Experts Warn of Burnout Within Corporate Diversity Workforce, One Year Into New Social Justice Era

Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others — and the increasing importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement — the push for increased diversity and inclusion in corporate America has grown like never before. But now, one year into this new era of social justice, some experts fear there may be a potential loss of steam for many corporate diversity officers and the initiatives they’ve put in place.

Alicia Diaz of The Grio has warned that “industry experts fear the momentum could run out because of the ongoing cost and effort of long-term commitment, lack of support from top company officials — or burnout among diversity officers.”

“Organizations have been able to get away with having a really big vision and not really living up to it,” Tina Shah Paikeday, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion advisory services at Russell Reynolds told Diaz in an interview. “I think that now employees are demanding action that goes along with the words.”

According to Diaz, “many Americans believe that diversity statements from companies are performative and don’t come from genuine concern.” According to an August 2020 report by Pew, 69% of Americans believe public pressure is the primary motive for companies to make statements about race.

To counter this perception, many companies have promised massive new financing of diversity programs and have also stepped up hiring efforts for corporate diversity professionals. The move was so pronounced that the hiring of people to fill chief diversity officer roles increased faster than any other C-suite position in 2020, with demand skyrocketing by 84% compared to other high-level hires, according to data from LinkedIn Economic Graph Research.

“Diversity and inclusion job openings were 54% higher in December 2020 compared with pre-coronavirus levels, according to data from Glassdoor,” Diaz reported. 

To maintain this spike, sustained corporate commitment and financing are essential. But not all companies have been able to keep up with the pledges and promises they’ve made — and that slippage is beginning to impact some diversity officers and programs.

“The best talent typically wants to go to the organizations where there’s the most investment, where there’s the most pull-through, where there’s a board and a CEO who are advocates and getting out ahead of the agenda,” Emilie Petrone, managing partner at executive search firm Korn Ferry, told Diaz.

Julie Coffman, CDO of the management consulting firm Bain & Company and leader of its diversity consulting practice, told Diaz “mismatched expectations between the CDO and other executives” can lead to turnover.

“The challenge is when you have really elaborate, big, hairy, audacious goals, but yet no funding to try and fill the gaps that you know are needed,” Coffman said.

Paikeday of Russell Reynolds agrees, pointing out the high turnover among diversity officers was such a growing problem that research shows the average tenure for a CDO is less than two years.

According to Diaz, making diversity programs continue to enact sustainable change and keeping diversity officers engaged and successful requires “company leaders [to] align their expectations, allocate sufficient resources and track progress.”

Without it, she warned, the progress of the last year and the advances that have been made could fade — if we’re not careful, it might ultimately end up being for naught.


Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.




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