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Four Priorities for Chief Diversity Officers in 2022

Talent supply challenges (both retaining and hiring), the impact of hybrid and flexible work models, and equitably dealing with vaccine mandates are all top 2022 priorities for members of i4cp’s Chief Diversity Officer Board.

The great resignation and a dearth of available talent to replace those leaving is the primary disruption cited by most board members—a concern fueled by the willingness of many who are currently employed to resign rather than return to a full in-person, on-site workplace.

This is especially true among women and those from underrepresented groups, who have shown less desire to return to a pre-pandemic work arrangement. Whether driven by burnout, continuing child/eldercare needs, concern about privacy or personal safety related to vaccination status questions, or just the enhanced bargaining power employees are feeling as the talent war heats up, many CDOs are confronted with stemming the tide of talent loss and looking to enhanced retention efforts to keep the loss of their hard-won underrepresented talent to a minimum.

How new work models are being rolled out is a critical part of that effort, as is training provided to supervisors on how to effectively lead a virtual or hybrid team. But new work models carry the risk of exacerbating existing biases or introducing new ones.

Bias can surface in decisions such as who is offered increased flexibility, high-profile project assignments, access to leaders, networking opportunities, and more. Inequity in these areas is potentially career-limiting, especially when it comes to diminished visibility in the workplace. Attention to these potential issues and taking decisive action to address them is pivotal to successfully and equitably driving hybrid work.

How vaccine mandates are handled plays into all of this too, as more diverse representation among front-line employees puts diverse communities that may have less institutional trust in medicine at odds with return-to-workplace plans. With other talent risk already playing out, this can place vaccination enforcement at odds with diverse talent retention and attraction efforts.

Other concerns include keeping momentum and making good on DE&I pledges, conducting bias auditing of existing practices across all functional areas (several CDOs pointed specifically to algorithm/AI biases), addressing health disparities brought to light during the pandemic, and approaches to better measure and report on DE&I as we continue moving towards greater data transparency.

The following priorities and predictions are excerpted from our 2022 Priorities & Predictions report, based on guidance from our Chief Diversity Officer Board.

1. Retention, retention, retention

The battle cry for 2022 is employee retention. All people management functions will work towards this end, with DE&I functions concentrating their efforts on keeping diverse and underrepresented talent in-house while continuing to strive for greater representation overall. This is a future-focused strategy, particularly in the U.S., as minority populations are showing growth while white populations have been below replacement level since the 1970s.

CDOs are focusing on retention by working to eliminate systemic biases from existing functions, which can be a serious challenge to retaining diverse talent and moving that talent into leadership tiers. Other retention efforts look to shore up employee listening strategies (e.g., stay interviews, social media scraping), enhance talent development and upskilling/reskilling efforts, and create greater leadership accountability and more sponsorship opportunities for diverse talent. Placing greater focus on mental/emotional health and well-being to deal with issues of psychological safety, PTSD, and employee burnout is another area of prioritization. And when it comes to internal succession, one CDO cited formalizing clear criteria for leadership positions, including leadership competencies that are less traditionally recognized.

Beyond retention, CDOs are helping to meet talent acquisition needs by putting more focus on underutilized talent pools, strengthening relationships with external partners such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and creating skills inventories for diverse talent that can help support an internal talent marketplace.

2. Maintaining momentum

Some CDO board members have initiatives in place dedicated to maintaining the momentum of social justice and equity pledges, even as organizational attention spans are increasingly shifting to return-to-office, supply chain, or stakeholder value issues. Their initiatives include bias auditing, programs to keep allies engaged, unlearning biases, DE&I skill building for the organization as a whole, bolstering the strategic impact of employee groups (ERGs/BRGs), and ensuring that global racial/ social justice concerns are being addressed. One CDO board member shared their goal of moving leaders from “being” to “doing” when it comes to DE&I by showing ways to operationalize support through direct involvement with and sponsorship of diverse talent. Several board members mentioned specific efforts to strengthen culture as it relates to equity, inclusion, and belonging.

3. Equitable hybrid and flex work practices

While it’s true that hybrid work models could have a disparate impact on many underrepresented groups, which CDO board members cited, the many challenges presented by increased utilization of hybrid and flexible work models can be overwhelming; actions to address all of these challenges largely remain in the ideation stage. Again, bias audits are an effective exercise for addressing some concerns; they are most effective when biases are considered as programs are being developed rather than after they are established. That said, many are new to these work models—particularly at scale—and they present a set of challenges that will continue to evolve in the coming years. See i4cp’s Bias Audit Checklist for Flexible & Hybrid Work Models, part of the Bias Audit Checklist Series.

4. Metrics, accountability, and transparency

This is a priority carried over from 2021, as many organizations still grapple with assembling a DE&I metrics strategy that fully embraces current reporting requirements—regardless of whether those requirements come from governmental entities, enlightened investors, or top talent. Some are looking to bring more sophistication to their existing strategies, with others looking to place more emphasis on metrics critical to talent retention and acquisition. Several CDOs mentioned goals of enhancing the transparency of their metrics, which are often reported in concert with other ESG metrics that have become vital to employer brand initiatives.

For more insights from Chief Diversity Officers, download our 2022 Priorities & Predictions report.