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Different sets of circumstances inspire companies to hire their first Diversity Officer. In some cases, leadership may feel obligated (or depending on the industry, mandated) to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. Others  may be having DEI-related issues that they seek to remedy; for example, a contentious corporate culture, high staff turnover, or disgruntled customers. Perhaps, senior leaders have recognized the tremendous upside potential of integrating DEI into how their company does business. 

Whatever combination of circumstances may lead your organization to the decision to hire, here are five critical mistakes to avoid:

1) DON’T Prioritize Speed Over Fit

Our first recommended step is to take a deep breath and a step back. Recognize that finding the right individual for this unique and pivotal role in your organization will depend on the quality of your hiring process, not its speed. Avoid the temptation to quickly fill the position with a candidate who is conveniently available. As with all hires, remember that the goal is to find the person for the job, not the job for the person. 

2) DON’T Shrink the Scope of DEI

Companies that define their DEI program as occasional short-term training sessions focused on meeting  compliance requirements are likely to hire someone with training skills only. Their narrow definition means they’re missing out on the wider scope of benefits that a successful DEI program can offer. While training is one component of a successful program, a full-fledged DEI initiative will make a positive impact on everything from a company’s policies and procedures, to its client communications and employee attitudes and actions. True DEI drives systemic cultural change. In order to identify the right individual to lead it, it’s essential to view your DEI initiative in this broader context.

3) DON’T Neglect Needed Skills

Get specific about the skill set your new Diversity Officer must bring. Sidestep the common misconception that someone is right for the DEI position strictly because of their race or ethnicity.  Lived experience of diversity is certainly a plus, but possessing the right skill set is absolutely essential. Has the candidate demonstrated the ability to design and lead a voluntary, organization-wide learning program that generates broad participation? Are they comfortable collaborating with individuals and groups at every level of your organization? Do they have cultural competency with diverse groups and the capacity to build rapport and trust? In addition to people and project management skills, an effective Diversity Officer must be capable of researching and analyzing data, defining metrics, and tracking and reporting results. A background in Human Resources is a major plus; depending on your employee base, speaking multiple languages could be a significant added asset. 

4) DON’T Skip Your Vetting

Effective DEI means an organization-wide commitment to core values. To be credible and trustworthy, your company’s Diversity Officer must  hold and demonstrate these same values personally. Don’t skip over the vetting process before you hire. Speak with multiple professional and personal references. Review what the candidate has said or written in public forums andon social media. Look at which  causes and organizations they support. Verify that their personal commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is evident, genuine, and consistent.

5) DON’T Skimp on Interviews

Unlike many corporate positions, your Diversity Officer needs to engage teammates at every level of your organization, from front line workers to C-suite executives, and especially middle managers. They must communicate effectively one-on-one, with small groups, and as a presenter or trainer. For these reasons, be sure to design a multi-part interview process that allows candidates to demonstrate their breadth of capacity to communicate. Get feedback on finalists from a diverse cross-section of interviewers. This process will improve your odds of hiring a Diversity Officer who has the right mix of skills, experience, and self-assurance to excel in the position.  

One Thing You Should Do?  DO Ask for Help

Our team of DEI experts at The Diversity Movement can help your company to avoid these and other common pitfalls on the road to building a successful DEI program. Download our whitepaper, Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Your Diversity Leader for a deeper dive on our recommendations. When you’re ready to move the needle, we’re ready to help