How Do I Become a Chief Diversity Officer?

D. Grey

To become a chief diversity officer for an organization is frequently a far less linear objective than that of acquiring other executive positions. Chief diversity officer training, while requiring many of the same skills as other executive positions, quite often requires a degree of experience that isn’t necessarily acquired through traditional educational methods — experience and interpersonal social competence play a large role. Additionally, the role of chief diversity officer can be strongly affected by the type of organization within which he or she works. College campuses have different needs than businesses for example, and each organization's highly specific needs are unlikely to be met with solutions that may work for others.

Chief diversity officers have become important executives in large corporations.
Chief diversity officers have become important executives in large corporations.

The role of chief diversity officer is often still being defined in many organizations, and therefore, its definition and duties generally remain fluid. To become a chief diversity officer, one needs a strong grasp of diversity issues as well as the ability to shape an institution’s diversity agenda. Often, a chief diversity officer must also determine and plan out how this agenda can best be implemented within the organization.

Chief diversity officers, by definition, are often required to work with people from diverse backgrounds. For this reason, the role of chief diversity officer often requires a strong consensus building ability. The officer rarely has the power to make sweeping organizational changes on his or her own. This would seem to contradict the purpose of the chief diversity officer position, but what it means in practical terms is that chief diversity officers are often called upon to apply lateral thinking, or to be unorthodox, in solving problems.

At the very least, chief diversity officers often need to prove that their insights and understandings, if followed, will move the organizations for which they work in an advantageous direction. Organizations with entrenched cultures may resist the kinds of changes made by chief diversity officers. For this reason, to become a chief diversity officer is to take on dual roles: the diplomat who negotiates within organizational hierarchies, and the advocate, who champions the value of new ideas.

In culturally diverse organizations, conflicts can sometimes arise between people of different backgrounds. The chief diversity officer must be able to anticipate and prevent these conflicts where possible and to diffuse the conflicts that do occur. While the chief diversity officer's primary duty is to facilitate and encourage a diverse organization, he or she is not simply an advocate for minorities or other groups. As demographics and organizations change, the chief diversity officer generally works to create organizational harmony for all as much as fulfilling a diversity mandate, if one exists.

Anyone seeking to become a chief diversity officer needs skills applicable to creating and maintaining a meaningfully inclusive organization while understanding the practical realities of maintaining a successful organization. These goals are often mutually exclusive. It will frequently fall upon the chief diversity officer to demonstrate ways to make these equally vital missions work in harmony with one another.

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