You Were Just Put in Charge of Workplace Diversity. Now What?
First things first: Don’t accept this work without a significant raise.
The year 2020 just had to usher in more trauma after the global pandemic. The seemingly endless cycle of violence against Black people in America has teed up new and ongoing conversations about race, privilege, and the delusion of white supremacy. This is being referred to by some as the #MeToo moment for racism in America — including corporate America.
Organizations are scrambling to slide their Black Lives Matter statements in under the statute of limitations for racial blamelessness. In my more than 20-year career in diversity, I have never seen justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) commitments made this fast. A process that could formerly take months or years for leadership to acknowledge or act on JEDI initiatives has shrunk down to just hours for some of these decisions. It’s mind-boggling.
And this means that there is now a cohort of mostly POC employees assigned to the newly designated role of chief diversity officer or some other diversity title at their companies. Congrats to all the new JEDI leaders and champions. This is a big first step, and it’s an even bigger step if your primary qualification for the role is the color of your skin. That doesn’t mean you can’t affect real and lasting change — it just means you are going to need a lot of support. Here are some initial steps to take to help you with your new role.
1. Negotiate the shortest upward reporting structure possible (along with extra pay)
The more people there are between you and the CEO, the harder your job will be. Any responsible leader who genuinely means to create meaningful inclusion will want their eyes on this aspect of the business. Expect collaboration, not control. State these things from the onset. It’s better to establish your expectations than to waste time and energy. Directly reporting to the CEO won’t always be possible, but if you have any say in the reporting structure you will want to avoid intermediaries. Reporting directly to a CEO, founder, or executive director means that you only have to convince one person on any given concern.