The Case Against Chief Diversity, Quality, Excellence Officers or Centers

All companies appear to be grappling with their approach to diversity and inclusion in the organization. Many have appointed Chief Diversity Officers. However,  when you appoint a Chief Anything Officer, you decline responsibility for that thing yourself. I've seen this in Quality, Excellence, you name it.

When you name a Chief <something> Officer, you no longer have to do that thing yourself.

Back in the 80s, when I was a software developer, a middle manager wrote an email to the entire company. I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like this:

“We have a surplus of white young men in their 20s. We have few technical women, and no black people at all. What is wrong with us? I'm committing to hiring black people in my group. Who's with me?”

Not enough managers were “with” him. I read his words and realized I was part of the problem then.

I didn't have the power as a manager then, but that's when I expanded how I connected with colleagues.

I didn't have the chance to hire until several years later, but I found recruiters who “discovered” women and people of color.

I was terrific at hiring women and “unusual” men for the organizations in which I hired.

Was I great at the people of color part? No. Of course not. I was practicing. I had to expand my sources to find people.

I practiced. I made it part of my weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals.

If you don't practice every day, you can't improve. That's why “offices” remove the responsibility from the rest of us.

Offices Remove Responsibility

Let me start with Centers of Excellence and Quality Offices because I've seen more of them than I care to count.

These centers and offices start with great ideals. “We'll create centers of excellence and people will learn! (insert silent phrase here).” That silent phrase is “from us.”

The Center of Excellence or the Quality Office becomes the gatekeeper. The center and office judges—before the people doing the work—what is Excellent or what is Quality.

And, unless you're actually doing the work, you can't know how to integrate excellence or quality into the work.

We change how we work, as we do the work. We change the process and we change the product. We can choose to use double-loop learning or not. However, we change what we do as we work.

How can the Office or Center know about these changes?

They can't.

That's why each of us must take responsibility, every day, week, month, quarter, and year for any change we want.

We Take Responsibility to Live Our Values

Do you value quality in your products? Or learning across the organization? If so, you've made it possible for the teams to integrate quality as they proceed. And, to learn as they work.

Do you value diversity in your teams, including management teams?

If so, you'll personally take responsibility to add women and people of color to those teams. At all levels.

Don't tell me you can't find technical women. I didn't have trouble once I expanded my sourcing from the old boy's traditional network. (You don't have to be a boy to have that kind of a network.)

Did I have trouble discovering people of color? Of course. My network didn't include enough people. So, I said to the one black engineer I knew, “Please help me find more black people. I apologize if I said this wrong, but my heart is in the right place.”

He nodded and showed me ways I could source more black engineers.

I was somewhat successful. I got fired from that job before I could succeed more. (Not for my recruiting efforts. I'm pretty sure it was because I was female. Their loss.)

I used bottom-up change. Chiefs and Offices are top-down change.

Consider the Name: Chief or Officer

A Chief or an Officer means enforcement of a top-down change. That's different than integrating a change from the top.

And, it means “I'm in charge. You will follow my direction.”

I have yet to see mandates like this work for culture change. You might get compliance. You won't get culture change. I see Offices or Centers as lip-service change.

Instead, let's go for real change.

Let's make it part of every hiring manager's responsibility to at least read resumes from people who didn't go to their school, or weren't at their most recent company or they don't know. (You might like to read How to Hire for Cultural Fit Without Becoming Insular and Mediocre or Hiring Geeks That Fit.)

Maybe a diversity officer can help people learn to read resumes instead of abdicating that responsibility to the tracking system. Maybe a diversity officer can help enable training to ask great interview questions instead of those stupid animal or desert island questions.

If we're serious about anything important, we need micro-changes to change our habits. (If you have not yet read Esther Derby's book, 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change: Micro Shifts, Macro Results, do so right now.)

Yes, culture change starts with managers, because managers create and refine the culture. Managers create an environment where everyone can do their best work.

Can an Office or Center help change the culture? Maybe. I'm cynical about that possibility.

All of us take responsibility for changing the culture. Starting with management.

2 Replies to “The Case Against Chief Diversity, Quality, Excellence Officers or Centers”

  1. Sometimes these positions are created for optics outside the company. One place I worked had a Chief Customer Officer because we thought our customers needed “one throat to choke,” as we rather ungracefully put it. Another place I worked wanted to do a Quality COE because the contracts we bid on generally looked upon that favorably.

    Not justifying these things. I’m not a fan, either.

    1. Great work challenges all of us. And, the idea of needing “one throat to choke” is all about blame. When managers choose to create a scapegoat, they bypass the hard work of remaking the culture. The culture they create and reinforce.

      Great work is hard. To me, that means we lean into it more, not less. And, let me for the record, say again, I am not perfect. I fail a lot. I do keep trying.

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