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More Companies Appointing CDOs But Toward What End?

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Diversity and inclusion efforts

Diversity and inclusion efforts in American business have come a long way over the last couple of decades, and especially in the last several years. In our business, we hear a lot of anecdotal evidence of this from talking with colleagues, clients, and business partners. But it’s also useful to see objective, empirical evidence as well.

Research by Russell Reynolds Associates provides a good example of such research. The study was based on insights from 987 diversity leaders.

From a diversity and inclusion standpoint, the study has both good news and bad news.

First, the good news: the study found that 47 percent of companies in the S&P 500 currently have a CDO or equivalent. This demonstrates that nearly half of this group of major companies appreciates the business case for diversity and inclusion enough to appoint a C-level executive to oversee these efforts.

The bad news, however, is that the implementation of large-scale diversity and inclusion efforts seems to leave much to be desired. The study makes two key observations in this regard. First, it notes that the data indicates that many D&I initiatives “often lack the necessary resources or organizational support to make lasting change.” While, unfortunate, this is not entirely surprising. After all, companies are largely only just starting to wake up to the business benefits of diversity and inclusion. It may take some time to get real organizational force and dollars behind those efforts.

Second, and much more shocking to us, the research reports that a survey of diversity and inclusion executives finds that only 27 percent say that business strategy is a driver of their diversity and inclusion efforts. We’ve made the point time and again that the best argument in favor of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is its utility in pursuing business goals and boosting the bottom line!

We don’t advocate for companies to hire a diverse team to make the “about me” section on their website look more diverse. We do it because a more diverse and inclusive workplace means better and more creative problem solving. It means a deeper understanding of a diverse national and international market. It means a vastly broader pool of talent to recruit from. All of these are important business goals, and diversity and inclusion efforts have a direct correlation to achieving them. It’s stunning that companies spending the time to create a CDO role haven’t synced the activities of that role to their broader corporate strategies.

Related: New Research Shows Link Between Inclusion and Creativity

Again, perhaps it’s an issue of the relative newness of roles like CDO and increased attention to diversity and inclusion. After all, the study also found that 63 percent of the S&P 500 CDO or CDO-equivalent executives we mentioned earlier have been appointed in the last three years. Hopefully, with time, this function will mature to the point that it becomes an integral part of corporate strategy. Companies are shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t make this happen. Be inclusive—strategically!

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