The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers saw an unprecedented rise in racial justice action across the country. Companies came out of the woodwork, eager to offer their own generic platitudes in support of racial equality. Many of those companies even took the extra step of investing public relations funds into the hiring of Corporate Diversity Officers — professionals trained in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices who could help to ensure that the company was in fact "doing the work," encouraging a more equitable workplace and hiring practices. As The Wall Street Journal reports:
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.
Three years later, however, that grand experiment seems to have already reached its end. According to that same article — reporting on a new employment data analysis from Live Data Technologies — Corporate Diversity Officer turnover rates have spiked by 40%, while job searches are down 75%, with long lead times to fill any of the remaining roles.
"I got to 300 applications and then I stopped tracking," says Stephanie Lubin, who was laid off from her role as diversity head at Drizly, an online alcohol marketplace, in May following the company's acquisition by Uber. In one case, Lubin says she went through 16 rounds of interviews for a role she didn't get, and says she is now planning to pivot out of DEI work.
The number of CDO searches is down 75% in the past year, says Jason Hanold, chief executive of Hanold Associates Executive Search, which works with Fortune 100 companies to recruit HR and DEI executives, among other roles. Demand is the lowest he has seen in his 30 years of recruiting.
At the same time, he says, more executives are feeling skittish about taking on diversity roles.
Sadly, none of this is particularly surprising. It also demonstrates the hollowness of any right-wing accusations about "woke capital." There is no woke capitalism — there is marketing and public relations, and that's it. It's a worthwhile publicity investment for some companies to invest in a few years of DEI initiatives, as long as diversity seems like a profitable buzzword. None of those companies expected those Corporate Diversity Officers to actually do anything, of course — I know, because I have friends who have worked in those roles, and quickly realized that they were getting a nice paycheck to essentially sit there and smile. Even if they wanted to enact legitimate change within the corporation — which many of them did! — there was too much red tape and no support or solidarity to actually enable it. That trap was by design, of course, though the corporate figureheads behind the decisions would never consciously admit as such.
The Rise and Fall of the Chief Diversity Officer [Te-Ping Chen and Lauren Weber / The Wall Street Journal]