What Makes a Great CDO? 5 Core Competencies for a Chief Diversity Officer
Updated: Apr 25
Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) are often tasked with being the lead voice in an organization for all DEI efforts. This challenging role is one that requires a depth of knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Often when folks consider what an individual needs to have success in these positions, they talk about knowledge. Knowing the laws, the requirements, the talent management approaches. While this knowledge is crucial, what is often missing from the conversation are those core skills that make a CDO not just good but great.
I’ve put together a list of five competencies that make a great CDO:
One of the biggest challenges as a CDO is garnering support from the other executives. DEI can be seen as something extra rather than a core business function. In order to have success in the position, CDOs must leverage their influence in order to show other executives that DEI is not adjacent to the mission, it is imperative to the mission. Also, CDOs and other DEI leaders often lack decision-making authority, so the ability to persuade others to buy into and execute DEI work is paramount.
2. Communication skills
In line with the influence skills mentioned above, the ability to communicate effectively is essential to success in the CDO position. Diversity leaders are tasked with speaking on behalf of the organization’s DEI’s efforts, both internally and externally. Great CDOs deliver the message clearly and confidently, as well as answer difficult questions and solicit meaningful feedback.
3. Problem solving
Within their efforts to effectively communicate about their organization’s DEI efforts, CDOs are often confronted with real and urgent issues from both within and outside their organization. Leveraging both their communication skills and effective problem-solving, CDOs are often tasked with presenting a solution to the complex DEI problems of our ever-changing world to the organizational leadership.
4. Strategic innovation
A core facet of diversity leadership is a long-term vision and strategy for where the organization is going. Using creativity and a lens for the future, effective diversity leadership involves setting a DEI mission and prioritizing that mission through shorter-term goals. For example, if the goal is to increase diversity in leadership throughout the organization, effective CDOs may use incentives or creative changes to the organization’s policies and practices in order to strive towards that goal.
Finally, effective CDOs must be able to adapt and change with the ever-changing nature of DEI leadership. Effective leadership involves being open to this changing landscape and growing with our evolving understanding of how to make workplaces inclusive and equitable for everyone.