Four Threats in a Chief Diversity Officer’s First 100 Days

black woman playing chess

Four Threats in a Chief Diversity Officer's First 100 Days

black woman playing chess

The first 100 days of a president’s term are crucial for indicating longer-term success. What they accomplish before the milestone, while arbitrary in length, can showcase priorities, speed, and action style. These early days reflect an integral choice period, no matter the agenda. How will you start off strong? What decisions will you make to leverage your influence in the weeks and months to come?


Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) face incredible pressure to make big strategy gains early on. Appointing a new diversity leader has long been the most visible move for companies to showcase their DE&I improvements, and there are clear signs that more companies are taking diversity roles seriously. But increased demand and intensified role responsibilities means a high turnover and tight supply of experienced leaders. In fact, just 18% of current CDOs have prior experience in the role, down from 26% in 2018. The growing trend of shorter tenures and higher employee movement makes for an unstable CDO market. Therefore, understanding a comprehensive risk management framework is necessary to creating success in the first 100 days and beyond. 


Based on conversations with CDOs, as well as market observations, we created a strategic onboarding perspective: a risk-centered view of how CDOs can create opportunities from day one. Here are four common threats to diversity leaders within the traditional window of the first 100 days:


Mandate “mismatch” risks

The risks of misalignment can hinder reputational and financial success, according to testimonials of new leaders within the space. Eliminating the threat starts with strong organizational commitment from the top to integrate DE&I strategy into existing business functions, a task that requires proactive coordination and engagement with all corners of the company.


Contextual risks

Integrating a new DE&I plan into existing organizational culture is a challenge, especially when hired from the outside. The upside of internal lateral appointments is that the executives often already know the organizational culture well; the downside is that the position’s high expectations may not fit a new leader’s preliminary breadth and depth of DE&I expertise.


Prioritization and sequencing risks

As “champions of the DE&I initiative,” CDOs can fall under the reputation of cheerleader rather than business leader. Especially within the early days of office, it’s highly important to establish DE&I as a business strategy rather than a program or initiative.


Resourcing risks

Coupled with inadequate authority and lacking horizontal power, CDOs may feel frustrated by their inability to drive substantive institutional change. It can be helpful to assess gaps in budgetary, relational, and authoritative resources from the outset. 


This is by no means a comprehensive list. Moving past our 100-day-window observations, it’s important to note that a new CDO might choose to leave their position for reasons other than infrastructure issues. In some cases, the CDO position can serve as a pathway to other executive roles, such as CHRO or chief sustainability officer roles. 


Another case to consider is that the nature of the role itself can lead to emotional burnout. Constant pressure from all angles to improve organizational welfare often causes CDOs to overlook their own needs for the challenges of others. “People in the CDO role are givers, that’s our personality,” said John Lino, Chief Diversity Officer for Reed Smith. “As a result, we tend to get overextended, only thinking about helping others and not taking the energy to focus on ourselves.”


As the responsibilities of the role itself become more complicated in response to increased expectation, it is crucial to mitigate risk within the first 100 days in office. Disconnect between DE&I mandates, organizational culture and business objectives from the offset risks eroding the long-term sustainability of CDO efforts. Our CDO Onboarding Framework supports you in aligning with the complex matrix of functions (core HR, marketing, comp & ben, etc) within your organization. It’s essentially a “must-do” list for leaders navigating the onboarding process, setting you up for stability and success as you traverse a field with a high degree of turnaround.


With a personalized approach, we ensure that new CDOs can leverage their onboarding to reduce risk and create opportunities from day one.

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