ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DyNAMC MAGAZINE "Policy Issue" FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE 7
Who are the Gatekeepers of Miscellany?
A Look at Corporate Policies for Hiring Diversity Officers and Managers
Diversity officers and managers are increasingly becoming the most sought after, lucrative, and politically acceptable jobs in the nation in nearly every business sector. A large percentage of these positions are held by minorities who, theoretically, would appear to be the most qualified, empathetic and experienced in matters of diversity. Is this influx of diversity officers and managers the light at the end of the tunnel (vision) of “all White, all male, all married” - or another illusion of meaningful progress toward diversity in corporate America?
By Sheila Kay
A couple of decades ago, diversity training became an answer to the disparities, lack of understanding, miscommunication and other issues that plagued minorities in businesses, schools and other entities. From this training evolved the need for in-house leaders in diversity initiatives. The selected would need to be open minded, fearless and intuitive educators who were trendsetters; men and women who could influence change by teaching tolerance, acceptance and the meaning of diversity to the masses.
Infinite meetings were held to define corporate policies to govern the qualifications required for leaders charged with ensuring compliance with diversity standards. Make no mistake about it; similar meetings still take place daily as there is a constant need to create and adjust policies to keep pace with the current climate. Now, as then, policy decisions regarding diversity in the workplace have direct impact on the whole atmosphere and reputation of each corporation, law enforcement agency, sports team, school or any entity which implement them. And more than ever, all eyes remain watchful.
Help Wanted: Chief Diversity Officer/Manager
The following information is based upon a compilation of corporate polices, job descriptions and qualifications across the nation in a wide variety of enterprises.
Generally, Chief Diversity Officer is an executive level position in corporations committed to maintaining diverse facilities which encompass the entire spectrum of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender and religious affiliation. Such diversity policies are intended to reach beyond the Equal Opportunity mandate and tend to take a proactive stance in creating successful opportunities for minorities and underserved in given organizations and/or communities.
Requirements for the position include the ability to act as “inclusion strategist” as well as to assess, define, cultivate and nurture diversity. These goals are met via oversight of diversity efforts in addition to design and implementation of programs and procurement opportunities.
The ideal diversity officer is dynamic and energetic with a demonstrated record of building strong business relationships. The candidate, in addition to excellent writing and communication skills, should possess a “sophisticated” understanding of diversity and inclusion. Educational qualifications include a Bachelor’s degree in areas such as Public Administration, Business, HR Management, Sociality or related fields. Ideally, the candidate also has years of leadership experience in diversity and inclusion, knowledge and understanding of the political landscape, etc.
These qualifications certainly makes the individual who possesses them extremely valuable in any venue, yet also raises questions in the context of diversity. For example, can qualifications alone translate into an employee capable of specifically recognizing, interpreting, and resolving the negative effects of the unfairness, insensitivity and other substantive issues which were left unchallenged for so many years? Further, does being a member of a minority class give a candidate an advantage over other candidates?
Misnomer or Meme
On paper, corporate diversity policies reflect a company’s sincere desire for equity in the workplace. It is evident that the language in most policies is intended to translate into the hiring of diversity leaders that could somehow create the ideal inclusive work environment. We applaud enterprises that create and enforce policies which benefit the minorities in their midst. Special recognition should go to the valiant diversity officers and managers who do work hard to maintain and create work environments filled with true inclusion and opportunity for all. It’s no secret that often these defenders of diversity have to make difficult choices in order to keep their jobs-decisions which most of us do not have the courage to make.
That said, the reality is that for all of its good intentions, diversity-for-hire cannot (of itself) solve most of the deeper issues. The job title alone reads as professional, even authoritative (“Officer”), yet real diversity cannot and will not be managed. It is of itself a living, organic entity not created (but certainly influenced) by humans themselves but by their actions and decisions.
It is possible that an illusion exists which gives the public the impression that placing (mostly minority) diversity leadership in place will eventually erase the millions of fingerprints left behind in the wake of decades of insufficiencies in equality. But a peek behind the curtain reveals that the “diversity wizard” is not big or strong enough to create real change in attitudes, habits and institutions alone. Time will tell the final tale; in the meantime, there is still much work to be done. Corporate policy, superlative leadership, individuals and organizations who advocate diversity – all are key citizens in the “village” that it takes to raise a nation committed to upholding diversity within its borders and beyond.
In the article “Diversity or Diversion” (DyNAMC Magazine-May 2014), Illusion of Inclusion columnist Kevin B. Williams reminded us that diversity impacts future generations and that it is “grossly misunderstood and consistently manipulated” by the private sector as well as governmental institutions in the present time. It is not hard to find evidence of this in the media or even in our own backyards.
For instance, our Founder, prompted by her own experience, is committed to continue to fight in the battle for diversity for as long as disparity exists. As such, she recently prepared and delivered a professional, detailed and comprehensive presentation to a well known California university as a demonstration of NAMC’s continual outreach efforts. There were approximately twelve attendees, including minorities, at the presentation. Ms. Lattimore was asked (snidely), “Is anyone else coming?” prior to the start of the presentation, which included graphics, printed material and a question and answer session. Afterward, Ms. Lattimore was approached by an attendee of the meeting who advised her (in confidence) that comments such as “Who does she think she is?” were made after she left the room. Clearly, the audience was not receptive to the meaning and mission of NAMC in any manner. Yet this institution had a clear diversity policy (and officer) in place at the time of the presentation.
Even national diversity experts have been quoted as questioning the success of practices and policies related to diversity. John Fitzgerald Gates, PhD, in “The Corporate Diversity Charade”, wrote that “the dirty little secret of corporate America and the practice of diversity is that 25 years after establishing ‘diversity’ offices, most companies have not developed a mature understanding of how diversity can contribute to their bottom lines.”
You can lead a horse to water…
A Method to Our Madness
It is no surprise that some may be offended at the mere suggestion of questioning any aspect of corporate diversity policy, especially the hiring of diversity officers. The mindset could be that we dare not pose questions or rock the boat, since countless of these well paying jobs are held by minorities. The fact that these positions place a measure of influence and prosperity into the hands of minorities of all types is without dispute. However, history has taught us that the essence of any form of real positive change which affects millions of people has, and always will be, a combination of fearless questioning, probing, and challenging the status quo. When it comes to diversity, these actions keep its life’s blood flowing and opens the door for new discussions, policies and fresh ideas and perspectives. And the good news is that all of this can be done while simultaneously embracing what we have at present and being grateful for the progress made thus far.
No one individual, organization, policy or magazine column can take credit for the successes in the area of diversity in any form or fashion. But methodically, as in brick by complicated brick, a bona fide diversified bridge can be built over the chasm known as the sea of diversity.