A Slippery Slope to Nowhere

Diversity and inclusion is losing momentum fast. If diversity practitioners don’t act decisively and with clarity, the work will be relegated to the organizational dust bin like Six Sigma.

There are three reasons this is happening.

1. The selection of diversity and inclusion practitioners who are both strategic and tactical and have allies to make systemic change isn’t happening. Many organizations want to create the chief diversity officer role to combat organizational behavior, not to engage a dynamic leader and business strategist. Once a problem has been identified, someone has to fix it, right? This works well in disciplines such as finance or business. However, the diversity officer who can — with the help of leadership and allies — make diversity a part of the organizational fabric must be able to articulate how disciplines working together in recruitment, talent management and other areas make diversity and inclusion worth the organization’s time, money and effort.


Even that is not enough. The CDO needs to be comfortable analyzing profit and loss statements, with branding, marketing, supply chain management and related business practices to understand how diversity contributes to the organization. My critics often say I am attempting to create a CDO standard that is unfair and burdensome. I disagree. I am attempting to impose a standard that is a formula for success, not an excuse for failure.

Organizations that want diversity and inclusion efforts to succeed will start by selecting the right CDO. That selection should be competency- and behavior-based.

2. Many organizational leaders don’t want to change; they want to look as if they have. For years, I have heard that diversity and inclusion efforts cannot prosper without CEO commitment. But what exactly are we asking the CEO to do and why? How can this commitment be measured? How will the CEO be held accountable and by whom? When a CEO demonstrates commitment to diversity and inclusion, it’s visible and invisible. Showing up at events and being engaged is visible. On the invisible side, the CEO ensures that performance metrics for diversity and inclusion are substantive and actionable. Accountability is more than counting the numbers. It is about ensuring the organization is behaving in a consistent and deliberate way, that diversity and inclusion are a part of organizational life.

This is a hard task for the CEO if the CDO does not understand this axiom. Moreover, the CDO must build allies, including middle managers, within the organization. Allies will help navigate organizational politics and realities.

Diversity executives ignore middle management at their own risk. The CEO can be totally committed, and middle management can derail any progress by slowing down the process, pushing their own agendas or analyzing the efforts to death. The CDO has to be sure they understand what keeps middle management up at night and how diversity and inclusion can help them sleep well.

3. There’s too much emphasis on unconscious bias training and not enough examining an organization at its core — not its edges. Unconscious bias training can help. We all have them, and it’s necessary to help people uncover biases and change behavior. But here’s a novel idea. Redesign diversity training to include unconscious bias training, and use the saved organizational resources to develop and implement lasting, systemic change. The fact that so many organizations are rushing to the “what’s next” in diversity and inclusion without considering systemic change spells trouble for the profession and for progress.