Diversity Officers Must Have These Four Qualities

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Google, known for having its finger on the pulse of the future, has an employee base that is only 2% black and 3% Hispanic. Apple, also known for building our future, has an employee base that is 70% male. These indisputable stats show that ethnic, racial and gender imbalances are prominent in the U.S., despite best intentions.


Yet 92% of the net workforce growth over the next two decades will come from immigrants and their children. And according to census data, by 2050 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the United States. So can organizations really survive without employing large swaths of the population? Future-focused leaders know the answer is no. They also know the well-documented value of having a diverse workforce.

In my last post, we discussed what these future-focused leaders already know—that attracting and retaining diverse talent is a strategic priority. Many are tackling this priority by adding a diversity officer to their leadership teams. This type of position is relatively new, and leaves some organizations confused. What does a person in this role actually do? What kind of candidate is the best fit? Where does this role fit in the organizational structure?

Today I will answer those questions to help organizations see diversity officers as a real and necessary asset.

What Does a Diversity Officer Actually Do?

To better understand the role, here is eBay’s job description for a “Director, Diversity & Inclusion Programs,” a brand new position at the company.

Director, Diversity & Inclusion Programs in San Jose, California

This role will assist in coordinating efforts to help members of eBay’s globally diverse workforce feel connected to eBay and will continue to make progress on the goal of creating an even more welcoming, and inclusive community. eBay seeks candidates whose education, perspectives, and experience enable them to provide vision, leadership and counsel on matters of diversity and inclusion, collaborate across functions to create a welcoming and respectful environment that embraces diversity as a dimension of excellence, and promotes a culture of openness and inclusion as we build the new eBay. The ideal candidate will have experience in the field; strong visibility and network; demonstrated experience in advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs within a complex organization; possess administrative and programmatic experience including strategic planning and working within a budget; have a record of success in facilitating effective partnerships with and between constituencies; be experienced in large-scale change projects; and show proven success in—or aptitude for— external relations, communications and development.

Job Requirements:


  • Help to establish diversity and inclusion excellence as core values throughout all aspects of the population, business practices and in support of eBay’s commitment to equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.
  • This individual will assist in diversity-oriented programs and initiatives, including the implementation of a strategic plan for diversity, inclusion and giving programs.
  • Maintain strong collaborative working relationships among cross functional teams.
  • Provide planning and implementation of a company-wide platform to ensure diversity, equity and respect for all employees.
  • Aid in the ongoing progress of Diversity/Inclusion Working Groups, Communities of Interest and Inclusion, committees and councils that enhance the understanding and bridge differences up, down, and across the Company.
  • Promote an inclusive work environment by supporting employee-initiated initiatives, resource development, and provide advocacy for affinity groups that support initiatives promoting broader learning that is diverse and inclusive.
  • Promote a positive image and positive external relations for the Company by communicating and interacting with city, state, and other officials in matters related to eBay’s diversity efforts.
  • Collaborate with senior leaders (CHRO, President, Exec Leadership Team) to integrate diversity and equity practices into institutional employment and workplace practices including business practices and programs in support of eBay’s commitment to equal opportunity and affirmative action. Ensure compliance with applicable federal/state laws, policies, and procedures (e.g. Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, etc.).
  • Help drive diverse talent identification and retention strategies for our global employee population.
  • Assist with preparing a variety of reports and correspondence, including but not limited to employment, equity and diversity/inclusion activities required by state and federal agencies.


Proven ability to:

  • Articulate thought leadership and a clear point of view
  • Navigate ambiguous situations successfully
  • Manage and execute complex projects, milestones, deliverables
  • Assist in developing executive presentations
  • Facilitate dialogue across multiple business units, functions, geographies
  • An excellent command of contemporary diversity, equity, inclusion and multiculturalism concepts and issues
  • The ability to research, identify and implement best practices of diversity and inclusion
  • The ability to work effectively and collaboratively across a complex organization
  • Documentable evidence of negotiation skills and work with a wide range of constituencies
  • Bachelor’s degree required; Graduate degree is highly desirable, with qualifying experience
  • Candidates will possess at least 7-9 years of progressive responsibility in administration, preferably in a fast-paced, high-tech environment

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Looking at this job description, you see words like connected, welcoming, vision, leadership, counsel, collaborate, development, core values, giving, relationships, collaborative, bridge differences, and positive image. All of these words hint toward a candidate with high emotional intelligence and empathy skills.

Yet you also find words like strategic, complex, programmatic, administrative, budgets, effective partnerships, reports, correspondence, talent identification, institutional employment practices, business practices, retention strategies and councils. These words suggest a high level of business acumen and administration experience.

It’s a tall order. Can you imagine the ideal person for this role? I propose that successful diversity officers have the following four qualities.

Successful Diversity Officers Have the Following Four Qualities

  1. High Emotional Intelligence

This role requires emotional intelligence and empathy. Working with people who are unable, and often unwilling, to see their own biases takes a skilled and sensitive communicator. And communicating with multicultural groups, some feeling discriminated against, requires excellent listening skills, a core strength of a person with a high EQ.

  1. Entrepreneurial Mindset

Despite the EEOC and affirmative action plans, the U.S. still hasn’t balanced racial, ethnic, or gender inequality. A diversity leader must think outside the box, because the box is what is holding these biased structures in place. With an entrepreneurial mindset, a person in this role will be able to approach problems creatively and search for innovative solutions.

  1. Champion of Purpose-Driven Strategy and Culture

A more diverse workforce can be a boon to the bottom line. Sodexo reports that for every one dollar they spend on mentorship programs, they get two dollars back. But measuring success simply on profit and loss is too limiting for diversity officers. They must also prioritize the personal development of employees, and help create a sense of purpose in order to align the culture in its diversity and inclusion efforts.

  1. Lifelong Learner

The diversity officer position is new to the business world. That means the role is still developing and evolving. There is no set path; the officer will need to be constantly learning in order to face such systemic and long-held issues. There are quickly evolving technologies, like big data, that can help organizations facing a lack of diversity. A strong diversity officer will be aware of the available tools and resources, and also learn the new tools and resources just around the bend.

In fact, all future leaders need these four qualities to thrive. The stale, pale and male leadership contingency is not ideal for the (very different) future of work.

Where Does a Diversity Officer Fit in the Organizational Structure?

Now you’ve seen an example of a diversity officer job description and a list of qualities a successful candidate must have. So where does a diversity officer fit in the organizational structure? This really depends on your current organization chart. Most diversity officers are located within the human resources (HR) department, which may or may not be the ideal place. Why? Because HR can be seen as more tactical than strategic, and may not have a seat at the C-suite table. That is not to say that a diversity officer shouldn’t be part of the HR team. Some organizations have robust, strategic HR teams that are highly involved with the C-suite.

Holding Top Leadership Accountable for Bias is Not Always Easy

However, think about the fact that the diversity officer has to sit down with top leadership and hold them accountable for any (likely, unconscious) biases they may be perpetuating in the company culture or systems. That’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when numbers are tanking. The reality is, a discrimination lawsuit won’t help the numbers either. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) secures about $404 million from employers each year. Ten percent of these cases result in $1 million settlements. If you’re talking about numbers, diversity initiatives are definitely a C-suite concern. So wherever you place your diversity office, make sure she or he is empowered enough to have real influence in the organization.

How important do you think the educational background is for a diversity officer candidate? What educational background would you expect in a candidate? I’d love to hear your opinion. Leave a comment below, send me an email or find me on Twitter.






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