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Four Priorities for Chief Diversity Officers in 2023

Non-stop disruption, be it positive or negative, has served to raise the profile and prominence of chief diversity officers and diversity, equity, and inclusion functions. Despite this, complex challenges continue to mount and are reflected in the top four 2023 priorities of i4cp’s Chief Diversity Officer Board:

  1. Recruitment and retention of diverse talent
  2. Increasing buy-in enterprisewide and refining governance of DE&I efforts
  3. Implementing behavioral and competency models to increase inclusive thinking and leadership
  4. Developing a structural response to equitably support reproductive rights benefits

Not surprisingly, all of the CDO Board members surveyed cited aspects of diversity recruitment, retention, and development as priorities in 2023. Some are redefining and communicating their organizations’ employee value propositions, while others are building more inclusive cultures and turning attention to shoring up listening strategies to encourage greater psychological safety. And others are refining metrics and accountability around representation aspirations, expanding their diverse recruiting partnerships, and focusing on specific goals such as gender parity at leadership levels and making open roles more accessible to employees with disabilities.

And all CDOs are dealing with the rapidly changing hiring environment; while the number of job openings remains high compared to pre-pandemic numbers, pressure has decreased somewhat due to the cooling of the economy. While layoffs have ticked-up, they are still well below pre-pandemic levels. Skilled, diverse talent is at a premium and job seekers have options, even as economic conditions trim expansion plans for some companies.

Progress toward diversity goals continues to be a challenge in part because highly sought-after diverse talent is often the first to job hop in a market ripe with opportunities. As recent i4cp research has shown, diverse talent—particularly women, people of color, and those with disabilities—favor employers that offer greater flexibility and remote options. This makes it difficult to maintain diversity goals in organizations that either have roles that don’t lend themselves to flexible options, or that have chosen not to embrace flexible work models.

The inability to attract and retain diverse talent has been made more pressing in light of increased scrutiny of diversity and culture metrics by investors, savvy job seekers, and mandated data disclosures by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as well as other governing bodies worldwide.

More than two-thirds of i4cp’s CDO Board members said they are spearheading efforts to maintain DE&I as a priority and deepen the level of buy-in throughout their organizations. Structural changes are one way this is being done, with some citing expansion in ERG/ BRG offerings with a more strategic focus, the launch of governing councils, creating and executing on objectives and key results (OKRs), and even complete overhauls of governance and structures supporting DE&I.

While DE&I remains a top concern for most organizations, economic conditions also create inroads for naysayers who don’t fully grasp (or appreciate) the importance of an inclusive talent brand now that will be appealing to future talent markets. The same could be true for those who also don’t yet recognize the positive impact on market performance resulting from advancing their ESG agendas. These are hurdles many CDO Board members are accustomed to, and ones they intend to confront with enhanced data, a sharpened eye on bottom-line business results, and raising the visibility of the positive impact their efforts make to the overall culture of their organizations.

Well over half of i4cp’s CDO Board members are addressing cultural challenges with training to enhance inclusivity in the culture, particularly aimed at leadership (leaders who feel comfortable and competent discussing DE&I issues are ready champions when it comes to making decisions about policies and resource allocation). Enlisting leaders across the business who embrace and convey the DE&I and ESG story is crucial to keeping those concerns at the forefront when discussing new strategies and policies.

Culture, however, continues to be amorphous. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June 2022, abortion rights have become one of the most challenging issues CDOs in the U.S. have confronted. Beyond the long-term impact the ruling could have on women in the workforce, organizations have had to address immediate challenges related to equitable employee medical benefits, privacy, and other thorny issues. Several have expanded women’s health care policies to contend with individual state bans on abortion services to include travel and lodging in other states where needed.

Medical providers have shared challenges about other aspects of this debate, specifically that doctors and nurses working in states with the most far-reaching bans, now have concerns about legal liability and that some are choosing to relocate outside of those areas. Combined with the disparate impact this has on economically challenged communities and communities of color, the reproductive rights debate in the U.S. is poised to create even greater challenges to business in light of proposed national abortion ban legislation.

Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.