Vice Chairman and Co-Leader, Board & CEO Services and Global Leader, Government Affairs
Why the CEO is the Other Chief Diversity Officer
Corporations have been talking about diversity and the need to create diverse leadership teams for some time, yet the slow pace of change indicates that something is missing.
There are only five black CEOs currently heading the largest companies (Fortune 500) – and only 15 total ever to have held those positions.
Why do boards need to pay attention to this? Because a diverse leadership team is no longer optional, but rather mission-critical to achieve peak business performance in an increasingly complex, rapidly shifting global business environment. The all-encompassing nature of this change means that boards and CEOs must reconsider the old formulas for leadership development and focus on developing a new generation of leaders who possess the skills that link with strategic priorities. This is clearly the board’s business.
If you think you’ve already got the diversity front covered because you have a Chief Diversity Officer, maybe it’s time to shift your mindset: Start thinking of the CEO as your other Chief Diversity Officer, because any initiative that rises to the level of the strategy must be championed by the CEO and the board.
A recently published white paper based on proprietary research by the Executive Leadership Council (ELC), the preeminent member organization for the development of global black leaders, captures both the urgency of developing a culture that cultivates diverse leaders at every level and some practical guidance on how that can be achieved.
Following are 5 specific actions ELC suggests CEOs and boards take to ramp up enterprise leadership diversity.
Ron Parker, ELC’s CEO, has strong views—rooted in the experience of ELC’s membership and research—on what it really takes to achieve meaningful leadership diversity, and the CEO is central to success: “Diversity and inclusion, like any fundamental organizational change, start at the top. The voice of the CEOs and their teams, both through direct and indirect messages and how they model diversity, is paramount.”
We recommend asking the following questions, proposed by ELC, to determine whether you are on track to building a diverse leadership team:
The way the board and CEO answer these questions will illuminate what you are “saying” to your organization about where leadership diversity ranks as a priority. So carefully check those explicit and implicit signals; the organization is smart enough to distinguish between lip service and a genuine commitment. Assuming the latter, there is a great deal the CEO can do to champion diversity to develop the workforce and leadership required to compete in a vastly different, continually morphing global business environment.