Chief diversity officers sit alongside other top executives to make up the C-suite in an organization. They are strategic partners in guiding the vision of the company, and more than just enforcers of compliance and regulation, the role helps guide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

What Is a Chief Diversity Officer?

A chief diversity officer, or CDO, can work in any type of business within any sector of industry (including the government). The main function of the role, according to job search site Indeed, is to provide inclusion for employees and uphold employment laws that help prevent workplace discrimination. The CDO works to do so for the following institutions:

  • Class
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender and gender identity
  • Income
  • Mental and physical abilities and characteristics
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexuality

What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Do?

Now that we’ve established what a chief diversity officer is, let’s move on to what the role does on a daily basis. Indeed summarizes the responsibilities of a chief diversity officer into three major areas, including building a strategy based on the values the company wants to represent (and that represents the employees as well); fundraising; and building a fair, genuine, and transparent workplace that upholds Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), regulations, and compliance.

Let’s take a look the three major goals of a chief diversity officer:

  1. Build a values strategy: First, you can expect the CDO to prevent unnecessary challenges that may arise from discrimination both internally and externally by helping the brand adhere to its values with a strategy centered around DEI. This might include setting up a core strategy that customers and employees understand and use as a guide.
  2. Raise funds for the company: Secondly, having a DEI-focused strategy can help a company in fundraising, entering new markets, and negotiating contracts or partnerships. Indeed explains: “An awareness of DEI ensures that there are no unforced errors in etiquette or public messaging that could hamper the company’s ability to connect with new people and to get the most out of potential out-of-organization ties.”
  3. Build a fair workplace: Employees want to work at a company where they can trust in the information they receive and the values for which the company stands. Chief diversity officers are dedicated to building a workplace of transparency, equity of management, and all-around fairness. Last but not least, an important piece of building a fair workplace is putting into place the right structures for EEO and following all regulations and compliances for hiring and managing employees.

How to Become a Chief Diversity Officer

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) underscores the educational prerequisites for individuals aspiring to assume leadership roles, including chief diversity officers. Typically, top executives are expected to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree, with a focus on a discipline pertinent to their field of work, such as business or engineering. The educational requirements may vary depending on the sector.

For those in the public sector, degrees in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts are commonly sought after. This diversity in educational backgrounds reflects the multifaceted nature of leadership roles in governmental and public institutions.

In the corporate realm, especially within large corporations, an advanced degree often becomes a distinguishing factor. Many top executives in these settings opt for a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). This specialized education equips them with a comprehensive understanding of managerial strategies, organizational dynamics, and business operations, aligning with the complex responsibilities inherent in executive positions.

Specifically for chief diversity officers, the BLS emphasizes the importance of higher education for those aspiring to take on this career path in the future. Whether through a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the educational pathway is tailored to the specific demands of this professional environment, reflecting the diverse nature of executive leadership across sectors.

For Department of Labor information regarding this occupational field, click here.

Why Should a Company Hire a Chief Diversity Officer?

Once you have earned the requisite education and experience to become an esteemed member of the C-suite, be sure you are prepared to answer one of the biggest questions of all: why should a company hire a chief diversity officer? Chief diversity officers have great potential, which is perhaps why there has been such an increase in hiring for the role in the past several years. In 2020, consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported: “The rate of new CDO hires in 2021 was nearly triple the rate of hires in the previous 16 months. In fact, among Fortune 500 companies, 53 percent now have a CDO or equivalent role and more than 60 [percent] have since May 2020 appointed their first-ever diversity leader.”

So just what makes a chief diversity officer so critical within organizations? This role protects not only employees and the DEI initiatives of a company, but it also creates opportunities for under-represented groups based on class, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, income, mental and physical abilities and characteristics, race, religion, or sexuality – resulting in a more equal and fair playing field for employees.

In the early 2000s, McKinsey & Company shows, DEI was largely a regulatory compliance mechanism – a checkbox to complete. It has since evolved, thankfully. From 2010–2019, DEI served as business support: formal responsibilities assigned to HR and legal roles; high-level diversity metrics to meet; some benefits extended and became more diverse. Finally, in 2020 and onward, DEI is a business driver, enabling innovation and results. DEI is used for enterprise-wide training and programs that aim to reduce unconscious bias and increase inclusive leadership; DEI becomes infused in every level of the organization, with public commitments to diversity.

Overview: What Is a Chief Diversity Officer?

A chief diversity officer, or CDO, is a top executive and key member of the C-suite. The role has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, with mixed hiring trends, and plays a critical part in helping to keep companies diverse, fair, and inclusive. Responsibilities of chief diversity officers will range, but generally stay fairly strategic – that is, focused on creating and maintaining a vision everyone – customers and employees alike (both current and new) – will want to follow. A vision of values, of trust, of transparency. Keeping diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of the CDO’s strategy helps to set an example both internally and externally.


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