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An Open Letter to the CEO

From the Desk of The Diversity Coach™


James O. Rodgers, CMC¹

¹James O. Rodgers, CMC is president of The Diversity Coach™, a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc. The CMC
(Certified Management Consultant) designation is awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants and represents
evidence of the highest standards of consulting and adherence to the ethical canons of the profession. Less than 1% of all
consultants have achieved this level of performance.

©2006 The Diversity Coach™ 1


a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
Dear CEO:

What are you doing about Diversity Management? Are you seriously positioning
your company for success in the 21st century, or are you following the popular formula
and working on 20th century issues? The popular formula, by the way, is to make a bold
pronouncement about the value of diversity, make a very public announcement
appointing a Chief Diversity Officer (probably a Black woman or other minority
manager), decry the fact that there are not more minorities in the C suite, and then go
back to your “real” work while expecting the appointee to take care of that “diversity
stuff”. Is that the legacy you want to leave?
I think it is time for you to wake up to the fact that diversity is not the issue. The
issue that faces your company and challenges its viability in the 21st century is diversity
management. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Well, consider this distinction.
(Real) diversity is a given, a business reality, a growing condition, a fact of life. Whether
or not you assign someone to get more of it, you’re going to get more of it. Already, you
are swimming in a sea of diversity. You just may not recognize it as such. To spend time
and resources on an agenda of getting more diversity (most often meaning visible
diversity) is, in my opinion, poor use of time, leadership capital, and company resources.
You see, simply getting more diversity will not help you make one more money or save
more money. In fact, simply getting more diversity may create more tension, increase
complexity, and slow down decision making. Is that the outcome you are seeking?
Diversity management, on the other hand, is where the value lies. Diversity
Management is a deliberate effort to develop the capacity and capability to manage the
complexities of diversity. The goal of Diversity Management is not to get more
diversity… it is to get world class results with the diversity you have. Diversity
Management is the key to quality decisions, innovation, creativity, and extraordinary
execution.
Doesn’t that sound like a more useful agenda?
Effective Diversity Management allows you to take advantage of the diversity in
your company. That diversity offers you access to a broader range of opinions, points of
view, experience, background and attributes. Diversity Management places the emphasis

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a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
on what you do with diversity rather than simply getting diversity. Learning to manage
what you already have will equip you to manage the ever-increasing diversity that is to
come. You have a responsibility to create a culture where the capacity to manage
diversity is both a value and a practice.

Signs of Trouble

Imagine. High on the 27th floor, in the year 1970, a meeting of corporate
executives is about to start. Ten people are seated around a mahogany conference table,
talking and being friendly. They each hold titles like President, VP-Marketing, VP-
Manufacturing, VP-Sales, etc. One of them is African American (or female or Hispanic).
What title does he or she likely hold? Answer: most likely VP-HR, -X Affairs, or -X
Relations. Do you remember that time?
Fast forward. The year is 2005. We are on the same floor, in a similar meeting,
with the same makeup of people; that is, only one FABL (Female/Asian/Black/Latino).
This time the executives hold titles like CEO, CFO, CMO, etc. A new title has emerged
recently and has joined the executive team. It is the CDO (Chief Diversity Officer). Can
you guess which executive holds that title?

Old Habits Return

If you look at the makeup of the Office of Diversity Management in most F1000
companies, it looks like an unconscious return to an era when there was a “designated
position” for women and people of color. Only now, instead of carrying a title that ends
in -Affairs or -Relations, the new title simply must include the word “Diversity” or
“Inclusion”.
The last time it happened, the country protested the idea of a “designated
position” for people of color and women. Once most CEOs became aware of the impact
of their choices, they moved away from the practice. The “designated positions” were not
originally intended to pigeon-hole minority executives. They were, in all honesty, a
convenient and risk-averse way to introduce people of color into the previously all-white-
male executive suite. These positions were used to broaden community relations, to show
that the company was interested in all the employees, or to establish connections with all

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a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
stakeholder constituents. By placing only people of color and women in the positions,
the company sent a strong signal that these positions were marginal and non-mission
critical. It was a mistake. CEOs of the past recognized it and corrected it.
My concern is that you may be repeating that old habit. You’re just calling it by a
different name.
White Men Need Not Apply

What does it take to head up the Office of Diversity Management? What are your
primary criteria? It appears that race and gender are the dominant qualifications. Two
months ago, I leafed through a local publication that had recently sponsored a Diversity
Forum. There was a photo of the participants who were all CDOs from leading
companies. Out of twelve participants, all of them were Black, Latino, or female.
Everywhere you look, the picture is the same. With few exceptions, there are no white,
heterosexual men being chosen as CDO.

Strategy or Not?

Let’s consider the facts. In 2005, nearly 90% of the senior positions in the Fortune
1000 are white men. If the Office of Diversity Management is considered a strategic
position, as mission-critical as, say Sales, it really begs the question, “Where are the
white men who hold the CDO position?” Intended or not, it sends a signal and diminishes
the credibility of the Office of Diversity Management when none of the people who hold
that office nationwide happen to be white men who, for the most part, are still driving the
“real” business. The optics say it all. It seems that the only people who qualify to do
“diversity” work are people other than white, heterosexual males. Yet the core message
of every diversity and inclusion initiative I know of indicates that everyone is welcome,
included, and benefited by the work.
Being strategic means putting the company’s best resources on mission-critical
strategic issues. I am not suggesting that the best resource is never a person of color;
I’m only saying that it can’t always be a person of color. There must be some white men
who have the capacity to run a change initiative and to execute a strategy like this.
One of the unintended consequences of playing the “designated position” game is
that you label White Men as the enemy. And, white men with power who are made to

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a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
feel like the enemy have recourse. They can ignore, decry, or derail any initiative that
doesn’t seem to have value for them.
The enemy, of course, should be fear of the unknown, reaction to differences, and
failure to manage stereotype thinking. These are the things that rob your company of
productivity and performance. Is it any wonder that there is so much confusion about the
intent and purpose of your diversity initiative? You may say it is strategic and good for
business. However, what your people could be seeing is exclusion and social engineering.
What is your real intent?

Let Wisdom Prevail

As CEO, you alone are responsible for placing diversity management as a priority
strategy. You alone must select the head of the initiative. And, you must set the tone, the
direction, and the desired outcomes of the work. I encourage you to be wise in your
selections, thoughtful in your decision to support diversity management as a strategy, and
strategic in the way you position the expectations of the work.
The biggest issue that plagues every Office of Diversity Management I know is
the lack of a clear assignment from the CEO. That may be because you and your
counterparts at other companies may not be clear yourselves. I expect you believe that
you should have a diversity (management) initiative (after all, everyone else has one).
You just may not be clear about what it is or why you need it.
An assignment is not a position description. You may give the leader of diversity
management responsibility for a number of things as part of their job description. It is
only when they know what you want to accomplish with the work that they can
reasonably execute and get results. Here are a few sample assignments:
• Increase the recruitment and retention of visible diversity by 20%.
• Create positive spin about the company’s diversity efforts.
• Educate employees on the facts about diversity.
• Do what everyone else is doing. (Why?)

©2006 The Diversity Coach™ 5


a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
• Equip our company with the capacity and our managers with the
capability to manage diversity effectively so that we see better business
results. (My favorite)
Congruency

To avoid the confusion mentioned above, you have to make sure that there is total
congruency in the Message, the Motive, the Methods, and the Metrics of your diversity
management work.
The message should be one that makes it clear that diversity management is a
core requirement for 21st century business success. It should also indicate that it creates
value and that everyone is included; gets benefit; and, is needed.
The motive (why you are doing it) should connect diversity management to
business results as clearly as possible. Making this connection and quantifying it creates
the best chance for getting everyone to support, embrace, and contribute to the objectives.
The methods (how we go about it) should mirror the way you approach any other
important and mission-critical strategy. Make it as seamless as possible. You (the CEO)
should be visible and involved throughout the early process. Every senior leader should
know why they personally support it and what their particular role is in implementing it.
The process should be disciplined, directed, and diligently deployed with a clear
outcome.
The metrics (how we know when we succeed) should be determined by the
clearly stated objectives of the message and motive. This is where most confusion occurs.
You should avoid setting an objective of “learning to naturally support, encourage, and
develop people, getting 100% contribution and commitment from everyone, in order to
achieve double digit growth”, then turning around and using “the number of women
placed at the director level” as your primary metric. Measure instead the level of output
by work group before and after the installation of diversity management skills.

What Do I Say When…


Pure strategy can sound so cold to the outside world. I know you get a lot of help
deciding how you will “do diversity”. There are those inside and outside the business

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a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
who insist that you include a social responsibility component to your diversity thinking.
And, I know that you feel pressure to follow the popular formula and not appear out of
step. I trust that you can manage this “input” while still attending to your moral, ethical,
fiscal and, as a board member, fiduciary responsibilities to make quality decisions that
get results for the enterprise.
Almost A Role Model
Five years ago, one of my clients, a CEO, placed a white, heterosexual male in the
CDO job during a time of intense scrutiny of his company’s operations. That decision
certainly got a lot of attention from people (insiders and outsiders) who themselves did
not fully understand the intent or possibilities of strategic diversity management. I
recently asked what prompted him to make such a choice in light of the expectations that
he would do otherwise. His response was matter-of-fact, “I wanted to be counter-
intuitive. I was looking for someone who had the capacity to gain some credibility for the
issue; someone with a passion for this issue; someone who made it obvious to everyone
that this company is not just following the “diversity” path; that we are serious about this
work and that we want it to be a key part of our overall strategy.”
In addition, the motive and methods of his “diversity” initiative is tied to an
existing initiative to get employees to embrace and live the company values. The focus of
the work was on learning and reigniting the practice of managing people effectively. Still,
with all his strategic thinking, he endorsed the official measure of progress which was
related to the number of minorities and women promoted to upper management. That
confused a lot of his employees, especially white men. Even when you know better, the
pressure can be intense to satisfy “other” stakeholders by giving them what they want and
expect.
Follow the Logic
For decades, the leaders of most corporate departments have been almost
exclusively white men. People have gotten use to the optics. Like it or not, there is a
misperception that a heterosexual white male comes to the position with no agenda other
than to get business results. While organizations are gradually getting use to the idea of
women and people of color running significant parts of the business, it is still not
common place. So, the optics of a woman or person of color running the Office of

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a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.
Diversity Management presents some people with an opportunity for cynicism about
diversity management as a strategy (Oh sure, who else would you expect?).
The dichotomy here is that when you select a white man as CDO, the office may
gain more credibility in some people’s minds while in others’; it may beg the question,
“Why do they always have a white man heading up everything?”
This dilemma may cause you to follow the pack and put anybody but a white
male into the position of CDO. What you may not realize is that in the process of
avoiding an argument, you give rise to the perceptions and misperceptions mentioned
above. You may be making it even more difficult for the Office of Diversity Management
to gain credibility and a seat at the table.
Call to Action
As a CEO, you need to be focused on what gets results. First, ask yourself, do I
really understand the opportunity to create value from diversity management? Am I clear
on what I expect from a diversity management strategy? Your actions will enhance or
detract from your legacy. If you are not thoughtful, you may miss a golden opportunity to
position your organization for success and strategic advantage. You can capture this
opportunity by not succumbing to the external pressure and automatically “doing
diversity” according to the popular formula.
This is a very complex issue. It is an obvious, yet bold, choice to put the very
best person in your organization in the position of CDO, regardless of packaging (visible
diversity). It takes high-quality leaders to drive change. It takes well-equipped managers
to make it stick. You must be willing to address corporate culture. And the objective
must always be to move the organization towards consistent world class results.
“What are you doing about Diversity Management?

Respectfully submitted for your consideration:

James O. Rodgers CMC


The Diversity Coach™

©2006 The Diversity Coach™ 8


a division of J.O. Rodgers and Associates, Inc.