What Background Is Best for Chief Diversity Officers?

December 5, 2011 11:05 am


Should a chief diversity officer come from a traditional HR background or is the increasing trend of using line officers with real P&L experience paying off? Should these be permanent or revolving positions? What about other backgrounds—legal, foundation, etc.? Do they help or hinder diversity success?

A panel at our Nov. 10 event, moderated by DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, explored the backgrounds and benefits of five chief diversity officers and was preceded by a talk from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Chief Diversity Officer Maria Castañón Moats. PricewaterhouseCoopers is No. 3 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

“It’s a unique opportunity to get in front of our 2,400 partners,” said Moats of her new position, “to talk about diversity as a critical business issue, respective to the line of service, geography and industry you are in.”

Moats spoke of how the professional-services firm works to marry the role of CDO with that of revenue generator. Moats recently took over for Niloufar Molavi. The position at PwC is a rotational role, where the firm’s line partners serve for two to three years at a time.

“I am not an expert,” she said, admitting that the rotational model only works because “I have a terrific team supporting me.” She acknowledged that her team’s knowledge of diversity and its insight into the continuity of business relationships is critical to her success.

Putting Diversity in P&L Terms

“Diversity is hard to measure, but having a hard-ended discussion with our leadership is something I have done and am not afraid to do,” said Shaun Hawkins, vice president, Lilly New Ventures and former chief diversity officer at Eli Lilly and Company (No. 39). Hawkins has an investment background and attributes those P&L roots to his success as chief diversity officer. “We really rely on employee engagement, so diversity and inclusion have to be there. We have to be able to translate what we are doing here to some sort of business in an appropriate way.”

Hawkins discussed these issues along with three other diversity leaders—Linda Jimenez, retired chief diversity officer and staff vice president, diversity and inclusion, WellPoint (No. 36), who is an attorney; Steve Bucherati, chief diversity officer at The Coca-Cola Company (No. 12), who was previously with the Coca-Cola Foundation; and Andrea Snorton, former manager of diversity and inclusion at Southern Company (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies and Top Company for Diversity-Management Progress), who has an HR background.

Traditionally, chief diversity officers have had backgrounds in human resources, but that has been changing in recent years as businesses seek to integrate diversity goals with business operations. For Hawkins, a background with P&L enabled him to speak the same language as executives throughout the company.

“Integration is key. Since I have more of a private-equity background, I have a team with HR and diversity experience but can’t stop there,” he said, noting that talent management is one of the most important areas for CDO involvement. “Recruiting, staffing and succession-management processes. I sit and look at all of those strings … We are an innovation-based company and we really rely on employee engagement, so diversity and inclusion has to be there. We have to be able to translate what we are doing here to some sort of business in an appropriate way.”

Making Friends With Legal

Jimenez says that her background as a lawyer has helped her in finding solutions and ultimately becoming a mediator for employees’ and managers’ qualms with diversity issues and goals. “It’s one of the things we like to do as a CDO. It’s about having everyone walk away with a win-win situation,” she said.

A law background also allows Jimenez to play devil’s advocate and anticipate potential roadblocks to progress. She first goes to WellPoint’s legal department to see what and where the pushback will be. “Then I can go to the others and say ‘Here are the issues I think will come up and how we can combat that to get compliance,’” she said.

Understanding the Community

Chief diversity officers with experience in corporate community outreach know the value of these good relationships within and outside the company. Bucherati used to run the Coca-Cola Foundation, which enabled him to see the value in “connecting the dots” and working as a team, especially since CDOs don’t manage every aspect of the business.

“I was in the street almost every day working with different philanthropic organizations,” he recalled. “Doing things out in the community gives a greater sense of unity within an organization. You can’t have a strategy about the workplace that is diametrically opposed to what you do in the community.” There has to be a joint strategy. For example, The Coca-Cola Company gave $26 million to diversity-related organizations in 2010.

“These were purposeful decisions that we integrated into what we were trying to do in the marketplace and workplace with our suppliers,” he said, noting how connecting the dots is amazingly easy once you know what to look for.

Southern Company also makes conscious outreach decisions to bolster its diversity efforts. Snorton said she has to determine what each particular sponsorship can do to help attract and retain talent, especially for women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians.

Linking Back to HR

This is not to discredit those in traditional HR careers, as Andrea Snorton said that her “background in HR has definitely been an asset in terms of what our succession slates look like, determining which organizations we’re going to recruit from.” Knowledge of HR gave her the understanding of what the challenges were, allowing her to leverage her relationships and credibility within the organization.

All the panelists agreed that a chief diversity officer’s success, regardless of background, is not possible without a supportive team of professionals to help navigate the organization and enable learning among diverse global staffs. What seems to be key is that they realize that diversity is a collaborative effort, requiring the commitment of multiple departments and leaders to maintain open communication and a drive for proactive growth.

Referenced Articles:
PwC Chairman Bob Moritz Makes Diversity Personal
Why Do P&L Guys Head Diversity at Deloitte, Lilly?
Retention Best Practices
Employee-Resource Groups & Global Values