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The Benefits Are On The Balance Sheet: Corporate America Must Stand By DEI And Chief Diversity Officers

Recently, Black Enterprise hosted its second annual Chief Diversity Officer Summit and Honors, which was presented in partnership with Fidelity Investments, Merck, and The Executive Leadership Council.

The summit serves as a platform for conversation about DEI’s status and future as it faces withering attacks on all fronts. Indeed, DEI needs its champions now more than ever.

It was just four years ago when the murder of George Floyd and the galvanizing global protests that followed seemed to inspire a racial reckoning focused on the systemic discrimination of African Americans, and corporate America was very much a part of it. Corporations across industries declared their renewed commitment to DEI goals with grand pledges of support for equity and fairness.

The landscape has shifted dramatically in recent months. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action in college admissions has opened the floodgates for legal challenges to DEI policies in the workplace. A federal appeals court’s recent ruling to end Fearless Fund’s grant program for Black women entrepreneurs could potentially set a chilling precedent that undermines measured and effective efforts to level the economic playing field.

And in March, another federal ruling similarly gutted the Minority Business Development Agency, a potentially devastating blow to minority businesses that have long struggled to overcome systemic barriers to advancement.

As political pressure on companies to abandon DEI has intensified, the chief diversity officer role in the corporate hierarchy is increasingly marginalized or eliminated. And those lofty statements of commitment to DEI that beamed so proudly from company websites in the wake of the Floyd protests have quietly vanished.

Is this how DEI ends? Are we about to lose the chief diversity officer permanently? Or will corporate America come to its senses and acknowledge the value of equity and inclusion in its growth and profitability?

To answer that question, it’s important to remember that the business case for DEI has been made and reaffirmed in study after study, contrary to the hyperbole of its critics.

Chief diversity officers have redefined how companies recruit and develop talent. They have elevated the profile of HBCUs as a rich, viable, and long-underutilized recruitment resource and demonstrated the importance of mentorship in opening the leadership pipeline beyond the traditional white male boy’s club. Most significantly, the rise of the CDO helped countless corporations establish profitable relationships with diverse suppliers, identifying growth opportunities that allow companies to capitalize on emerging trends. This collaboration leads to new and wider access to unexplored markets and untapped talent.

On another front, the CDO role provides governance and practices that underscore the necessity of DEI in the workplace. Studies show that 41% of Black employees say they have experienced discrimination at work, from the hiring process to being passed over for promotions to disproportionate compensation. For CEOs, these numbers represent a genuine threat to a company’s health and stability, leaving the firm open to damaging and expensive lawsuits. The CDO’s role ensures compliance and mitigates risk.

Bottom line: CDOs make companies more agile and responsive to marketplace trends and, yes, better places to work.

Corporate America cannot—must not—sacrifice progress to short-sighted political pressures. It’s simply a bad business strategy.

Rather than running from controversy, our leading corporations should proudly own DEI’s successes within their organizations and the contributions of their CDOs.

Moving forward, corporate leaders must recommit to DEI and the CDO role substantively, not in name only. If not properly championed and supported by leadership from the top down, DEI will continue to prove vulnerable to the kind of coordinated, negative attacks we’re witnessing.

Black senior executives and corporate directors must use their positions to be proactive and ferocious voices in protecting and advancing CDOs, DEI policies and practices, and the elevation of current and future generations of Black professionals. 

BE Founder and Publisher Earl G. Graves, Sr. continuously asserted that we can ill afford high-ranking Black executives willing to accept the role of “window dressing” for their respective companies but need Black men and women of position and influence to “stand in harm’s way” to ensure that all Black professionals gain opportunities across the board in corporate America.

Black C-suite executives must stand firm and uphold DEI, challenging corporate leadership to be accountable to their diversity statements and create a more equitable organization where all employees can thrive.

When C-suite executives champion the CDO role, they encourage other leaders to do the same, fostering a culture of inclusion and respect. The benefits are on the balance sheet.

Source: Black Enterprise

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