A chief diversity officer’s power often comes from persuasion—and few things are more persuasive than data. The ability to easily access and interpret data for diversity and inclusion can better enable organizations to reach the goals they set for themselves.
There’s been a boom in hiring of chief diversity officers over the past few years as corporate America has begun to grapple with the challenge of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Nobody said diversity officer would be an easy role, but the fact that the turnover is high (3.2 years on average) is an indication of how difficult it really is. As one recruiter who work on finding CDOs told the Wall Street Journal:
“I get the call, ‘Oh, Sharon, I just got this great chief diversity officer job, it’s going to be wonderful. They’re looking for so much change,’” Ms. Hall said. She advises them to stay in touch with her and keep their résumés updated in case business priorities change. “They’ll call back in 36 to 48 months and say, ‘My God, how did you know?’” Ms. Hall says. “They’re looking to get out.”
In many cases, the chief diversity officer has a mandate for ambitious DEI goals but, lacks direct access to the CEO or in-depth DEI measurement tools. The organization as a whole may be well-intentioned and supportive, or it may be resistant, but in either case, identifying problems and persuading the culture into adopting solutions is fundamental.
Data analytics can provide a starting point in both making the problem clear and empowering specific actions. So how can a chief diversity officer make the case for change?
Set specific benchmarks for DEI: The management guru Peter Drucker famously said “what gets measured gets managed.” That’s true of DEI goal setting as it is of everything else. In this case, however, company-wide goals are useful but not enough. It’s been well documented that companies are more diverse at the bottom than the top—in other words, they broaden their hiring at the entry level but the impact grows smaller at higher levels. Company-wide goals also don’t provide much guidance when there are specific roles where diversity needs to be addressed.
“The average temperature of the Earth is 72 degrees, but that doesn’t tell me how to dress in Boston today,” said Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies.
Set goals based on your peers. Companies may know the diversity makeup of their own workforce but don’t have much insight into what other companies in similar industries or markets are doing. That can be an important test of what is achievable. If a company wants to create a more diverse group of web developers, for example—a field that nationally is 79% white and only 27% women—then it needs to know how it stands compared to firms that in the same industry or region.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses: Every company has pools of diverse talent—as well as draughts, Sigelman said. Understanding where you already have diverse talent can point the way to broader improvements, either by emulating tactics in one business unit, or by providing career pathways to develop and transfer talent from one unit to another.