If you’re a business leader or HR professional, I’m sure you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and talking about diversity the past few months. The recent protests sponsored by the Black Lives Matter movement has come under the national spotlight and national scrutiny, spurring conversations around D&I at virtually every business.
Although some companies feel pressured into “doing the right thing,” more and more business leaders are recognizing the practical benefits to the business of having a truly diverse, inclusive team.
Toward that end, many companies are appointing new chief diversity officers. They want someone who will champion diversity and inclusion across the organization, optimize company culture and align these initiatives with business goals.
Naturally, companies have almost exclusively hired women and people of color for these roles due to their unique ability to understand the experiences of underrepresented candidates and employees.
I broadly agree with the initiatives these companies are making and think chief diversity officers can be a vital component for company success and performance. I also respect why businesses often default to choosing underrepresented professionals for these roles.
However, I have to question whether companies are looking at this issue from the right perspective. Allow me to explain a little further…
Diversity and Inclusion Are About Everyone – And for Everyone’s Benefit
I respect why companies are hiring women and people of color for key diversity positions. I strongly believe that to truly understand the experiences and challenges faced by people of color in the world of business, you have to be a person of color. I know the same is true for women in business and other underrepresented populations.
To be clear, I don’t think there is anything remotely wrong with these individuals being in these positions. But I do think companies are making a mistake if they believe that you can’t appoint someone to lead diversity and inclusion just because they’re male or not a person of color.
After all, diversity and inclusion are about everyone! It’s about including everyone at the table to get a truly diverse range of perspectives with people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Furthermore, if all key diversity positions are filled only by people of color or women, it can send a signal that these initiatives and groups within the company are solely for underrepresented groups. Isn’t the whole idea behind diversity and inclusion to benefit everyone at the table?
Diversity and inclusion are not for this group or that group, they’re for everyone at the company’s benefit. As such, I believe it’s something we should all be involved in for our mutual gain. I don’t think it’s right for any group to treat diversity as a spectator sport.
Hiring the Right Person for the Job, Team and Company
Another point to consider here is the fact that like most things in business, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for diversity. One team’s diversity and inclusion needs can vary dramatically even when compared to a competitor in the same industry in the same area.
I would argue that rather than rushing to place an individual of x race and y gender in a D&I role, business leaders should carefully consider their unique situation and what they need from a diversity leader. For example, one of the many things that often is missing from the D&I conversation is the incredibly high turnover businesses see in chief diversity officer positions.
For example, say you hire a black executive for a chief diversity officer role at a business that is overwhelmingly non-diverse. That’s all well and good and could be a great step toward achieving your D&I goals.
But what if the individual in question quits a year later because they get the feeling that there is considerable internal resistance to their efforts and they’re not receiving the right support from the rest of the team? Now you’ve wasted a lot of money finding, recruiting and onboarding a new executive and you’re back to square one.
As with every hiring decision, I believe the #1 thing we should be focusing on is hiring the right person for the job, team and company. We should focus on hiring the person with the right credentials, behavioral profile and career goals, not basing decisions on the color of their skin.
Bringing Everyone to the Table
At the end of the day I know I’m just another bald white guy with an opinion. I’ve had plenty of colleagues and friends push back on my perspective here. In all seriousness, I see value to both sides of the issue and respect why many believe that every chief diversity officer should be an underrepresented professional.
Regardless of your take on the issue, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on…the most important thing is working together to bring people from all different backgrounds to the table!
If you’re wondering how HR and business leaders can best handle issues around diversity, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, remote work and more, join me for our next Leadership and Legal live event. Hosted by myself and Dinsmore attorney and partner James Reid, this is an open discussion for you to receive advice on your biggest leadership, HR and legal challenges.
Register now and submit a question for us HERE.