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College campus diversity chiefs on the job

University Business, October 2017
Source: “The Critical First Year: What New Chief Diversity Officers Need to Succeed,” Witt/Kieffer, 2017,
Source: “The Critical First Year: What New Chief Diversity Officers Need to Succeed,” Witt/Kieffer, 2017,

Nearly two-thirds of chief diversity officers (CDOs) at colleges report they are the first to hold that role at their school, according to a study of CDOs in higher education, health care and academic medicine published by Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm for nonprofits.

These administrators have become increasingly prominent at higher ed institutions and are often tasked with leading efforts related to ever-evolving and complex issues regarding equality and inclusion.

Success for higher ed chief diversity officers depends primarily on conditions in place at the institution—such as having proper support staff and adequate budget—and stakeholder expectations, notes the study, for which 81 of these leaders were surveyed.

Some 68 percent of respondents say expectations and institutional buy-in were right for success when they started. However, only 16 percent say the institution had a clear diversity and inclusion plan in place at the outset.

CDOs generally have a seat at the executive table. Forty percent report to the president, chancellor or CEO, and another 21 percent report to the provost.

The majority of these professionals learn and adapt on the job. Six in 10 said their duties and role evolved significantly during the first year, due to issues such as shifting measures of success and organizational changes.

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