By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
On June 25, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order, calling on federal agencies to name a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to report to their senior leadership. The Executive Order encourages these agencies to “seek opportunities to establish a position of chief diversity officer or diversity and inclusion officer (as distinct from an equal employment opportunity officer), with sufficient seniority to coordinate efforts to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the agency.”
While this order is intended for federal agencies, it is quite likely that institutions that receive funds from the government (such as local government, state government, academia, nonprofits and the private sector) will adopt hiring a CDO as well. Many private-sector companies, including banks, colleges and universities, local institutions, and credit card companies have already employed a Chief Diversity Officer.
The CDO is an evolving role. Ideally, a Chief Diversity Officer develops strategies and programs that allow a company to build and retain a talented, diverse workforce. However, it’s important to distinguish what a CDO does and doesn’t do and how hiring a CDO impacts workplace culture.
What Will a Chief Diversity Officer Do?
While Biden’s executive order does not explain the duties of a CDO in detail, there is a definite need for this position to diversify the federal workforce. This diversification should include establishing government strategies that support creating a better cultural awareness of a variety of diversity elements, such as race, religion, abilities, gender issues, and a historical context to cultures.
The goals are to create a more diverse federal workforce and help the government be more representative of the communities that it serves. Having a point of contact who reports directly to the head of a federal agency will be helpful when diversity issues need to be addressed. The CDO must have both the expertise and authority to effectively work with the head of an agency and influence senior officials throughout the government.
The Difference Between a CDO and Other Jobs
There are challenges with establishing anything new, and the CDO role is no different. First, it’s important to note that the Chief Diversity Officer and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer roles are different. An EEO Officer, for example, “advises staff and management in the development, implementation, and maintenance of discrimination-free policies, procedures and practices, and ensures a work environment free from discrimination for all applicants and employees, including volunteers, students and interns.”
Other agencies have Civil Rights Officers. Someone in this type of role “is responsible for investigating discrimination complaints and negotiating attempts to settle discrimination complaints in housing, employment, and public accommodations.”
Creating the CDO position will show the federal government’s ability to be a model employer for workforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). But the CDO position needs to incorporate more than just diversity.
For instance, a Chief Diversity Officer needs to draw upon the wide variety of backgrounds, viewpoints and life experiences that Americans have to offer. For the CDO in a federal agency, this work means highlighting how diversity is America’s greatest strength and how diversity is an asset in the federal government.
Diversity Involves More Than Just What’s Visible
Many times, diversity efforts have been criticized because the focus was based on only the visible aspects of diversity – age, gender and ethnic background. But diversity also includes incorporating a variety of geographic backgrounds, education and work experiences into the workplace as well.
To facilitate true change, CDO activities need to focus on three main areas: people, processes, and products.
CDO initiatives will need a top-down approach, which will mean that federal agency leaders need to embrace DEIA in all aspects of their workforce. In addition, CDO initiatives will require partnerships not just with fellow federal CDOs, but it will also be necessary to reach outside of the federal government to establish best practices for hiring, retention, and diversity maintenance and build a sustainable office culture.
The CDO needs to create activities to enhance DEIA, so recruitment, retention, and strategic planning will be crucial. Developing practices to recruit diverse individuals will include the use of targeted strategies to market job positions in a variety of ways and through multiple social media and job board platforms.
It’s also crucial to learn from other companies’ CDO efforts. Chances are there is always another organization that has attempted a similar strategy to enhance DEIA internally. Networking, employing diversity councils and sharing research could prove helpful.
For a new Chief Diversity Officer, it will be important to set concrete goals for DEIA programs and to measure the results. These results can then be shared internally and externally. In addition, transparent communication from a CDO can help agencies to tailor marketing initiatives and integrate DEIA activities into their organizations.
DEIA is not an overnight process, so federal government agencies need to strategically integrate DEIA into their daily activities. Some people have taken a neutral stance about advancing DEIA, but it’s time for that to change.
Related link: The Value of Fostering a Sense of Belonging
CDO Roles Are Intended to Create Long-Term Change
The CDO role is highly honorable work that is needed in today’s workplace. The creation of the CDO role in an organization should not be impulsive or considered a short-term solution to solve a long-term problem.
Anyone who influences DEIA needs to communicate and collaborate with others. Incorporating a Chief Diversity Officer means developing clear objectives and increased transparency that assess the impact of diversity and inclusiveness strategies our colleagues, customers, community members, and shareholders.
The Office of Personnel Management has encouraged federal agencies to establish chief diversity officers, and agencies, sparked by Biden’s executive order, are under a March 23 deadline to finalize plans for agency-specific DEIA efforts. Ultimately, the CDO will support learning through professional development training and the recruitment of employees for a better and more diverse workforce.