Although some Canadian companies have demonstrated that they value the skills and expertise of the people who are building diversity and inclusion into the core of their organizations; historically, the United States, in general, has led the way in demonstrating the value of this work.
Many American companies have introduced CDOs (or related titles—Diversity & Inclusion Lead, Director of Diversity and Belonging, Chief Equality Officer, to name a few) and have been growing their diversity and inclusion teams. Such companies are signalling that they understand the value of this work and the needed to execute comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategies.
Danny Guillory, Head of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Autodesk, wrote this article, “Chief Diversity Officer: One of the Hardest Jobs in Technology,” which provides an overview of the role of a CDO. Guillory describes the role as a cross-functional one, that is both complex and challenging and “offers immense opportunity to create change — from who we hire to the technology we create.”
It is imperative that Canadian companies hire the very strategists—CDOs—who are capable of enacting meaningful change. In the Canadian context, even some of the best-intentioned companies are overlooking this opportunity.
1. Focusing too narrowly on recruitment
I have the privilege of working with many thoughtful CEOs, who understand that diverse teams are smarter, make better decisions and are able to solve problems more effectively. They understand that diversity needs to be a business priority, as well as a social imperative because their company depends on innovations and they are building products and services for a diverse and global customer base.
Through our work at Feminuity, however, I find that while many companies are now working to build more diverse workforces, they are focusing almost exclusively on recruiting. Moreover, these companies are not spending equal time building a company culture where people from all backgrounds can feel like they belong. When their new and incredible talents don’t feel included and supported at the company, they’re likely to leave. If they leave, they tell their friends and colleagues and over time, the tarnished reputations of these companies makes it challenging to hire employees with diverse backgrounds.
2. Categorizing diversity under the HR function
Another common oversight of some Canadian companies is delegating the responsibility of diversity and inclusion under the ambit of human resources exclusively. While the roles of HR and CDO are collaborative, they serve distinct functions. HR focuses on the internal aspects of employees within a company, while a CDO serves a cross-functional role, focused on organizational strategy.
Working with HR managers and executives, CDOs can assist to build a more far-reaching and pervasive organizational vision that creates a company that utilizes diversity to improve performance, culture, and the bottom line.
3. Allocating diversity to an existing employee’s portfolio
Another common oversight of some Canadian tech companies is allocating the duties of a CDO to an existing employee—often those who champion diversity. Unless the employee receives the skills and training required for this role, they are likely to focus on the diversity areas with which they are most familiar or comfortable. For instance, if the employee’s bias is to advance women’s roles in the workplace, they may do this extremely well, but will likely fail to address other diversity-related concerns. What about your company’s product innovation, or global competitiveness, or multicultural marketing and communications?
4. Turning diversity into a one-time thing
Lastly, while some Canadian companies conduct one-off training, and this is often better than doing nothing, evidence suggests that one-off diversity initiatives are likely to be ineffective and can sometimes have negative consequences. As a full-time team member, the role of a CDO is to bring a consistent diversity lens to a company’s operations.
To the Canadian leaders – the people and organizations that say they deeply value diversity and inclusion efforts, yet do not signal their value for people with the skills and expertise to who do this work – it’s time to make a change. This work is laborious and technical; it requires specific skill-sets and experience to do it well. Would you hire a full stack developer to renovate your house, or would you hire a trained professional with appropriate expertise and training in that field?
Diversity can only be our strength if we design for it deliberately and intentionally. What are you doing at your organization?
Dr. Sarah Saska, Co-Founder and CEO, Feminuity
As Co-Founder and CEO of Feminuity, Dr. Sarah Saska and her team work with innovative companies around the globe to support them to embed diversity and inclusion strategies into the core of their business.
She is a member of the Advisory Council for the School of Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities at Western University, Pique Fund II, The MATCH International Women’s Fund and sits on the Board of Directors for Wen-Do Women’s Self Defence. Sarah has twice been named amongst the Women’s Executive Network’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.
Sarah has been featured by TEDx talk, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, The Financial Post, Bloomberg Law, and The New York Times.