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Do You Need A Diversity Leader? Yes, Your CEO

At the end of the year, Twitter hired a new Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. And there has been significant discussion generated by the hiring of this white male, who comes from a similar role at Apple.

Both companies, as is the case with many big technology companies, have been called out for their significant lack of females and minorities in their work forces. So hiring a person from one company with this challenge to lead the efforts in another seems questionable. But that is not the point being discussed as much as the fact that he is a white male. And to be fair, there have been a number of people who have insisted that the gender and ethnicity of the candidate shouldn’t matter. The question is simply “Is this person qualified to lead this work?”

My contention is that no one is qualified unless the CEO is seen as someone who understands the challenges related to D&I work, and demonstrates the expectation that the organization will change. I don’t care who you hire, if the leadership of the organization is not held accountable for creating change in the environment, then someone focused on these efforts will be chasing numbers and ratios, and not delivering on the real business promise. Diversity can result in market-changing innovation, especially when the diversity of the workforce matches the diversity of the customer base.

I won’t pretend that I know what the actual challenges for Twitter are. The excuses for the inequalities are many, I am sure. “Under-represented minority candidates are so hard to find”. “The competition for female candidates is fierce, and our managers need these jobs filled now”. “We’ve improved our hiring, but they get recruited away from us.”

The challenge starts with the leaders. If they truly believe that a change would bring great value to the company, then a good D&I leader can help them craft a strategy of education, workplace inclusion, candidate development and internal support that can drive them to improved results and a workplace that reflects their customer base – not just their geographic availability.

I know in smaller companies, the HR leaders become the D&I leaders by default. But I suggest to you that you should not claim that responsibility. You should coach your leaders to own that responsibility themselves, and then help them achieve a visions of a stronger, more complete workforce.

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