Fastest growing C-suite role screeches to a halt

Chief diversity officers rapidly gained prevalence in 2020. Now, the role is being vacated in droves — a decision driven not only by employers, but by diversity leaders themselves, The Wall Street Journal reported July 21. 

Thousands of diversity, equity and inclusion officers have been laid off in the past year as companies reassess their executive makeups and pull back on racial justice commitments. High-profile executives were among them, including those at Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery. 

Some chief diversity officers say their work has become more challenging since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, bringing increased scrutiny upon their roles. Although companies hire CDOs under the impression they will improve the talent pipeline, few organizations actually want to change hiring or promotion practices — or allot resources to them, these executives told the Journal. A waning number of diversity executives feel supported by colleagues and middle managers; studies show Americans are split on the importance of a diverse workforce. 

"There's a combination of grief, being very tired, and being, in some cases, overwhelmed," Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer for Yelp, told the Journal

The role's ascent was quick following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Chief diversity and inclusion officers saw a 168.9 percent growth rate between 2019 and 2022. And although less than half of S&P 500 companies had a chief diversity officer or similar role in 2018, 75 percent did in 2022, according to a study from executive search firm Russell Reynolds. 

In 2023, the role's popularity is winding down. The number of CDO searches is down 75 percent in the past year, Jason Hanold, CEO of Hanold Executive Search — a firm that recruits HR and DEI executives — told the Journal. Demand for these executives is the lowest Mr. Hanold has seen in 30 years. 

Chief diversity officers also experience 40 percent higher turnover — and longer job searches —  than human resources executives, according to employer data provider Live Data Technologies. 

Some companies moved employees into diversity leadership if they were an ethnic minority, even if they were not prepared, Dani Monroe, former CDO of Boston-based Mass General Brigham, told the Journal. These "knee jerk reactions" left both sides discontented, according to Ms. Monroe, who also convenes a yearly gathering of more than 100 CDOs. 

Moving forward, DEI officers want broader roles that encompass more responsibility and allot more resources, according to the Journal. Sixty percent of diversity titles are being combined with other roles like HR, Mr. Hanold estimates. 

"They're telling us, the only way I want to go into another role with DEI is if it includes something else," Mr. Hanold said.

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