why DEI Leaders Should Report to the CEO
By now, many organizations – for profit, non-profit and public – understand the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion. Diverse organizations have the potential to be more skilled and innovative, while those that are more inclusive can harness those benefits while ensuring that workplaces are safe spaces, where people feel they belong and are valued.
The numbers reflect the gains:
I have had the benefit of working for and with a number of organizations with a wide range of goals and objectives. For most of my career, my home has been in the non-profit sector. Working for organizations that serve diverse communities -- particularly marginalized communities -- provided me with an appreciation for the design of meaningful and relevant products and services, internal processes that are simultaneously efficient and engaging, and success measures that reflect the needs and expectations of those we served. Underscoring this work was a strong social mission and organizational values that shaped the way we positioned ourselves as a good community partner.
Working in these settings informed the possibilities I saw in DEI, and I carried the lessons I learned with me to private and public sectors. It made it easier to apply a DEI lens to matters related to corporate social responsibility, marketing and communications, supplier procurement policies and processes, inclusive research and design, and to governance, for instance. This perspective requires that DEI look beyond internal people practices and situate itself deeply within corporate strategy and operations. It means so much more than ensuring that the inside matches the outside – it means living your values everyday and in every place within the organization.
Interestingly, none of this is particularly ground-breaking. The Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks propose an end-to-end approach to DEI. What is different is the idea that when DEI’s strategic capacities are considered, it becomes difficult to justify its placement within an HR portfolio. In HR, success measures often become inward facing, focused on employee recruitment, engagement and retention, instead of on broader measures that stretch across organizational functions. And when DEI is positioned strategically, HR staff that are oriented toward employment and legal standards may miss whole swaths of opportunities that through engagement and collaboration, could improve an organization’s bottom line (however this is defined).
For this reason, organizations should consider hiring senior diversity and inclusion leaders who can inform strategic discussions across the C-suite, and have these leaders report directly to the CEO. It is important that these individuals be practice and technical leaders, and although they will likely work closely with HR, their scope should not limited to HR. Compared to what is typically done this is a far better recipe for success, as opposed to being required to work across the organization in response to a crisis without the decision-making power or associated success metrics to propel work forward. The academy has had Chief Diversity Officers for years, as have multinationals. In fact, it was just announced that Gucci has hired its first Chief Diversity Officer (admittedly in response to the recent blackface controversy – which suggests that no D&I leader was in the room when that piece was given the go-ahead!)
Of course, senior leadership is not the answer to everything. It requires that the CEO has basic DEI capacity and/or the resources to build capacity within their leadership toolkit. Although organizations that are truly inclusive trust that employees feel safe bringing their whole self, including their skill set and perspectives to the table, CEOs need to be able to assess and support their diversity leaders’ performance, while acting as internal champions.
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