Two years ago chief diversity officers were some of the hottest hires into
executive ranks. Now, they increasingly feel left out in the cold.
Companies including Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have recently
said that high-profile diversity, equity and inclusion executives will be leaving
their jobs. Thousands of diversity-focused workers have been laid off since last
year, and some companies are scaling back racial justice commitments.
Diversity, equity and inclusion—or DEI—jobs were put in the crosshairs after
many companies started re-examining their executive ranks during the tech
sector’s shake out last fall. Some chief diversity officers say their work is facing
additional scrutiny since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in
college admissions and companies brace for potential legal challenges.
DEI work has also become a political target.
“There’s a combination of grief, being very tired, and being, in some cases,
overwhelmed,” says Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer for Yelp, of the
challenges facing executives in the field. Warren says the fear that company
commitments are imperiled fuel her and others to feel “more committed to the
work than ever.” Yelp’s DEI budget has grown for the past five years.
In interviews, current and former chief diversity officers said company
executives at times didn’t want to change hiring or promotion processes, despite
initially telling CDOs they were hired to improve the talent pipeline. The quick
about-face shows company enthusiasm for diversity initiatives hasn’t always
proved durable, leaving some diversity officers now questioning their career
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in police custody in May 2020, companies
scrambled to hire chief diversity officers, changing the face of the C-suite. In
2018, less than half the companies in the S&P 500 employed someone in the role,
and by 2022 three out four companies had created a position, according to a
study from Russell Reynolds, an executive search firm.
Once mostly tasked with HR matters, today’s diversity leaders are expected to
weigh in on new product development, marketing efforts and current events that
have an impact on how workers and consumers are feeling. Warren and other
CDOs said the expanded remit is playing out in a politically divided environment
where corporate diversity efforts are the subject of frequent social-media