Meeting in a Box: Diversity-Department Structures

May 29, 2013 5:55 pm

Meeting in a Box: Diversity-Department StructuresThis month, we are giving you practical information on how to structure your diversity department, featuring data from the DiversityInc Top 50 companies for diversity and best practices from companies of varying sizes, industries and organizational structures.

We have identified three key areas that impact the success of diversity departments: staffing and assignments; relationships with senior executives/budgets; and diversity councils. We also recommend you review our web seminar on Diversity-Department Structures (, featuring General Motors and Health Care Service Corporation.

[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and DiversityInc Best Practices subscribers.]

1. Staffing and Assignments

Whether you are just starting a diversity department or leading a department that has been established for some time, the question of how many FTEs and what jobs they have can be complex.

DiversityInc Top 50 research reveals that most diversity departments at companies that are advanced in this subject have between seven and 14 full-time employees dedicated to diversity management. However, this amount varies a great deal depending on whether the organization relies heavily on other departments (HR, Communications, Legal, Marketing) for support or is more “do-it-yourself.” It also varies by industry, with companies in professional services, consumer-packaged goods and retail tending to have larger diversity departments.

Whatever the staffing you have now (or are advocating for), you should think carefully about the roles of D&I staffers. The most successful strategies usually include a full-time staffer as a liaison to resource groups; another working on mentoring (with HR) to ensure successful cross-cultural pairings and cultural-competence training; and at least one other person handling communications. Many organizations have separate people within D&I as liaisons to executive diversity councils, recruitment and external partnerships. Some organizations merge EEO functions with D&I and some keep them separate, but usually a full-time person is allocated for that function.

Almost all of the companies (98 percent) in the DiversityInc Top 50 have the supplier-diversity staff reporting directly to procurement, since their job is to increase sourcing. Usually, the D&I department has communications responsibilities, and sometimes dotted-line reporting, but does not directly oversee supplier diversity.

Guided Questions for Staff

How can you better leverage other departments in the company to further D&I work?
Are your communications, HR and recruitment people on board with your D&I goals? If not, how can you better help them make the connection between supporting you and furthering business goals?

Are you documenting the results of your D&I staff?
Are you using valid metrics to assess the impact of your staff, measuring such factors as resource-group and mentoring participation, as well as recruitment, engagement, retention and promotions of people from underrepresented groups?

Are you communicating your successes?
Do you let others in the company know how valuable your efforts are to recruitment, talent development, procurement, and community and marketplace relationships? Are you using social media and your intranet to publicize these efforts?

2. Relationships With Senior Executives/Budgets

How much budget you get for your D&I efforts depends directly on how much your senior executives, including the CEO (, believe that D&I will impact business results. Therefore, you must make the business case for diversity on both a basic level (see this month’s MIB for all employees) and in a more sophisticated way, demonstrating how having diverse leadership and staff, as well as resource groups and supplier diversity, affects your marketplace results.

First and foremost, how involved is your CEO (and top level of leaders) with your D&I efforts? That often depends on the reporting structure. Twenty-eight percent of DiversityInc Top 50 chief diversity officers report directly to the CEO, double the percentage from five years ago. We also see an increase in the head of diversity having dotted-line responsibility to the CEO.

What’s most important is access—the ability to connect with senior leadership to continuously stress the importance of D&I. That means presenting to the top level and the board of directors on a regular schedule. It means being able to get the CEO’s attention on short notice. It means being consulted if there is a crisis or a PR fiasco related to diversity. And most importantly, it means having year-to-year metrics ( to demonstrate the correlation between D&I initiatives and results, which can be factored in terms of human-capital progress, supplier-diversity progress and marketplace gains.

Heads of diversity are usually called chief diversity officers but can have a variety of other titles (diversity director, vice president of diversity, etc.). What’s important is that the person be as senior and as high up in the hierarchy as possible. If D&I at your company is led by a very junior person who never speaks to senior leadership, you aren’t going to get resources or results.

Guided Questions for Staff

How often does your head of diversity meet with the CEO and/or senior leaders?
Discuss the best ways to improve access and influence within your specific corporate culture. If your CDO reports in to HR, are there opportunities to weigh in on the revenue side of the business? If not, how could that occur?

Who sets your budget?
If your D&I budget comes strictly from HR, are there other departments that could be contributing if you could document results? Have you benchmarked against organizations of similar sizes and workforce compositions to see what a realistic budget is for you?

How well does your senior leadership, especially the CEO, communicate the commitment to D&I?
Is it part of regular business communications? Is there a quote featured prominently on the website ( Is language business-related and specific?

3. Diversity Councils

There are several different types and levels of diversity councils, but the most effective ones are those comprised of senior executives, led by the CEO, that set specific metrics and goals for the organization and monitor progress on a quarterly basis. Compensation of the executives on the council is usually tied to the D&I organizational goals, as well as to personal goals.

For more on D&I councils, please see our web seminar on this topic (, featuring Kellogg Company and Comcast.

In many larger companies, such as AT&T, Ernst & Young and Sodexo (, business-unit and lower-level councils report in to the executive council. The executive council generally sets the focus of initiatives for the year and the lower-level councils, helped by the diversity department, implement them with measurable results. Many councils at all levels use dashboards and scorecards to assess their quarterly and year-to-year results.

Some companies have external diversity councils, comprised of leaders from government, nonprofits, education and the private sector, to advise them. Most of these are purely advisory boards, but in some cases, they also set goals that are measured.

For companies without a diversity council (or with a weak one), we offer this guide on how to get started:

Guided Questions for Staff

How much input do your head of diversity and your staff have with the executive diversity council?
Do you set the agenda, present results and receive frank feedback on what’s working or not? Are you able to bring in third-party organizations, such as DiversityInc and nonprofit partner agencies, to discuss how other organizations are doing?

Does the council’s dashboard use effective metrics that can show your progress?
Are they the same metrics used at other successful organizations in corporate America? How can you make sure they make sense for your organization?

Do your resource-group members or middle managers have rotational spots on the council?
It’s important to also get the view from the “middle” so that council members understand what others are thinking and what challenges may exist.

[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and DiversityInc Best Practices subscribers.]