The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer in Corporate Communications

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A chief diversity officer gives a presentation on the benefits of an inclusive workplace to a group of employees.

Chief diversity officer is a relatively new executive role with an important responsibility: improving the diversity, inclusivity and cultural understanding inside an organization. While to date almost half of S&P 500 companies have appointed a chief diversity officer, over 60% of them were named to the position within the past three years, according to Silicon Valley Business Journal. In 2020 alone, many companies, including Hootsuite and Twilio, appointed their first chief diversity officers.

As the global conversation around racial justice and inclusion is amplified across all industries, more corporations are being held accountable for diversifying their workforces. To do so, they’ll need to hire chief diversity officers who possess a strong understanding of business communications to lead the charge. An advanced degree program, such as an online Master of Arts in Business Communication, can provide future executives with the skills needed for success in this pivotal role.

What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Do?

Chief diversity officers operate with the overall goal of improving diversity across racial, ethnic, religious, economic, gender and/or age groups. The core responsibilities of chief diversity officers include:

  • Conducting diversity and inclusion assessments to find areas for improvement
  • Designing training programs for increasing diversity and tolerance in the workplace
  • Establishing hiring and retention processes for diverse talent
  • Working with other managers and corporate leaders, such as the CEO and head of human resources, to recruit and nurture diverse talent on their teams
  • Representing their organization in the media to publicize efforts in diversity and inclusion
  • Researching their market to ensure their workforce properly represents its customer base
  • Building teams to implement new strategies and diversity programs across the organization

Chief diversity officers should be strong communicators, innovators and influencers. They will be tasked with questioning and reimagining long-established processes and structural inequities. That’s important because studies have shown that a great deal of work still needs to be done to create a more representative and equitable workforce:

  • According to Mercer, 64% of entry-level employees and 85% of executives are white.
  • After the initial COVID-19 outbreak, unemployment among whites began to recover by May 2020, while unemployment among Blacks continued to rise, CNBC reported.
  • More than a third of companies studied by McKinsey & Company between 2014 and 2019 still had no female executives on their leadership teams. It also found that corporate sentiment about inclusion was only 29% positive versus 61% negative, indicating that much progress remains to be made at these companies.

Since chief diversity officer is a new and evolving role in the business world, its responsibilities will likely continue to expand and adapt to the needs of each organization and industry. Talented professionals with the knowledge and leadership skills to drive this change will have opportunities to mold the future of this executive position and impact their field.

The Importance of Diversity in Corporate Communications

Corporate communications entails all internal and external correspondence conducted by a business, be it manager to employee, salesperson to customer or board member to C-suite executive. Improving diversity in corporate communications provides many benefits, such as increasing productivity, innovation, revenue and collaboration among customers, employees and partners of different backgrounds.

A more diverse sales team, for example, would be better equipped to communicate with members of a diverse customer base, increasing sales as a result. In the same way, a diverse advertising team would better understand how to promote their products to diverse audiences, increasing innovation as well as sales by bringing new ideas to the table.

Consider these eye-opening statistics about the importance of diversity in the workplace:

  • Companies with the greatest gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than those with the least gender diversity, according to McKinsey & Company.
  • A 2019 study by Adobe found that 61% of U.S. consumers think diversity in advertising is important and 38% are more likely to trust brands with diverse ads.
  • Employee performance in diverse organizations is 12% higher than in non-diverse organizations, according to a 2019 study by Gartner.
  • Diversity in management leads to increased revenue and margins, according to a study from BCG and the Technical University of Munich.
  • After launching its 2016 diversity initiative, Hewlett-Packard (aka HP) measured a six-point increase in customers and 33% increase in revenue per impression.

A lack of diversity in corporate communications can also cause legal and public relations issues for companies. In 2020, for example, Cisco’s shareholders sued the business for breaching its financial responsibilities due to its lack of diversity in its corporate leadership team. Investors claimed that a more diverse team would increase profits and shareholder gains, as the above studies have shown.

Northern Trust also found that customers prefer to do business with companies that have diverse partnerships, illustrating how important diversity can be in communications with customers. Consequently, the bank invested $2.4 billion in minority investment managers and 10% of its trading with minority-led firms.

How Chief Diversity Officers Make an Impact

Chief diversity officers are already driving change at corporations, using innovative strategies for success. For example:

  • Katie Juran, Adobe’s senior director of diversity and inclusion, launched the Taking Action Initiative to hire and promote more Black employees and build a more diverse corporate community.
  • Molly Ford, Salesforce’s director of office equality, asks executives to keep a monthly scorecard of sales and diversity on their teams, including rates of new hires and promotions. Underperformers receive training and attend conferences on how to improve their numbers.
  • Cisco Systems is spending $100 million on diversity programming, including anti-discrimination training. The company plans to hire 75% more Black executives and 25% more Black employees at all levels by 2023.
  • HP created a “diversity holdback” system, in which the company will withhold 10% of invoiced amounts to its partners if they don’t comply with its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Drive Change as a Chief Diversity Officer

Be on the cutting edge of business communications in a leadership career that makes an impact. Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Business Communication degree provides professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to design and implement innovative communication strategies. Students from all backgrounds can increase their expertise and learn at their own pace, staying on track to achieve their career goals and become agents of change in the dynamic business world.

Recommended Readings

6 Keys to Effective Intercultural Communication

The Importance of Public Speaking in Business Communication

What Types of Communication Skills Are Essential for Business?

Sources:

Adobe, Despite 25 Years of Ad Growth, Diversity Remains a Challenge”

Barron’s, “How a Diverse Workforce Can Help Company Performance”

Silicon Valley Business Journal, “The C-Suite Gets Woke”

CNBC, “Companies Are Making Bold Promises About Greater Diversity, but There’s a Long Way to Go”

Entrepreneur, “4 Ways Diversity Is Directly Linked to Profitability”

Forbes, “Data Shows Consumers Want Diversity In Marketing—Why Many Brands Struggle To Get It Right And How To Fix”

Gartner, “Diversity and Inclusion Build High-Performance Teams”

Harvard Business Review, “Do You Know Why Your Company Needs a Chief Diversity Officer?”

Harvard Business Review, “When and Why Diversity Improves Your Board’s Performance”

McKinsey & Company, “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters”