Strategy: Do Not Hire D&I Leaders Only to Give Them Bullsh*t Authority

Recent events appear to have lit a fire under the collective asses of corporate America, resulting in a remarkable number of job postings in diversity and inclusion. A recent search on LinkedIn shows a whopping 87,098 listings that have diversity and inclusion in the title. And while I like to believe this is business as usual, the cynic in me would not be surprised to learn that the majority of these positions are brand new to the organization. 

The rise of D&I in organizations isn’t new. In 2018, CNNMoney reported a 20% increase in demand over the prior year for such roles. Not coincidentally, this increase coincided with the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and the mainstreaming of the #metoo movement. Nothing like a reactive approach to solving systemic issues, right?

But back to our story about the current state of affairs in HR and the increased focus on D&I.

For the record, I am 100% in support of organizations finally putting their money where their press releases are and taking real action against systemic injustice. Racial equality, gender equality, LGBTQ+ support, mental health, equal pay — all of these are long past due to receive real attention from the powers that be. 

But therein lies my concern: I am not convinced that the powers that be want real attention on their action in these areas.

I’m sure corporate leadership wants to be seen as doing the right thing, especially now when organizations are being called out for not explicitly supporting equality in all its forms. Yet when all is said and done, most diversity efforts fail. And they’re failing not because of tangible, legislative challenges to overcome. No, they fail because of reasons like “diversity fatigue,” as though it’s so exhausting to treat all humans equally. Oh, the humanity!

Perhaps I’m judging you too harshly, though. It’s entirely possible that your organization is different and you intend to give this role real authority and power to make the changes that are needed in your infrastructure to make a lasting difference.

If that’s the case, these are the things you need to make sure you let your newly hired D&I leader do:

Completely revamp your hiring process. No matter how good you think your hiring process is, it needs to be better. In a 2017 study, 66% of companies said they had strategies for diversity hiring, yet only 25% actually set diversity targets. And a 2019 study in the scientific world affirmed 2012 findings that women are still subject to major biases in physics and biology positions. Also, men are twice as likely to get hired, regardless of the gender of the hiring manager. 

Let your D&I leader do what’s needed to fix this, including training, removing names and bias indicators from resumes, and establishing a structured interview process with a facilitated debrief. 

Conduct an in-depth job analysis of all positions. This one should be an easy sell. No one likes their job descriptions anyway. And no matter how “scientific” you think those qualifications are, they are probably just retreads of the JDs written back when the women-folk used mimeograph machines and got the men coffee as they did the “real work.”

OK, maybe that’s hyperbole, but it’s well-documented that most job descriptions use gender-biased language, and qualifications are often written with a specific person in mind — or at the very least, a specific “type” of person from a certain socio-economic status. Give your D&I leader free rein to challenge all of the business on their preconceived notions of what makes a successful employee.

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Fix your pay. Oh, is that supposed to be Compensation’s job? Well, they aren’t doing a very good job at it, given the fact that Paycor shows that the uncontrolled gender pay gap, which takes the ratio of the median earnings of women to men without controlling for various compensable factors, has only decreased by $0.07 since 2015.

It’s not really their fault, though. They’re facing the same systemic challenges tied to interviewing and job descriptions. Your new D&I leader should be in the position to uncover these shortcomings and make real, lasting changes.

Overhaul succession planning. Here’s a fun fact: Only 7.4% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are female, and only three of those are women of color. And that’s an improvement over past years. 

Here’s another fun fact: Less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. Yeah. You read that right. Add to that that female leaders are more likely to be fired than their male counterparts, and you see a symptom of a deeper problem with our leadership pipeline. This, despite the fact that organizations with diverse leadership outperform other organizations by 33%. 

Allow your D&I leader to blow up your current success planning framework or to create one if you don’t have a plan. Pipelines start at the beginning, and not all experience looks the same. 

What’s the common theme in these recommendations? You need to allow your D&I leader not only to review but completely revamp your approach to talent acquisition and talent management. This person needs to have the authority — real, not bullshit authority — to stop discriminatory activities, establish new practices, and fire bad actors at your organization. 

If you aren’t ready to do this, don’t bother to hire a D&I leader. It won’t make a difference, and the person sure as hell won’t stay at an organization that doesn’t stand behind your pledge to “do better.” 

Mary is a senior advisor with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led. 

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