Monday, February 21, 2022

15731: In Adland, Professionally Promoting Diversity Is A Dead-End Job…?


Adweek published another seemingly annual navel-gazing editorial about being a Chief Diversity Officer in Adland—this one from Quiet Storm CEO and Partner Rania Robinson. The article’s title asks why the CDO position is viewed as a dead-end job. Um, perhaps because no one has yet managed to successfully counter Sanford Moore’s 2009 perspective on the role. And it doesn’t help when even prominent industry CDOs are bailing out.


Is the CDO role a dead-end job? The first question to ask—with varying degree of imperative from agency to agency—might be: Is systemic racism endlessly alive?


Why Is the Role of Chief Diversity Officer Seen as a ‘Dead-End Job’?


Too often, CDOs are not supported by fellow C-suite leaders in DEI efforts


By Rania Robinson


It’s been encouraging to see the role of chief diversity officer (CDO) gaining prominence in the business world, as calls for a more equitable society rightly become increasingly urgent. In the creative industries, some senior leaders have taken on the additional role of chief diversity officer, which helps to put the diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) remit at the center of decision-making across an organization, from culture to creative output.


Research by LinkedIn released last year found the number of people with the title “head of diversity” has more than doubled, while the “director of diversity” title rose 75% and “chief diversity officer” was up 68%. But this rise in diversity officers is not necessarily a sign of progress if the role doesn’t come with the power to make a tangible difference to an organization’s culture, employee and leadership makeup, direction and output.


Career diversity officers in the industry, without access to the C-suite, risk being marginalized. DEI efforts cannot be seen as a side issue.


Sadly, all too often, the role is also perceived as a “dead-end job” or a thankless task. Once CDOs are hired, they can be left to languish without the budget, power, support or influence to realize initiatives or achieve ambitions. And so, while demand for chief diversity officers is high, so is turnover.


What is the path to progress?


DEI roles can fail to include any clear path for progression while achievements aren’t always celebrated. After all, cultural change is a long process—one which never ends. Efforts must be recognized and valued as part of an ongoing process rather than a tick-box exercise.


And CDOs, as with anyone else, value being able to see ahead of them a clear career trajectory. The path to CEO-ship and other roles in the C-suite should be wide open. They should receive the training and development they need to hone and broaden their skills and expertise.


Certainly, initiatives struggle to gain real traction or move beyond lip service if the C-suite isn’t on board. This is the case with DEI as with anything else. For efforts to work, structure is needed with direct involvement from the top and time set aside to support efforts—efforts which should be company-wide.


Getting more diversity officers into the C-suite or driving diversity collectively from the C-suite is vital. Given that the CDOs role is to ensure that a company prioritizes, values and takes action on DEI, anyone taking on this responsibility must be in a position to achieve change. They must not be confined to the human resources department.


Building a diverse and inclusive workplace starts at the top with the decision-makers. It’s from here that the company vision and mission are articulated. Anything else points to tokenism.


More often than not, this doesn’t happen. So, for those in these roles, it can lead to a lack of morale, burnout and, consequently, a low retention rate. The aforementioned LinkedIn research shows that the average turnover for a chief diversity officer is just three years, with many leaving because of a lack of resources, unrealistic expectations and inadequate support from senior executives.


A need for empowerment and respect


Diversity and inclusivity can and should be a driving force within and behind creative companies. Therefore an empowered, respected senior DEI officer with vision and dedication should be part of key decision-making across the business, from client services to creative processes, and from learning and development to financial planning.


There is no part of an organization that can’t be impacted positively by the right DEI leadership. But it does require the C-suite to understand its crucial importance—not only in and of itself and in society but also to the future success of the business. Time and again, studies have shown that diversity has a positive impact on the bottom line.


Programs need adequate funding while policies must be clear and accessible to all. People in DE&I leadership roles are, in essence, change agents, but change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes wide support to achieve results.


Meanwhile, organizations must take committed steps to build a culture that supports DEI. As part of this, measurement and transparency are key. All staff must feel safe, supported and able to bring their authentic selves to work. To this end, representation is needed at all levels. Commitments must also be written into core values and workplace policies, forming a central part of the wider business plan.


It’s clear that more diversity in the C-suite is critical. Better representation and strategic commitment from the board would go a long way to driving cultural change at a deeper and more sustainable level.

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