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September 2021

Chief Diversity Officer as the new path to Chief HR Officer?

Those of us who have been a part of the human resources profession long enough, have watched the trends change around the functional HR experiences organizations value as they choose their next Chief HR/ Chief People Officer. Historically a strong set of HR Business Partner experiences is usually a common thread blended with some “functional major”- often in Labor/ER, Talent Management or Rewards/Executive Compensation, depending on the era and the priorities of the day. However, until recently the Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion or Chief Diversity Officer, was rarely on the succession chart for the CHRO job. That is quickly changing and not a moment too soon.

For most organizations, DE&I is about ensuring all their employees feel empowered, respected and appreciated for what makes them unique. That uniqueness could be defined by a lot of different things, to include age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, national origin, not to mention respecting and leveraging differences in personality, work styles and habits. The smartest leaders however move past only valuing DE&I because it’s the right thing to do, and choose to also leverage the concept of DE&I to produce business results and improve productivity in their organizations. 

The changing demographics in our country alone dictate it’s a must-do in order to compete. The 2020 census tells us overall population growth slowed dramatically over the past decade and the little growth we had as a country— an increase of about 23 million people — was made up entirely of people who identified themselves as Hispanic, Asian, Black or more than one race, according to the data. In fact people that are two or more races are projected to grow 200 percent by 2060. Additionally the foreign-born population is anticipated to grow from 40 million people in 2016 to 70 million in 2060. The future workplace promises to look very different.

 It begs the question, who is better equipped to create the People Strategy of the future and harness the opportunity that these trends will present, than leaders of the DE&I function? These professionals are already engaged in large scale transformation given the evolving “worker” and “workplace” and chartered with promoting collaboration and advising with and expanding the thinking of leaders and individual employees alike while also building connections to and appropriately mirroring the communities their organization’s serve.

In the last year I’ve seen some good examples of CEOs and Boards recognizing the value of elevating DE&I leaders to the helm of their HR functions. A couple notable moves include Janice Dupre, the former CDO of McKesson who joined the Lowe’s Companies Inc. as the CDO and was promoted last Summer to the CHRO role as well as Paul Richardson, former SVP, HR for ESPN and Global CDO for The Walt Disney Company who was recently promoted to CHRO for Disney. I’m proud to call both of these incredible leaders friends and am looking forward to seeing many other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion experts being tapped to lead the Human Resources functions of the future. I would argue no leader is better equipped to do so.

Mike Bergen
Senior Partner, Global Practice Leader,
Human Resources