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Workplace Culture

Chief Diversity Officer: One of the Hardest Jobs in Technology

The role provides a unique opportunity to transform the composition of the workforce and the success of an organization.

Imagine a job whose requirements not only rely on improving product and increasing financial success, but also span across hiring and influencing corporate culture.

While a chief diversity officer might not be the first job that comes to mind, it plays an increasingly crucial role in company output and financial success. According to a 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies, those that ranked in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean than those who were less diverse.

Not only are chief diversity officers the gatekeepers to ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace but we play an integral role in helping cultivate teams that produce better products, resulting in greater financial success.

The Opportunities Are Boundless

For many years, chief diversity officers have:

  • Partnered with talent acquisition to reimagine how we recruit and interview.
  • Ensured diverse composition of teams to create the best products and services.
  • Required inclusive behaviors as essential management skills.
  • Influenced community philanthropy to have impact on diverse communities.
  • Ensured that companies have diverse suppliers.
  • Worked with human resources to develop a diverse pipeline of leaders.

In some of the more advanced organizations, you see chief diversity officers:

  • Teaming with customers to advance diversity on a national and global basis.
  • Supporting organizations that champion women, ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups.
  • Collaborating with marketing to ensure diverse populations are addressed both from a customer perspective and from an industry perspective.
  • Collaborating with product development to ensure that diversity is considered in how products are made.
  • Influencing artificial intelligence to ensure the use of diverse data sets that are diverse at the beginning of AI development.

The role is much more comprehensive than most people would ever consider and touches all parts of the business. I have worked in diversity and inclusion for more than 20 years, all the way back to when the very thought of a role dedicated to this topic was a new idea.

The role of chief diversity officer means different things depending on the company’s priorities and goals.

Reason for the Role

If you have more than 1,000 employees at your company, odds are you probably have someone in charge of diversity. And those roles are only going to increase as diversity continues to be top of mind in business. Most companies create this role because there is some desire to have either more women or underrepresented ethnic groups in the workforce. Sometimes that desire is genuine, and sometimes there is feeling that an organization has to do something since everyone else is.

The role provides a unique opportunity to transform the composition of the workforce. Many organizations now recognize the value diversity brings and are prioritizing it. Because we are often not functionally responsible for sourcing candidates, interviewing them or hiring them, we are influencing colleagues in talent acquisition to consider candidates that they had not before.

This is where the question, “Are we lowering the bar?” is inevitably raised, implying that by changing where we recruit, we may bring in candidates who are less qualified. It is at this point our role becomes essential to underline the value of expanding the pools from which we recruit, while challenging prejudices, stigmas, stereotypes and beliefs.

How the CDO Has Evolved

In addition to influencing change internally, we are now leading commentary outside of our companies on change across the country, and even the globe, when it comes to race, sex and class in the news. In the past year alone, chief diversity officers have risen to the challenge of company spokesperson or even been asked to act. From the Black Lives Matter movement to gender-pay equality, anti-immigration orders to the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, Brexit and beyond. We are now the champions of the importance of diversity in the workplace and having a platform to encourage change in the face of these events is quite a shift.

Essential Skills

Many people, including many of my colleagues, believe that passion for diversity is the main criteria for this role. It is much more than that. The hardest skill to master is to be committed to the role and results while being detached from each day-to-day experience. Much of our work is facilitating those who are ambivalent — and I emphasize facilitate, not change.

We can create conditions for people to move along their diversity journey, but they need to come along willingly and when the moment is right for them. As a chief diversity officer, every discussion that we have is its own mini-diversity workshop. People are leaving with both an impression of you and of your organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

In my role, I have encountered many people who were extremely resistant to diversity at first but after going through the process, became some of our biggest supporters. It requires patience, perspective and being personally centered — in other words, being committed to creating diversity and inclusion, but detached from each individual’s willingness to participate at any given moment.

Battling Misconceptions

There are many articles and opinions about the value of diversity training. I have always maintained that diversity training has value if there are corresponding practices, procedures and policies in the workplace to support someone once they return from the training.

When diversity training has been considered unsuccessful, typically it has been conducted in a vacuum with no support in the workplace. If a company is instituting Six Sigma, they will not only engage in training, but change performance reviews, reward systems, management systems and have large-scale communications of expectations.

If people expect diversity training to have similar impact, they need to be administered with the same level of support and championing as anything an organization takes seriously. When we conduct diversity training at my company, Autodesk, for a group, we make sure that they are in a certain state of readiness and that this training is part of an overall diversity plan rather than a stand-alone activity.

The role of chief diversity officer is complex and challenging, but also offers immense opportunity to create change — from who we hire to the technology we create.

Daniel Guillory is the head of global diversity & inclusion at Autodesk, a San Rafael, California-based 3D design and engineering software company.