3 factors to ensure the chief diversity officer succeeds at your organization

Hospital lobby
Only 16% of chief diversity officers recently surveyed felt their organizations had a diversity and inclusion strategic plan in place when they took the job. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

The role of the chief diversity officer has become more prominent within healthcare organizations, but his or her success is often determined during the first year on the job.

Success within an organization depends on the conditions in place at the institution and the expectations that leaders have for what is to be accomplished, according to a new report.

“CDOs are the change agents for organizations seeking relevance in the increasingly diverse communities they serve,” said Jennifer Bauer, a consultant at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer’s healthcare practice, which conducted the report (PDF). “That said, our findings confirm that they need strong support in their roles to be truly effective.”

The report, which is based on the responses of 81 CDOs from the higher education, academic medicine and healthcare areas, focuses on their first year in office and the challenges they face such as perceptions to change, support for the mission, and expectations for the role. The firm found that:

  • 62% of respondents are the first to hold the position at their institutions.
  • Only 16% felt the institution had a diversity and inclusion strategic plan in place when they took the job.
  • 60% said their responsibilities changed significantly over the course of the first year.
  • But 68% felt conditions were right for them to succeed in their first year.

It’s vital that CDOs have the ability to influence and exact change. Fourteen percent said they did not have administration support to accomplish change. To ensure success in the early days of a CDO's tenure, the report suggests healthcare organizations:

  1. Ensure that the diversity and inclusion strategy has clear goals, objectives, metrics and accountability.
  2. Ask the new CDO to help the institution define excellence if the organization hasn’t articulated the values and behaviors that it associates with excellence.
  3. Clearly outline expectations for the role and identify the top three priorities for the first year in the role.

Ultimately, the report said, new CDOs will succeed if they have necessary resources, understand expectations and the entire organization is on board with diversity initiatives. It’s also vital that those who hold the position develop genuine relationships within the organization to help establish trust.

Hospital leaders can also show they are serious about inclusion by making sure their C-suites and the board are diverse, notes a recent article by Healthcare Dive. Only 9% of healthcare organizations are run by diverse executives, according to the publication. But staff want to see people who look like them serving in senior leadership roles.

“It sends a message that the organization walks the talk, so to speak,” Dianne Austin, workforce diversity program manager at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the publication. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Deborah Bowen, president of the American College of Healthcare Executives, suggests that hospitals can increase diversity in their leadership ranks by offering leadership development and training to staff. She also suggests organizations identify mentors who can support potential leaders.