Where Should Diversity Reside for Maximum Effectiveness

By Fred Hobby & Cynthia R. Stewart, Director of Diversity Resources & Language Services, Columbia St. Mary’s Health System



One often overlooked consideration in the development of a diversity initiative is where to locate the office of diversity management within the organizational structure. 



The position of the diversity champion/practitioner (DP) should be located no more than one person away from the CEO.  Ideally, he or she should report directly to the CEO.  The reason:  an organization’s diversity plan needs to align with the vision of the corporate leadership.  Without this alignment, initiatives often lack the executive endorsement they need to advance and maintain success.



Many organizations opt to place diversity management in the human resources (HR) department.  When diversity management is housed in HR it does not send a message that it is an organizational imperative, and DPs frequently report frustrations resulting from misalignment within the organization’s structure and operations.



Although several of the components of a comprehensive diversity initiative should impact workforce issues, programs affecting the patient population – such as cultural competence training – are of equal if not greater importance.  This fact not only is lost when diversity management is housed within HR, but makes it more difficult for the DP to gain support to address patient relations issues. 



Since a diversity initiative should be multifaceted and inclusive of a variety of key components, it would be counterproductive to place authority for such work within one of the business units or areas of focus it is designed to impact or develop strategic partnerships with.  For example, if the diversity champion reports to the vice president of marketing and there is a need to change marketing strategies in order to reach more diverse populations, the vice president may or may not agree with the need for change.  In this situation, from a common-sense standpoint, the DP might abandon this issue in order to avoid conflict with his/her direct boss.  Conversely, if the DP reports to someone outside of marketing, he/she might be able to solicit support for the change without fear of reprisal. In addition, if the DP reports to a particular business unit and is viewed as such by the people in the organization, he/she may find it difficult to engage the right people in other units to lead change.



To get the maximum return from diversity initiatives, responsibility should reside where it will get maximum support from the entire organization.  The single best location is in a direct reporting line to the CEO.  If that is not feasible, the next best placement would be to the chief operating officer or an executive whose scope of responsibility spans the entire organization, inclusive of all strategic planning, operations and functions of the institution.