An article in The National Association of Scholars asks a question that, whether you’ll admit it in a public space or not, has likely occurred to you if you’ve given the topic enough thought: ‘What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Actually Do?’
For the non-politically correct, the answer is fairly straightforward: the Chief Diversity Officer is the ultimate embodiment of a school or organization stating ‘please, don’t sue us for racial discrimination’. For the more progressive minded, the answer is probably closer to ‘well, they ensure that women and people of color are afforded equal employment opportunity’. With practically no corner of society – not the military, the Pentagon, Major League Baseball, or even fictional convents – immune to implied charges of discrimination based on arbitrary quotas, the rise in diversity officers has been precipitous.
‘Over the past 18 months, the Times reports, 90 American colleges and universities have hired “chief diversity officers.”… They are bulking up an already thriving industry. In March 2016, the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education held its 10th annual conference in San Francisco. Attendance set a new record: 370. The association publishes a journal. It bestows awards of excellence.’ (The Atlantic, 2016)
But, even with this massive rise in the hiring of minorities, ostensibly to promote the employment of other minorities, evidence has emerged suggesting that the hiring of a chief diversity officer may not actually lead to more diversity, at least in an academic setting.
‘"We are unable to find significant statistical evidence that preexisting growth in diversity for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups is affected by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer," write the study's authors, a team of researchers associated with Baylor University’ (Reason)
The study examined data from 2001 to 2016, when employment of chief diversity officers was on the rise. It found that more chief diversity officers did not correlate with diversity-related faculty hiring.
Ironically, a lesser-spoken of issue is hopeful diversity officers facing the proverbial glass ceiling – because they are white. Because, it is implied, white chief diversity officers couldn’t possibly understand the plight of the minority job applicant, and therefore couldn’t assist them in attaining employment. Because the presumed role of the chief diversity officer in any given organization is to seek out and recruit top minority candidates, one would think that this role could be fulfilled by anybody willing to take on such a task.
This all begs a couple questions.
A) If not working to facilitate the hiring of minorities and increasing rates of diversity, just what are these chief diversity officers doing?
B) If these chief diversity officers aren’t doing the jobs they purport to be, is it time we consider non-minorities as applicants, and begin measuring chief diversity officers based on results?
After all, the typical range of pay for a ‘top diversity executive’ falls between $146,153 and $222,338. The ‘Diversity Chief’ for the University of Michigan took home a salary of $385,000 in 2016. And for what? The findings of the Baylor study suggest that even the most ardent supporters of diversity officers would be at a loss.
But, to even consider a non-minority for the role of chief diversity officer would be beyond consideration. After all, we know that diversity officers are, in fact, largely a perception piece for institutions to be considered ‘tolerant’, not an actual means to creating a more effective workforce. Clear-minded, rational human beings understand that the vast majority of employers are seeking the best employee at a reasonable price point, period.
One’s skin color or genital makeup is rarely considered when it comes to hiring, at least initially. Companies that would take a white-first approach in lieu of a merit-based hiring system are bound to fail. So, understanding this, it’s clear that the hiring of a chief diversity officer is redundant, little more than a PR stunt that has become an societally-mandated standard.
Even those who believe that X amount of women in leadership positions is inherently good for a company eventually end up back at square one. If a woman or minority is fit for the position, they will be hired or promoted. If they are promoted to the position based merely on the fact of appearances for the sake of a company appearing ‘tolerant’, odds are that they won’t do well. And, just as a white male would be, they will be demoted and/or canned.
Which brings us back to the role of a chief diversity officer. Sure, they can attempt to hire people for the sake of what they look like, or what they don’t look like. But ultimately, companies are held accountable to their shareholders, employees, and families, and any weak link – regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or political preference – must eventually be removed if the chain is to maintain its integrity.
So, at least in the private sector, the net effect of a chief diversity officer in the long run can be reasonably expected to be little more than a single diversity hire, that hire being the chief diversity officer himself. And, with little performance barometers aside from being well-spoken, able to espouse the ‘diversity’ line, and serving as the representation of a company’s ‘tolerance’, that person is virtually un-firable.
But what makes the case of the Baylor study all the more intriguing is the fact that it occurred not in the private sector, where profit is king, but in the private sector. In academia, perceptions of ‘tolerance’ and ‘progressiveness’ are embraced as a true ideal. And, with entire African Studies and Women’s Studies departments plus often completely subjective performance indicators, one would think that chief diversity officers would have the leeway to hire more minorities, as they claim to be so eager to do.
And perhaps they do have that leeway. But the numbers tell us, even so, that they aren’t hiring more minorities, and thus aren’t tipping the scales of faculty diversity.
Which brings up a stunning consideration: could chief diversity officers, just like so many of us, actually be mere mortals looking out for themselves first and foremost?
Could they be chief me-versity officers?
The numbers are in, and the answer is clear: probably so.