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Four Priorities for Chief Diversity Officers in 2021

COVID-19, widespread social unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, global demands for racial, social, and economic justice, and rising divisiveness in politics worldwide combined to make 2020 an unimaginably tumultuous year for everyone.

The cumulative effect has been even greater for those who work in the field of DE&I. These unparalleled challenges have had the added impact of the uneven weight placed on underrepresented groups and women, which will persist into 2021.

The pressure to move from rhetoric to real change has never been more acute than in 2020. Meaningful progress is the expectation for 2021. The call to publicly disclose diversity data and goals will become more pressing in 2021, only increasing that pressure.

Most DE&I executives are shoring up cultural elements, with ongoing organization-wide DE&I education and the need to build up communities in a virtual setting being two prominent challenges. Many are also ramping up metrics, transparency, and accountability, with particular emphasis at the leadership level and in choosing DE&I metrics to disclose publicly.

The new year will see increased emphasis on the talent acquisition process, with the expectation of improved diverse representation at all phases. And not surprisingly, many CDOs are looking at structural changes to their functions to adapt to both the urgent underscoring of racial and social equity and the shift of large segments of the workforce to working remotely.

The following priorities and predictions are excerpted from our 2021 Priorities & Predictions report, based on guidance from our Chief Diversity Officer Board.

CDO Priorities & Predictions

1. Organization-wide DE&I enablement

While most organizations provide DE&I training (which is mandated by many), ensuring ongoing education and better effectiveness is a 2021 focal point for over half of the members of i4cp's CDO Board. More organizations are improving their bias training programs and also facilitating peer-to-peer dialogue and town halls on issues of race and inclusion. Other enablement initiatives include bias audits of all talent management functions and strengthening development programs for underrepresented groups.

2. Build and maintain cultural cohesion

As unrest related to racial and social inequities boiled over in 2020, organizations turned to employee/business resource groups (ERGs/BRGs), which were instrumental in advising on and guiding meaningful response in both their organizations and the communities in which they operate. This has compelled some companies to look at restructuring and empowering employee groups to be more effective and rewarding going forward for participants and leaders alike (i.e., dedicated on-the-clock time, administrative support, greater visibility, more resources, leadership training). There is also a small but growing movement towards compensating volunteer leaders who dedicate their time and passion to supporting their organizations while raising the visibility and engagement of their groups.

3. Metrics, accountability, and transparency

Strengthening and refining metrics has been a focus of CDOs for many years, but 2020 accelerated the need for greater transparency, effectiveness metrics for equity initiatives, and accountability for leaders at all levels. While rules and guidance regarding non-financial metrics vary by country and range from sweeping (e.g., the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation) to imprecise, such as new human capital disclosure requirements from the U.S. SEC, it is clear that organizations that tout diversity as a strength will be required to disclose evidence to support those claims. Forward-looking metrics implemented in some high-performance organizations include talent bench diversity, inclusion scorecards for managers and employees, deeper analysis of candidate sourcing and hiring, and participation in ERG/BRGs. Increasingly, companies are examining executive compensation ties to diversity goals.

4. Structural changes to increase effectiveness

In line with the need for greater accountability, many organizations are reexamining DE&I governance. This includes a clear model for reporting DE&I actions and outcomes to the C-suite and board. Areas being redesigned include supplier diversity, a revamped ERG/BRG model, alignment of DE&I committees throughout the organization, building diverse partner relations (i.e., community, education, business organizations), and changes to the overall DE&I team structure.

For more insights from Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officers, download our 2021 Priorities & Predictions report.