Spotlight on the Chief Diversity Officer

by | Mar 30

9 min read

The chief diversity officer (CDO) of a large or publicly traded firm is the senior executive in charge of everything related to diversity, equity and inclusion – otherwise referred to as DEI. And, according to human resources (HR) directors worldwide, there is nothing more important for a company’s financial performance than a diverse workplace in which everyone feels equally noticed, heard and appreciated.

  • When being hired into the role of a CDO, there are several key duties and/or responsibilities that you will need to attend to. But to get ahead, avoid getting bogged down with a list of 15 or more important to-dos. Instead, prioritise these two strategic duties as a starting point:
  • planning, guiding and advising the chief executive officer (CEO) and his team of executive officers, on matters relating to staff diversity, equity, inclusion, and affirmation; and
  • offering strategic direction for training initiatives and a plan of action related to cultural competency, gender differences, disability, and sexual harassment, as you build a climate of diversity, equity and inclusion for your firm

Why a Big Firm will not Manage Without you

As time marches on and the payroll, recruitment and training aspects of most HR departments become increasingly automated and streamlined via technology, so the management of staff is able to become just as rapidly worker centered. In fact, a recent article on suggests that this new emphasis on the management and retention of talent, is helping to lead towards the creation of a global workplace culture that is more desirable than we ever thought it would be, for an increasing number of us. And, it’s true – no one wants to work at a firm that is as “diverse as a bag of marshmallows” (joke courtesy of RecruitingDaily’s March 2023 newsletter!).

Despite the changes and efficiencies brought about by technology, however, chief human resources officers (CHROs) still claim their departments are overworked and generally lack the knowledge, time, resources and inherent skills needed to transform their workplace into the kind of environment where employees and customers alike “are protected, feel safe, given an equal chance, and are treated with dignity and respect”.

With research studies and societal events still demonstrating the ways in which race group, income level and even gender affect our work, community and personal lives, it is time for the change to come from within large and powerful companies – such as the likes of retailer Walmart, high-end clothing brand Gucci, communications tech company Zoom, a wide range of universities and even the Grammy Awards production company (i.e. Ken Ehrlich Productions). All they have to do is hire a suitable qualified and nurturing CDO.

Let us be clear – change does not come easily. Difficult issues need to be noticed, brought forward and acted upon using a solid and impactful plan. describes the person in the CDO role as “the lightning bolt that strikes the issues and changes the [corporate] culture to embrace DEI”. In the future, then, a more diverse and innovative staff contingent are likely to seek out such a company to work for, where the CDO has worked his or her magic in bringing different teams and business units together in harmony.

There’s a broader impact too – in acting as a resource for your leaders and staff members, and reporting on your endeavours to the marketing department and/or media, so they will also rub off on members of the surrounding community to best effect.

Did you Know…?

According to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Spotlight report 2022 created by Jobvite, 81 percent of the wealth of candidates surveyed said they checked a company website for its stance on DEI before applying to a position; and 71 percent said that they reviewed other job postings on the website to ensure that inclusive language was used throughout, before applying for a suitable position.

Your Ideal Qualifications and Years of Experience

The ideal study path for a CDO is a Bachelor’s degree (say in business administration or social work), followed by a Master’s degree in HR Management, and at least five to 10 years of in-office experience.
However, the career experts a reveal that most CDOs only have a Bachelor’s degree i.e. 60.1 percent of those surveyed. It is clear, then, the extent to which those 16.2 percent with a Master’s degree have the winning edge in an interview.
Of interest is the fact that a further 23.7 percent of those surveyed were found to enter this field by taking on a basic HR certification after completing high school.

Note: What may also put you ahead when it comes to job applications is a strong familiarity with or understanding of legal matters (i.e. by taking at least one legal course over the course of your studies), that you are able to develop training and/or educational materials on diversity, equity and inclusion (and have proof thereof), and that you have an empathetic personality. 

See “The quest to stay current – online courses”, under Fast Facts 2, below.

A Salary Comparison

The average CDO in South Africa earns a salary of R1 030 886 per annum, together with an average bonus of R92 883. The salary range, however is R715 051 for an entry-level CDO and R1 297 882 for a CDO with eight or more years of in-house experience.
In the US, on the other hand, the median salary per annum is US$243 450 [R4 411 788], with an estimated additional bonus of US$81 585 [R1 478 479] per annum.

It’s a Global Challenge

The word from Catalyst, a global non-profit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women, is that workplace inequity is a global issue and that of the 14 countries surveyed in a recent study:

• inclusion was found to be universally important; and
• empathy was found to be an essential feature among leaders in the quest to fight problems such as racism.

What their experts advise, is going beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to reach a place where various of their tools, reports and resources are being used to help executive teams reimagine what leadership should look like; and then to proceed to lead as inclusively as they possibly can. To find out more about their work, click here.

Agents of Change

Each year, Diversity Women Media brings out publication highlighting the individuals leading the charge in diversity, equity and inclusion transformation. Here is a list of individuals who managed to make the list and whose activities are so inspirational that they are well worth following in the news and on social media:
• Ken Barrett, General Motors • Sharleen Gutierrez, Goldman Sachs
• Sheila Clark, Federal Reserve Board • Latoria Farmer, KPMG
• Todd Corley, Abercrombie & Fitch • Michael Ford, Hilton Worldwide
• Pamela Culpepper, PepsiCo • Magda Yrizarry, Verizon
• Desiree Dancy, New York Times Company • Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Credit Suisse
• Mark Q MacLane, Barclays • Alva Mason, Toyota

10 Most Equitable Countries in the World

According to Social Watch, the 10 countries in the world with the greatest equity, across the categories of education, economic activity and empowerment, are (in this order): Sweden (89), Finland (84), Rwanda (84), Norway (83), Germany (80), Barbados (80), Denmark (79), Iceland (79), New Zealand (78), and the Netherlands (77).

This organisation, which is committed to peace, social, economic, environmental and gender-related justice, and emphasises the rights of all people not to be poor, advises that – as is the case with Rwanda – it is not necessary to achieve high levels of economic growth or industrialisation to be able to implement effective policies that generate increasing levels of equity within a country.

Fast Fact 1: The quest to stay current – books

This selection of masterful reads for your nightstand are guaranteed to put you ahead in your work as a CDO:
• Mohale, B. (2018). Lift As You Rise (SA: Tracy McDonald Publishers)
– embraces the core tenets of leadership, including the issues Mohale is passionate about i.e. transformation, people development, constructive collaboration, and integrity.
• Wilkinson, B. (2021). The Diversity Gap – Where Good Intentions Meet True Cultural Change (US: HarperCollins)
– blends the author’s personal experiences with existing research, only to curate rich insights on the future of equity in the workplace. Described as “invaluable and right on time”.
• Williams, D.A. & Wade-Golden K.C. (2013) The Chief Diversity Officer – Strategy, Structure and Change Management (US: Stylus Publishing)
– an incredibly valuable contribution to both higher education and our working knowledge of the CDO role, and how to position, support and create an environment in which diversity flourishes as a resource on our campuses and in our organisations.
• Klein, G. (2013) Seeing What Others Don’t. The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights (US: John Murray Press)
– a timely contribution encouraging professionals, who want to improve their personal and professional performance, to think radically about the way in which they work with reference to the five “C”s (i.e. connections, coincidence, investigating curiosities, and capitalising on creative desperation).
• Winters, M-F. (2017) We Can’t Talk About That At Work! How To Talk About Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarising Topics (US: Berrett-Koehler Publishers)
– contains tools, templates, and self-assessments to determine your readiness for difficult, honest conversations, within a body of work that reviewers consider to be critically important in advancing inclusion and dialogue about it within our places of work.

• Pemberton, H. (2021) The Diversity Playbook (UK: Seraphis Bey Publishing)
– an empowering and uplifting read, that contains proven expertise, factual examples, and practical tools to transform your business and leadership approach with inclusion and innovation as central shared goals and priorities.
• Liswood, LA. (2009) The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Success At Work (US: Wiley)
– a business fable that offers an alternate view of a multicultural workplace, by tapping into practical and accessible stories and a range of vibrant cultural anecdotes.

Fast Fact 2: The Quest to Stay Current – online courses

A second, but in no way secondary, option to help keep you thriving in this demanding position is to do a refresher course, such as the University of Cape Town’s six-week Leading Diversity and Inclusion at Work, costing R9 000 [US$497].

This online course explores the changing world of work, and how organisations need to use DEI strategies to keep up with a dynamic corporate environment. Students examine topics ranging from unconcious bias to privilege, gaining inclusive leadership skills and strategies in the process that will help them to create in depth DEI plans for their organisations on the course’s completion.

To download the prospectus or find out more, click here.

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