Municipal Workforces Don’t Always Reflect a City’s Population. Now, More Cities are Naming Chief Diversity Officers

Chief diversity officers, while not a new concept, have seen a significant surge in their numbers in the past few years.

Chief diversity officers, while not a new concept, have seen a significant surge in their numbers in the past few years. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

More local governments are taking an interest as citizen demand for representation increases.

Across the country, more and more cities are creating a top management position aimed at making local government more responsive to everybody who lives in their communities. Chief diversity officers, while not a new concept, have seen a significant surge in their numbers in the past few years. 

But not every city has a CDO, and some of the places lacking this type of focus are surprising.  New York City doesn’t have a chief diversity officer, and neither does Los Angeles. Cities that have created the role in the past few years include Boston, Austin, Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York and Columbus, Ohio. Of the 250 largest cities in the country, about one in four cities now employs a CDO.

“It’s surprising how recent these positions are in most places,” said Christopher Cooper, the head of the political science and public affairs department at Western Carolina University, who recently published research on the adoption of the chief diversity officer position in cities across the country. 

The first CDO in Cooper’s dataset of 250 cities was hired in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951, though most cities didn’t hire for the position until the 1990s. There was a spike in CDO position creation in 2000, and again in 2015, and 2016. More than half of all CDOs have been created since 2006. 

“You had a few pace setters doing this work early,” Cooper said. “But the rise is relatively recent as local governments start adopting the idea from the private sector.” 

Cooper’s work found that cities with more resources were no more likely to adopt a CDO than those with fewer resources—which he found surprising  because he thought megacities would be the trendsetters. Instead, cities with diverse populations are much more likely to adopt a CDO, as are those with a politically liberal base. Cooper said that is because city management usually makes the decision to create the CDO position because of constituent pressure, not based on internal demand from within government. 

In New York City, Comptroller Scott Stringer is pushing for the city to create a CDO position focused on government procurement practices, arguing that the city should be purchasing from a more diverse array of businesses. “While 80% of New Yorkers are women or people of color, just 5% of the spending on goods and services by our own city goes to [women or minority-owned businesses],” Stringer said at a recent rally. Stringer created a CDO position within the comptroller’s office when he was elected in 2014, and said that the office has increased procurement spending on women and minority-owned businesses by 24% since 2017. He now hopes to see the job at a citywide level dealing with a bigger portfolio.

If New York ends up with a CDO who focuses primarily on how procurement dollars are spent, it would be the first city to tailor the position in that way. 

Heather Rimes, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University, has interviewed 15 CDOs from cities with populations over 250,000. She’s found that CDOs can have a range of duties, although many are focused on internal hiring and examining whether government is developing a diverse workforce, while also perhaps ensuring agencies are working with nonprofits and small businesses representative of the city. Other CDOs might concentrate on legal compliance activities, such as investigating complaints, or on strategic policy work, like consulting on diversity initiatives with the mayor. 

“CDOs play a variety of roles within government,” she said. “In most cities, a compliance manager role that adjudicates diversity issues was foundational, and they build out from there.”

Rimes also found that newer CDOs were more likely to have a policy influence in their city, while cities that employed the position the longest were more compliance-based. 

In addition to the variation in duties, some CDOs have more power than others. Cooper said that cities often promote the position through press releases, which “shows it’s a big deal, because they don’t send out an announcement for every new HR hire.” But researchers also found that excitement for the position may be more symbolic than indicative of the influence they’ll have. 

“For some of these CDOs, they’ll be in upper-level management and very visible, but the resources given to their office were relatively small,” said Rimes. “Offices in a city with more than 250,000 people might only have one person in it.”

Rimes said the largest office of the CDOs she spoke to staffed 13 people, and the average was around 6 or 7 employees. “When the resources don’t line up with the placement of the position, that’s when it’s more symbolic,” she said. 

While not much research has been dedicated to the influence of CDOs in the public sector, critiques of the position in the private sector have found that many may be “set up to fail.” In a survey of 234 diversity executives from S&P 500 companies, researchers found that CDOs are often too new to the role, lack critical resources, and don’t have the support of other leaders to make much change. 

The former CDO of Buffalo, New York, Crystal Rodriguez, noted that, in order to be successful, “the role of the CDO has to be genuine and can’t just be a figurehead.”

Cooper thinks that the position may take on more influence as more citizens realize it’s a possibility in their city. “Cities are diversifying, and most cities are trying to diversify their workforce,” he said. “In cities where residents are experiencing discrimination, a CDO can make them feel they have a voice. It’s one way for cities to be better represent their constituents.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Citizens & Town Officials Form Consensus to Update 20-Year Strategic Priorities for Lake Lure, NC
Lake Lure, NC, USA
Asheville Parks & Rec Strategic Plan Boosts Staff Participation & Deepens Community Relationships
Asheville, NC, USA
Budgeting for Climate: The City of Pittsburgh Repurposes Resources for a Sustainable Future
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

NEXT STORY: Border Towns are Pushing for a Complete 2020 Count

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.