The role of chief diversity officer is increasingly being added to many executive leadership teams. But too many companies are placing black executives in the post with blurred responsibilities and short-term timelines. This kind of tokenism is counterproductive. It doesn’t solve or hide an organization’s inclusion problems – it actually highlights them. It’s time for business leaders to be clear about the role of a chief diversity officer – and recognize the value of black talent and inclusive environments.
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has left many black people demanding to be seen and heard – and CEOs digging into their budgets to fund something black. The climate of inclusion has pressured C-suite officers to activate their mission statements, mirror truth to their core values, and ignite an inclusive suite of leaders. This climate has built a bridge for black executives to take their position where they belong – in the C-suite.
Black women lie at the center of intersectional disadvantages and discrimination for the obvious reason that, if you are both black and a woman, you face the repression of two of the most oppressed classes of people. In the same vein, the diversity impact of a black woman duplicates diversity data for the sake of the suite. Black stakeholders are demanding more from corporations, and businesses worldwide have felt an immense amount of pressure to trigger rapid change in their non-inclusive suites. The easiest solution for the suite—add a black token seat, the chief diversity officer.
A workplace token is someone who assumes a substantial existence as they are the only one of a marginalized group among a non-diverse and non-inclusive group. What more extraordinary presence to light up a room of white men than a black woman? These tokens give the manifestation of an inclusive environment to increase an organization’s diversity statistics. But firms fail to realize the impact of hiring a token to cover up their blind spots. Black women are fully aware that they are easily placed as tokens to fill an apparent void. Not only aware, but black women are also smart, strategic, and scintillating enough to use their seat in the suite to their advantage.
Companies have been hiring diversity officers in droves, and they seem to be the perfect band-aid for their inclusion problems. Unfortunately, however, this band-aid does not hide or heal—it simply reveals. For decades, firms have been getting away with hiring white women who they silenced in their suites, but our world post-George Floyd says that white women are no longer enough to consider the group as diverse. But is hiring a black person as the chief diversity officer enough?
An effective chief diversity officer carries many responsibilities, but there are five key areas where one must apply their motivation:
- 1. Cultivate a curious culture
- 2. Investigate and update policies and procedures to safeguard equity
- 3. Align diversity data and inclusion strategies to business achievements
- 4. Ensure unbiased employment offerings
- 5. Strategize succession planning to advance inclusion at all levels
The entire C-suite should also understand and implement these critical priorities. Once companies realize that diversity data and inclusive environments are not a trend, how will the role of the chief diversity officer shift? Will they do their work and drive the data while covering up their lack of inclusion? Or will they position their value and demand a permanent seat in the suite?
It is refreshing to see so many opportunities designed for black people, but businesses must dedicate these added roles as permanent placements and steer their efforts away from tokenism. Inclusive cultures are diverse groups of people who are encouraged to win by the motivation of successful peers. Authentically inclusive environments are grand enough for all to succeed.
But it’s important to realize that developing an inclusive environment will quickly wither without proper embedding—inclusion is a proactive activity that deserves the attention, activation, and acceleration that the chief diversity officer needs to lead.