved overnight.
True change will take time, and it will take consistency, so it must start now—clear milestones and checkpoints, both short-term wins and long-term goals, along with reporting at weekly leadership meetings and annual reviews.
Ultimately though, these resources will only get us partially to the goal. Without transparency in our approach, there will be no accountability.
Progress on equity goals must be shared regularly and publicly and made accessible to prospective talent and industry peers. With greater accountability and sharing of positive results by industry leaders, industry peers will see cause to match. This will have a knock-on effect— the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats.
We are experiencing a pivotal moment in a sea of change that will be remembered as a key social inflection point.
What course will you set?