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Solving for the Problem of Ineffective Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs)

WarnerMedia, the media and entertainment arm of AT&T and parent organization of subsidiaries like CNN, TBS, DC Entertainment, etc.—has become the latest in the growing list of big-name companies to add a chief diversity and inclusion officer (CDO), as reported by Tom Kludt in an article for CNN.

Kludt reports that the announcement came in an internal memo in which WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said the role will help "transform our culture to one of even greater inclusion and belonging." Kludt also notes that the announcement comes on the heels of questions over its male-dominated executive team raised during a company town hall held to discuss restructuring.

WarnerMedia's move is part of a growing trend. A recent report from Russell Reynolds titled "A Leader's Guide: Finding and Keeping Your Next Diversity Officer" surveyed 234 top diversity executives from companies in the S&P 500 and found that 47 percent of companies in the S&P currently have a chief diversity officer (CDO) or equivalent.

Shedding Light on the Current Predicament of CDOs

Unfortunately, the role of CDO is relatively new and those in the role often lack the ability to affect real change. Here are just a few of the findings from the Russell Reynolds report, as highlighted in an article by Ellen McGirt for Fortune titled "Chief Diversity Officers are Set Up to Fail."

They’re new to the role. While some 47 percent of companies included on the S&P 500 index currently have a chief diversity officer (CDO) or equivalent, just two-thirds of those were hired or promoted into those roles in the past three years.

They don’t have the power they need to make a difference. More than half of those surveyed reported that they don’t have the resources they need to execute new programs and strategies and that they are burdened with additional corporate responsibilities outside of their inclusion work.

Other leaders aren’t on board. All of the leaders surveyed reported that diversity and inclusion came in last on a list of eight potential business priorities for their companies.

To avoid the potential for the CDO role to fail to have a significant impact on the organizations’ attempts to build inclusive cultures, ensure they are an integral part of corporate strategy.

Make the CDO role an integral part of corporate strategy

While it’s promising to see more and more companies adding CDOs to their executive teams, simply creating the position won’t solve the inclusion problem within top American companies. More importantly for those companies, it won’t be sufficient to take advantage of the proven business benefits that come with a robust and meaningful diversity and inclusion strategy. The CDO position needs broad organizational support and buy-in in order to help align the initiatives of the CDO’s office with the broader corporate strategy.

Ensure that your company can be truly inclusive: give CDOs a seat at the table!

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