How to Hire a Chief Diversity Officer


Martha Garcia felt burned out for a few months after being promoted to senior communications manager at Hoka One One. But her new position at the shoe brand wasn’t the biggest cause of her stress. Rather, it was a volunteer role she’d taken on with the company years earlier that wasn’t on her resume at all.

Garcia, who immigrated with her parents from Guadalajara, Mexico when she was one year old, had taken on a wide variety of internal diversity and inclusion responsibilities, from transforming a workforce to hosting panels, all intended to bring people of color into the business and increase awareness of the issues they face in the workplace and beyond.

But Garcia found herself feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, and increasingly apathetic – feelings amplified as she balanced work and distance education for her daughter during the pandemic. She left the company in January and now runs her own marketing agency specializing in helping brands craft more inclusive messaging.

“This is not me to give it back to the company or the brand, but I think there is a lack of understanding of the emotional burden and toll that people of color take to put themselves on the map and be vulnerable ,” she said.

In July 2020, amid national outrage over the police murder of George Floyd, posts on Glassdoor for leadership roles such as chief diversity officer, chief of diversity and inclusion, and vice president of diversity and inclusion more than doubled from the previous month. Deckers, who owns Hoka One One, Ugg, Teva and other brands, appointed its senior legal counsel in June for an additional role as “Director of Equality, Inclusion and Diversity”.

The sudden demand for specialists in diversity, equality and inclusion, or DEI, came amid broader racial settlements. But at many companies, it also reflected the growing frustration among minority employees such as Garcia, who had played this role for years on a voluntary basis, often unpaid and with little support from senior management. Nearly a year later, the impact of the new class of DEI executives can be difficult to measure. A Glassdoor survey published last week found that Black employees are the least satisfied with their company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Figuring out who to hire is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for fashion companies. Major retailers tend to recruit DEI executives from a small group of professionals who have held similar roles elsewhere, said Kyle Rudy, a partner at executive placement firm Kirk Palmer Associates. Other companies employ executives with a background in human resources, legal affairs or procurement. Some appoint an associate who has shown passion for the topic, turning a volunteer role into a formal position.

Every recruitment approach has its potential pitfalls. An experienced DEI specialist may discover that colored workers at a modern label have different needs than their counterparts on a soccer team. An employee may care deeply about diversity, but lacks the professional skills to implement their vision in a giant company.

The ideal DEI leadership candidate is “someone who can influence all levels of the organization,” said Keri Gavin, partner and DEI practice leader at executive search firm Hanold Associates. Whether that person has a resume full of previous DEI positions is less important.

Rather, they need to “be a good listener … and be able to meet people wherever they are on their journey and help them see some of the prejudices they have,” she said.

Laying the foundation

Theresa Watts joined the True Religion denim brand last year as a vice president of human resources. She spent much of her early months doing the work “preparing the company for diversity.”

That included having honest and uncomfortable conversations about race and other topics with employees at all levels – including the c-suite – said Watts, who helped shape AT & T’s diversity program in the late 1990s while still a graduate. was a student at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Watts said hiring a DEI leader and changing a company’s internal culture shouldn’t be approached hastily or purely around a public relations box.

“I think organizations often want to start big, and they want to get in the media and say ‘we have this diversity person, we have this new resource and we have this new DEI division,’” Watts said. start small by changing the culture in your organization. “

For example, as an executive who happens to be a woman of color, Watts said she has experienced the “culture shift” that can happen when she visits True Religion stores and has lunch with minority employees. She says she has been able to forge personal connections with such employees, who often leave those meetings with a fresh view of their own opportunities to grow within the organization.

Before engaging a DEI leader, the role must have the full support of senior management and the resources necessary to drive change across the company, Watts said. C-suite executives can work with their company’s human resources department to create a DEI strategy and establish formal processes to ensure its execution.

“Are you ready for the diversity you are looking for?” Said Gavin van Hanold. And if you are, what happens after you get this diverse leader; what happens after you continue to build your diverse talent pool? “

Who to hire

Large companies often hire experienced DEI types who know how to raise diversity issues in a sprawling global company with offices in many countries. Nike’s head of talent, diversity and culture held similar positions at Tesla and Juniper Networks; and Gucci and LVMH both named DEI leaders of Major League Baseball. Chanel and PVH hired DEI executives from UBS and Wells Fargo, respectively.

According to Lisa Butkus, partner and head of the retail and luxury goods practice at Hanold, it can be especially valuable for international fashion houses to attract candidates from outside the industry to lead the DEI position.

“You have very defined cultures in fashion houses in Italy and France … there is a very different set of challenges there – because the culture is so deep [entrenched], she said. An outside hiring “can bring a more progressive mindset and a sharper lens that can… professionalize [the role]. “

Smaller companies may not be able to get a DEI manager from an NFL team and may be better off embedding the DEI role in human resources, Butkus said.

“Most importantly, you don’t pass it on to anyone in HR because you think you just need to ‘have DEI,’ but you invest in the work and that person will have the resources and horsepower to do that job, ” she said.

To that end, leaders rushing to hire minorities for the DEI position should be aware of the extraordinary personal and professional pressure these employees feel when it comes to taking on the mantle of organizational change, said Rudy of Kirk Palmer. .

“DEI leaders are not a single silver bullet,” he said.

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