Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

By Leah Smiley


In a troubling trend, we have seen more “Offices of Diversity” getting housed in the “Office of Human Resources”. This trend represents a step backward for diversity and inclusion. Here’s why. In the instance where the Chief Human Resources Officer assumes the dual title of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), the individual who holds both positions will invariably be very busy. But at the same time, diversity does not receive the same attention as it would if the position were held by someone singularly focused on D&I. Likewise, there may be work outside of the scope of HR that is required for a comprehensive D&I effort, and an HR Business Leader may be reluctant to have diversity step outside of traditional HR functions.

Much of the change happens when Chief Diversity Officers are retiring or when the lead Diversity practitioner transitions out of the organization. The CDO position “temporarily” moves to HR, where it ultimately stays.

Now, you may not agree that D&I should be a stand-alone entity, reporting directly to the senior-most leader. But I believe that it has to be that way IF diversity and inclusion is going to make a strategic impact. So what would you suggest Leah? I’m glad you asked.

Effective D&I efforts go way beyond training and recruiting. Thus, the CDO should have an office, a budget, and responsibility for staff.

In a corporate environment, these individuals may report to the CDO: Supplier Diversity; Diversity Recruiting; Diversity Training & Professional Development, including mentoring and on-boarding; Multicultural Marketing and Communications, including language translators; Global Assignment coordinator (e.g., someone who develops a pipeline of candidates for short-term global assignments); and someone who coordinates Diversity Councils and Resource Group efforts. More recently, we have seen the advent of Diversity Offices with Data Coordinators, or a person who researches and tracks changes to data sets within the Office of Diversity.

In an educational, nonprofit or government environment, you may have additional oversight for someone who manages the disability office.

Within the context of any type of organization, the CDO will integrate his/her efforts with other business units, divisions or departments. Therefore, while HR may typically handle recruiting and training, the diversity representative(s) will work with the HR representative(s). Or the multicultural marketing person may work with the Marketing Department. Or the Medical School, Alumni Relations, or Student Services will have a designated diversity practitioner to lead its focused diversity efforts. Likewise, in a state government, there may be a diversity practitioner in the Health Department, Public Housing Division, and Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The business case for proliferating diversity and inclusion lies in utilizing resources better, as well as in executing diversity and inclusion interventions more effectively. The long-term advantage of doing so lies in this realm called sustainability. If Diversity and Inclusion were better integrated with everyday operations, the organization would not be in a quandary when one person retires or terminates.

Nevertheless, taking this approach requires more structure and documentation if efforts will be properly duplicated throughout the entire organization. Employees who assume diversity and inclusion functions would also have to be trained accordingly. Letting folks “figure it out” is not the best way to get desired, positive results; nor is it an efficient use of Time, Treasury or Talent.

As the next generation of Diversity Leadership assumes the helm, let’s move the diversity and inclusion agenda forward with strategic, long-term impact– as well as quantifiable results. While the role of a CDO is very prestigious, it comes with a responsibility, not only to keep diversity in the forefront, but also to ensure the continuity of D&I efforts.


Leah Smiley, CDE is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto


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