Supporting the Success of Chief Diversity Officers on College Campuses

By Oliver B. Tomlin, III

Oliver Tomlin

Higher education institutions have come to realize just how critical a chief diversity officer is to getting things done regarding diversity and inclusion. One unfortunate result of this trend, however, is that the roles of most chief diversity officers have ballooned. At one end of the spectrum, the CDO is responsible for increasing the numbers of underrepresented individuals within the institution and ensuring a pipeline for the future. At the other end is the charge to change and shape the institution’s culture, climate and reputation. The plates of most CDOs are full.

I recently shared advice to campus leadership on how to create an environment in which a CDO can thrive in Role of Chief Diversity Officers Expanding on College Campuses for Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.

Campus administrators, beginning with the president, can support the ultimate success of a current or new CDO by doing the following.

  1. Make the organization’s priorities clear.
  2. Align the CDO’s responsibilities with the diversity and inclusion strategic plan.
  3. Clarify the reporting structure for the CDO.
  4. Pledge support and give diversity and inclusion initiatives the institution’s full commitment.
  5. Garner the resources needed to meet objectives.
  6. Don’t look for a messiah to singlehandedly fix problems and champion diversity.

This final point is, in my mind, the most critical. Too often the recruitment of a Chief Diversity Officer is seen as an opportunity for others to relinquish duties, whereas the CDO needs many people to step up to further diversity and inclusion initiatives.

In light of the importance of this issue, Witt/Kieffer is currently conducting a survey of CDOs about their “critical first year” in the position, and to provide suggestions for how employers in higher ed (as well as in academic medicine and healthcare) can create a foundation for CDO success. We look forward to sharing results of the survey early in 2017.

Oliver B. Tomlin III is a senior partner in the education and health care practices of the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. He supports the recruitment of chief diversity officers as well as many other senior-level executive roles.

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