Howard Fischer, Founder and CEO, Howard Fischer Associates
Dana E. Lipp, Director of Client Partnerships, Howard Fischer Associates

More organizations are committing to diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly in response to the social movements taking place in our nation. This is an encouraging step. The benefits of such a hire have been widely documented, with a positive impact on both employee and company performance.

We’re increasingly being approached by many of our clients to help them create and fill a new Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer (CDO) role in their organizations to foster a company-wide transformation and the ongoing prioritization of diversity and inclusion. Moving into 2021, we expect this trend to continue.

Such a pivotal role requires careful forethought and execution in order to find the right candidate and enable his or her success. We’ve gathered recommendations from a variety of sources, including thought leaders, research, and our own experience, to help frame the function of the role, the job description, and measurements for success. This should serve as a primer to help set expectations and build a foundation for growth.

The Role of Leadership in Driving Success

The success of this role starts at the top of the organization. It’s critical to carefully consider and demonstrate senior leadership’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and then be clear as to what you’re trying to accomplish with the CDO function. Consider:

  • The CDO’s ability to influence and be a true contributor.
  • Your company’s readiness for change.
  • Your existing pain points related to diversity and inclusion.
  • Leadership buy-in for the role.
  • Alignment on the DE&I mandate.

These components are critical to the success (and happiness) of the CDO, and to creating the actual change you desire.

Defining the CDO Role

This role is intended to lead the company on all matters of equity, diversion, and inclusion. A task with the enormity and importance of implementing systemic change requires the power to make decisions, the authority to drive action, and the resources to be effective. In developing the position description, it’s imperative to define:

  • Who the CDO will report to within your organization. Research supports that the greatest opportunity for influence occurs when the CDO reports directly to the CEO.
  • The CDO’s ability to influence, to make decisions, to drive action, and to effect change.
  • Realistic expectations and priorities, as determined by your environment.

Qualifications for the role may vary, but we suggest focusing on a candidate’s ability to:

  • Demonstrate experience in DE&I. Experience is a must, but the background of the individual can vary across HR, Learning & Development, IT, Legal/Compliance, Marketing, Ops, and Finance.
  • Recruit talent and engage the workforce. The right individual will have a solid understanding of managing talent and creating inclusive experiences.
  • Foster continuous growth and improvement. The candidate should be able to design strategy, structure, and processes for key initiatives and deliver results. This person should be adept at pinpointing best practices and building internal knowledge in a scalable way. He or she should also be skilled at collaborating with internal business partners for feedback and reviews, as well as creating opportunities with external stakeholders.
  • Exemplify the ability to influence leadership. The candidate should understand your overall company culture and be able to assert influence over senior leadership to “help bring them along the journey.” This leader needs to be able to foster and drive value through an inclusive culture respectful of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and model that change for others.
  • Integrate D&I with and provide support for other business partners. The candidate should be skilled at internal and external communications (including branding, messaging, education) to promote collaboration and goodwill.
  • Maintain a budget. The candidate will oversee the global DE&I budget and related budgets and should have experience doing so.
  • Measure movement. The candidate should have a process for collecting and leveraging data to diagnose opportunities.
  • Demonstrate emotional maturity. This person must possess the emotional maturity to deal with polarizing and often unprecedented topics and nuanced issues. These topics can be highly emotional, making it necessary to manage the discomfort of leadership or the workforce. Similarly, leadership should be ready to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations.

Metrics for Success

You should develop success measures for one, three, and five years. We suggest measurements based on:

  • Consistent and periodic reviews of key policies around pay equity, parental leave, and public commitments.
  • Surveys and scorecards around employee surveys, rates of hiring, increased representation of identified groups, promotion, and retention by gender and race.

The results of the initiatives should be communicated to all levels to demonstrate the return on investment and value-add to the organization. After a DE&I initiative has been implemented for a period of time, the employer should resurvey employees regarding the perceptions of the company’s efforts. You may consider tying executive compensation to these measures. Further, your board may consider forming a diversity and inclusion committee, or your company could establish a DE&I panel of senior leaders, to consistently review, monitor, and provide feedback.


In large organizations with enterprise-wide initiatives, the budget for this role typically starts in the 7-figure range. Based on company size, there should be a team of direct reports to support the CDO. These team members should represent varying experience and knowledge. For example, one team member may work with talent and external recruiters to create a diverse pipeline and more inclusive candidate experiences; another may work to create community partnerships with diversity-focused organizations, and another could focus on creating/improving supplier diversity initiatives.

The CDO can play a vital role in many of today’s organizations, but change can be difficult without the right leader at the helm. People are recognizing that it is difficult to find diverse candidates as there is significant demand without an equally large supply. We recommend working with a search firm like HFA to help identify and vet prospective candidates. We draw upon our robust network, and trusted referral sources and organizations within our network, to present a carefully curated slate of diverse, qualified candidates. Call Howard Fischer Associates at 215.568.8363 or send us an email to: to get the process started.

Howard Fischer


Howard consults with CEOs, boards of directors, and senior executives nationwide to help them identify, evaluate, and attract senior executives and board members. He was the founding president of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) – Philadelphia Chapter, and he has written numerous articles on executive and outside director search. Read more.

Dana E. Lipp


Dana brings more than a decade of legal and business experience to Howard Fischer Associates. After practicing law for eight years at the nationally recognized law firm Winstead PC, she gained valuable experience working for a prominent Seattle-based law firm and as Chief Operating Officer of a San Francisco-based transportation technology company. As much as Dana’s experience brings to the table, she sets a new standard in service by always remaining client-driven, dedicated to taking the time to get to know everyone that has engaged Howard Fischer Associates. Read more.


Mita Mallick, “Do You Know Why Your Company Needs a Chief Diversity Officer?,” Harvard Business Review, last modified on September 11, 2020,