Keeping it Clear: Formulating a Chief of Diversity Officer Position - Keith R. Wyche

Putting DEI initiatives into action can be very overwhelming. Even with the best attentions, things can easily go wrong, especially if this concept is foreign to your organization.

I recently spoke with Senior Executive Media on what it takes to formulate a sustainable DEI plan led by a strong Chief of Diversity Officer. Transparency and clear communication are key in this process.

“If you have an organization that has never had this focus before, you will probably have to go outside of the business for the talent because…that’s not been a part of your DNA as a company. Conversely, though, if you do have folks inside your organization who can check the boxes, I think it’s a great opportunity.

“It has to be someone who is very self-aware, not only of their biases, their unconscious biases, and what they know but to what they don’t know as well. If I’m not familiar with veterans, or LGBTQ people, then I have to be open enough to understand, embrace and spend time to learn that.

“The first thing in formulating the job description is having a great understanding of what [CEOs] want this position to be and do. Otherwise you will hire a chief diversity officer based on a profile that HR created without really understanding the resources they need… it will be more of a check box to fulfill requirements.

“The officers will need to report directly to the CEO, and not four or five levels down in the organization. They need the ear of senior leadership — i.e. the board, CEO, a chief people officer. Without that they are a toothless tiger.”

The Senior Executive Media wrote more on my suggestions for creating successful Chief of Diversity Officers.

Keith Wyche — an executive with 30 years of experience, DEI thought leader, and author — groups chief diversity officers’ responsibilities into four categories. Wyche is also Walmart’s vice president of community engagement and support.

Inclusion. Chief diversity officers should advocate for representation of minority groups throughout the organization, from entry level employees through senior leadership.

Understanding the company. ‘If you’ve grown up at any one silo, you don’t really have a holistic view of the business,’ he explains. ‘To be the effective Chief Diversity Officer, you need to have a more holistic view and appreciation and understanding of the business.’ This requires understanding both talent management and business operations, and integrating both pieces.

Championing culture. According to Wyche, chief diversity officers must build an internal company culture that benefits employees across demographics. They also have to keep the pulse of the external culture. For example, Wyche says, diversity leaders must understand how different generations behave in the marketplace to contribute to strategic or product decisions.

Manage change. Wyche says chief diversity officers must convince other leaders in the business to change outdated processes. He points to his time as a board member of WMS Gaming, the second-largest manufacturer of casino gaming machines in the world. When leaders wanted to expand into the online gaming space, Wyche says, the chief diversity officer helped the team ‘change their mental model of what [a board member] looks like’ to include younger members with digital experience.”

About Keith Wyche: Keith is a change management leader who strives to assist organizations in reaching their potential. With decades of experience managing billion-dollar businesses across several industries, Keith applies a holistic approach to sustainable and efficient change. Keith is an author and leader who advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in workplace talent and in customers through bridging community gaps. His vast experience and skills allow him to turn around struggling organizations and create strategic solutions for the best results.

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Insights from Leaders is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.