How having a chief diversity officer on board makes a difference


Organisations with a dedicated resource are able to take a planned, outcome- driven approach to diversity building, which results in a more productive and engaged workforce

Diversity at the workplace may have become the most talked about agenda across the globe. Yet, it remains a mere tick in the box for many. For years organisations have struggled to have a perfectly balanced diverse workforce, but only a handful have really got it in place. According to a 2017 report by McKinsey, only one in every four management positions is held by a woman. The gender gap is even worse when it comes to senior leadership positions in large corporations, with only 5.2 per cent of S&P 500 CEOs being women.

Fragmented efforts and one-off initiatives dominate diversity-building agendas in most organisations. However, it is not enough and will never be, for organisations looking to really leverage the power of diversity.

Additionally, the question of accountability for the D&I agenda also haunts many organisations. Is it the CEO or the CHRO, who’s responsible for putting the good mix in place? Or is there really a need to have a separate resource for the same? Is it time for organisations to consider appointing a chief diversity officer? If yes, then why? These are some of the pressing concerns of many organisations.

Experts believe having a chief diversity officer on board can significantly change things for businesses and for good. Also, organisations that do have a dedicated resource are able to take a planned, outcome-driven approach to diversity building, in turn resulting in a more productive and engaged workforce.

Roopa Wilson, diversity & inclusion leader, IBM India/South Asia, shares what it takes to create a truly inclusive workforce. “It’s not just enough to have the right policies and infrastructure in place. A dedicated resource whose primary job role is to ensure diversity and inclusion, is key,” she says. In addition to a resource, a dedicated budget for the diversity team ensures more accountability and commitment to the purpose. It also offers ease of operations for planning and executing the right strategies.

Gender equality has long been a challenge of organizations worldwide, and in spite of awareness efforts and education, a challenging environment still exists for women leaders in the workplace. Read this Women in Leadership Research Report to learn about Brandon Hall Group’s top 5 findings.

Sodexo just released an expansive five-year-long study of 70 entities spread across different functions representing 50,000 managers worldwide. This study found out that organisations with better gender parity perform better, boast of a high retention rate and also a 14 per cent higher employee-engagement rate than others.

Focussed largely on gender diversity, Sodexo itself has 50 per cent women on board. 32 per cent of senior leadership positions are held by women globally, while middle-management and site-management positions are balanced at 46 per cent. Currently, 59 per cent of the total workforce works within gender-balanced management. Along with a strong vision for a gender-diverse workforce, Sodexo also has a chief diversity officer who ensures everything is in place.

Rohini Anand, Ph.D, senior vice president-corporate responsibility and global chief diversity officer, Sodexo, says, “A balanced talent mix combined with an inclusive culture helps to enhance innovation, engagement and productivity to achieve the right business outcomes.” While suggesting the core benefit of ensuring inclusivity, Anand also hints on the role of a diversity officer.

With regard to reporting, Wilson recommends that ideally the chief diversity officer should report to the CEO. “The accountability for the agenda should not lie with HR. While HR can always be a huge support, the ownership should lie with business,” she opines. Even at IBM, Wilson and her team report into HR currently. However, their manner of working is such that they are aligned to business largely, and hence, it is more like a dual reporting structure.

Wilson shares that the chief diversity officer has to be a change agent —one who questions the status quo—and this function interacts with not just various other HR functions but other business lines as well, to ensure the same.

Needless to say, organisations that do have a dedicated resource for ensuring diversity and inclusion are able to do a better job of it. Most progressive organisations are now investing in a chief diversity officer, who is responsible for bringing in focussed efforts leading to measured outcomes. This certainly reflects in their diverse workforces.

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