Do Chief Diversity Officers Make a Difference?

By 2016 about 65% of all institutions of higher education had created an executive-level position to promote ethnic and racial diversity on campus. Baylor University professor Steven W. Bradley and three colleagues at other institutions wondered what effect such offices had on the hiring of minority professors. After assembling data on graduate degree-granting institutions with 4,000 students or more, they concluded that the presence of chief diversity officers (CDOs) made no difference at all.

“We are unable to find significant statistical evidence that the preexisting growth in diversity for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups is affected by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer for new tenure and non-tenure track hires, faculty hired with tenure, or for university administrator hires,” they conclude in a newly published paper, “The Impact of Chief Diversity Officers on Diverse Faculty Hiring.”

Indeed, as can be seen in the graphs above (though not emphasized by the authors), institutions with CDOs have consistently employed fewer minority faculty and staff, and the gap has gotten slightly wider since 2000.

The paper did not study the impact of CDOs on the recruitment of minority students and graduate students, nor the effect on creating a more hospitable environment for minorities. But in light of the findings, those would seem to be appropriate topics for follow-up study.

Bradley and his fellow researchers attributed at least some of the inability to budge the numbers for minority faculty to the small pipeline of minority Ph.D.-level candidates and to the fact that a large percentage of minority Ph.D.s take jobs outside of academe. Creating a diversity bureaucracy cannot change those intractable realities.

Bacon’s bottom line: I would like to know not only whether a given university has a CDO but how big the CDO staff is and how much money the university spends on CDO offices. To what extent have diversity expenditures driven up the cost of providing a college education? What impact has the growth of diversity bureaucracies had on tuition levels? And, by extension, what impact has funding the growth of diversity bureaucracies added to the cost attendance for minorities — especially poor minorities? Is it possible that CDOs are actually counter-productive to the interest of minority students? Heresy, I know, but it’s a question worth asking.

A fallback defense of CDOs is that at the very least CDOs they help create a more hospitable environment for minorities. But I’d like to see proof for that. One could argue that the continual harping on the theme of minorities as victims of insensitivity and discrimination has the opposite effect intended — minorities, especially African-Americans, wind up feeling more alienated, not more welcome, and they are more likely to self-segregate in self-defense. Which institution do African-American kids says is more “inclusive” — a place like Liberty University, a campus lacking a conventional CDO but where the student body is 11% black, or a place like University of Virginia, which makes a fetish of diversity and inclusion and where 9% of undergraduates are black?

I doubt many university boards are interested in the answers. Hiring chief diversity officers is more about virtue signaling than getting results.

(Hat tip: John Butcher)

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9 responses to “Do Chief Diversity Officers Make a Difference?

  1. Another study for the academic journal I’m planning to start with the title, “Well, Duh!”

  2. I’ve known lots of Chief Diversity Officers in the technology space. The two big tech companies where I worked appeared to take the matter seriously. However, under the covers, they didn’t really take it that seriously. They had CDOs and the CDOs were smart, likable people who practiced their brand of moral suasion on the company. I always felt sorry for them because they really didn’t have the power to change things. They were inevitably minorities themselves and their position actually hurt diversity since they would struggle to accomplish that which was fundamentally not supported by upper management. At least, not supported by the hard financial decisions required to succeed. In reality, if you want relatively rare minority technologists you have to pay a premium to get them on the payroll. Everybody wanted diversity but nobody wanted to pay for it.

    One of the big tech companies where I worked even tied a bit of everybody’s bonus to meeting diversity quotas in each department. For a while we did swimmingly well since all minority groups were aggregated and the total percentage was reviewed. Whatever we lacked in women, African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics was more than made up for by Asian Americans. Then, one sunny day, the powers that be decided Asian Americans were no longer an under-represented minority and our diversity numbers sank like a stone. Each category of under-represented minority was separately tracked. We did pretty well with women by bending every hiring and promotion decision to favor female candidates. At least there were enough talented women to maybe make the goal. We failed miserably with African-Americans and Hispanics and really didn’t make a conscious effort with regard to Native Americans. Let’s take African-Americans. Yes, there are exceptional African-Americans in technology. Lots of them. However, there are fewer candidates than the total of the hiring goals across technology companies. The African-American candidates know they can command a premium because they are African-American. It is what it is. They are smart people. I’d feel the same way if I were them. The solution is simple … pay more for that which is in short supply. But oh my God – say that to an HR person and get ready for a meltdown. “We can attract all the minority candidates we need to fulfill our goal with our standard pay scale” they would shriek. The CDOs had to publicly agree although, over beer in a bar, they would all say that a pay premium was the single thing that would make the biggest difference.

    In a way claiming that a company doesn’t have to pay a premium to attract strong minority candidates is almost racist in itself. It implies that the candidates are too dumb to understand their incremental value. They are not. They know that they move to the top of the list by filling a minority slot. Again – I’m talking about top notch technologists who happen to be African-American or Hispanic. Smart, well run companies want them as employees regardless of their race but understand that their race confers a need to pay a premium. Supply and demand, nothing more / nothing less. The answer? Pay the premium. Then … build a long term recruiting and development program for minority employees. Go to Howard University and recruit at the entry level. Recruit heavily there. Build a pipeline of future executives and treat them well so that you’re not always paying a premium to recruit minority candidates.

    As for the CDOs … either they convince their employer to pay a premium for sharp minority candidates or they don’t. most don’t. Those that do will succeed. Those that don’t will spend their days tilting at economic windmills and make everybody wonder why a talented executive would take a CDO role in the first place.

  3. Useful perspective, DJ, and it fits with my own observations and for a time I was the HR person resisting special pay consideration for candidates who would improve our office EEO numbers. What you said for technology goes ditto for other professions, and any idea that companies resist hiring such people is nonsense – they indeed have great economic leverage and I don’t blame them for using it. I assume academia is no different and the challenge comes way down the line, getting more minority students into the high achiever pipeline in early life. The supply side.

    • It is nonsense to think that people resist hiring minorities – at least that’s been true at every company where I worked or with which I interacted. I used to get marked down by one of my customers for not having enough diversity on my team. They not only wanted diversity on their own workforce they wanted diversity from their vendors too. That was when I discovered the value of aggressive recruiting at historically black universities. I’ve never understood why more big companies don’t go that route. I guess H1Bs are easier than internal personnel development.

    • My experience working in D.C. was the same as DJR’s. And we did not generally need a CDO to achieve it — although we did need someone to maintain and coordinate the occasional mind-numbing paperwork involved in responding to EEO complaints, which are a fact of life in large D.C. area companies. Unfortunately there are some employees who know they have a minority advantage and push the envelope to see how much they can get from it.

  4. DJR comments are right between the eyes – he’s been there in the middle of it…
    and really when you get right down to it – for-profit corporations are doing the same as the Colleges … for better or worse and I just don’t see targeting colleges alone on this.

    So … if the authors had actually included all entities in their study my suspects are that there would be a lot of similarities.

    I also suspect that there ARE some companies and some colleges that actually have more diverse workforces… on purpose.. they actually not only have an officer but their program actually yields results.

    And not hard to find them these days with GOOGLE:


    2019 Most Diverse Colleges in America

    lots of different rankings…

    I think that is a better reflection than “studies” that “prove” that there is no difference in diversity even with Diversity officers.

    All these different rankings actually do show difference in faculty and students so it’s not like it is not actually happening at some colleges.

    So… I’d question the methodology of the study that so no differences… and beyond that any supposed relevance…

  5. Question all you want. The money and energy expended on CDOs, public or private, would be better spent at the other end of the supply pipeline.

    • I agree completely. Go to Howard University. Every year. Meet the professors and students. Hire lots of Howard graduates. Keep an eye on them after they start working for you (mentor them in snowflake-talk). Make sure they get good work opportunities. Support their promotion when appropriate. It might take 10 years to pay off but it will pay off more than a CDO. Or, send the CDO to recruit at Howard but get the minority graduates in the door, at scale.

      • One other thing I have personally seen work is to look at promising students who minored in computer science but had other majors, or who went back to school, and spend time and effort on their career growth.

        I’ve seen a number of very good programmers and systems engineers with non traditional majors or non traditional career paths, including some people who went back to school to learn about computing or to get a credential for something they were doing as a hobby.

        My personal observation is that this does tend to be a more diverse group.

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