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There’s a hiring boom for diversity and inclusion managers. And the jobs have high turnover.

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Chief diversity officers often lack support, even though changing a company's culture might require a team and take years to achieve. Getty Images

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The last handful of years at Nike have been buzzworthy — and not in a good way. There have been complaints about leadership diversity and a toxic work environment and a lawsuit over sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Now, the company’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, or CDO, is leaving after six months on the job. And he’s just one of many in the DEI department to exit in the past couple of years. But it’s not just Nike — high CDO turnover is common.

After George Floyd was murdered in 2020, companies scrambled to make diversity, equity and inclusion a more central part of how they do business. Janese Murray, president of Inclusion Impact Consulting, said one way they did that was by creating chief diversity officer roles.

“In some cases without fully understanding what it means and what it takes to build that kind of a culture,” she said.

A culture that prioritizes equity in hiring, pay and workplace dynamics. 

Diversity and inclusion manager has been the second-fastest-growing job title over the past five years, right behind vaccine specialist, according to LinkedIn. And with growth comes a learning curve.

“The expectations are not completely realistic on what one person can do within an organization,” Murray said.

She said companies want instant results, but it takes at least five years to change a company’s culture.

And Patricia Pope, CEO of Pope Consulting, said a lot of CDOs don’t have enough support, “whether it’s financial or additional human resources within the organization.”

CDOs often work alone, with maybe one assistant, when they need a team. Stephanie Creary, a management professor at Wharton, said that lack of support can speak volumes.

“Many are seeing that the organization is unwilling to really do the work that it takes to build out a strategy that will help them execute these goals,” Creary said.

Even when companies are invested in the mission, the mission can be tiring. A lot of teaching is involved.

“There was always that little bubble over my head, like really, are we having this conversation again? But that’s what I had to do,” said Murray, who was a CDO before she went into consulting.

All that explaining has to happen before CDOs can tackle more outwardly visible changes, like what clients companies take on, what products they sell and what customers they connect with.

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