diversity department structures

The Evolution of Diversity Department Team Structures Continues in 2021: Direct Reports to the CDO

DiversityInc Best Practice’s “Guide to Diversity Department Structures” is designed to help you gain an understanding of how diversity departments are evolving over time. From their role as a strategic business partner to the day-to-day work of the Chief Diversity Officer and the employees that report to them, we hope this two-part guide will help you better understand the way leading companies prioritize diversity work. In case you missed it, be sure to check out part one, in which we examine the role of the CDO.

Whether it’s a global team or geographically specific, the size and breadth of duties tackled by diversity departments are growing. The impact of diversity and inclusion efforts across teams, functions and levels within the organization has become more of an expectation amongst employees and the general public.

The business impact is in the data. Gartner found that inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30% in diverse environments. A separate Gartner analysis predicted that through 2022, 75% of companies with diverse decision-making teams would exceed financial targets — and outperform less-inclusive counterparts by 50%

So how do you go about building the diversity team? What titles are involved, and what does their day-to-day look like? In this article, we’ll dive into DiversityInc’s latest data on diversity team structures and what these teams are focused on in 2021.

Staffing Beyond the CDO

Diversity teams under the CDO are growing in relevance and size. While many have spent years working with a skeleton crew, the number of full-time positions dedicated solely to diversity functions is steadily increasing.

A few titles you may see with increasing regularity include:

  • Diversity Council Liaison
  • Global Diversity Director
  • Diversity Analytics/Insights
  • Diversity Communications
  • External Partnership Manager
  • Supplier Diversity Liaison

To get a sense of a typical team size, DiversityInc looked at the number of employees dedicated to D&I per 100,000 employees across all groups. We split responses into two categories: those with full-time employees within the D&I function and those that split job responsibilities between D&I and other functions, such as HR or talent acquisition.

Among Top 50 and Hall of Fame companies, the average number of people working full-time within D&I was 9.54. For Top 10 and Hall of Fame companies, that number increased to 11.3.

When the parameter was expanded to include full-time employees who had some diversity responsibilities, in addition to their duties as members of another department, the numbers increased dramatically, illustrating just how vast the undertaking of a company’s diversity function is.

  • Top 50 and Hall of Fame – 734.21 employees
  • Top 10 and Hall of Fame – 1,147.24 employees

These figures include employees from other departments, from senior leadership down to managers and entry-level staff. When asked how many members of senior leadership had formal D&I responsibilities, the figures averaged to:

  • Top 50 and Hall of Fame – 10.74
  • Top 10 and Hall of Fame – 12

Considering the range of titles and the number of people with a hand in a company’s efforts, it’s clear the work associated with diversity is growing and impacting the business on all fronts.

Work of the Diversity Team

The slate of work to be done has become so far-reaching that not all of it is done internally. Below, you will see a detailed breakdown of the types of work diversity teams from the Top 50 and Hall of Fame companies are doing. The data reveals what percentage of companies have internal diversity and inclusion staff dedicated to a specific function and what percentage have outsourced responsibilities or do not dedicate any staff for that purpose.

Improving employee retention:

Internal – 81%            External – 7%              No Staff – 11%

Building external diversity partnerships:

Internal – 81%            External – 9%              No Staff – 9%

Hosting external diversity conferences:

Internal – 46%            External – 14%            No Staff – 42%

Designing programming for internal diversity events:*

Internal – 91%            External – 14%            No Staff – 3.5%

Producing analytics reporting to answer D&I related questions:*

Internal – 88%            External – 14%            No Staff – 3.5%

Leading employee resource groups:

Internal – 86%            External – 0%              No Staff – 7%

Leading a university-relations program:

Internal – 74%            External – 7%              No Staff – 16%

Recruiting diverse talent:*

Internal – 79%            External – 26%            No Staff – 11%

Conducting diversity training:*

Internal – 84%            External – 42%            No Staff – 3.5%

* More than one selection allowed

Small diversity teams taking on these tasks are stretched thin and may have to outsource certain support functions. The success of those third-party relationships will largely depend on the vision and leadership of the diversity team and the support they receive from other areas of the organization.

Participating companies were also asked to rank their top three company-wide diversity and inclusion goals for the upcoming year. Options included increasing resources for underrepresented groups, dedicating more resources for D&I programming, enhancing the company culture to embrace D&I, expanding communication and awareness around D&I, improving tracking key metrics, and retaining diverse talent.

Of the options, expanding diversity communications and awareness was the top priority, followed by dedicating more resources to D&I programming and increasing resources for underrepresented groups.


The recent momentum for social justice movements has heaped pressure on companies to not only expand the work of their diversity teams but also provide additional resources to bolster any work or initiatives that the team undertakes.

While that doesn’t always come in the form of funding, we now see diversity budgets reaching into the millions, giving CDOs the necessary budget to acquire the needed talent and tools. The average budgets allotted to diversity teams for companies participating in our Top 50 survey:

  • Top 50 + Hall of Fame – $2,123,684
  • Top 10 + Hall of Fame – $2,707,353
  • All Survey Participants – $2,405,655

Where that budget is allocated varies, but among Top 50 and Hall of Fame companies, the percentage of the annual diversity budget spans across nine different categories, showing that external partnerships, diversity training and ERGs are a major priority.

  • Diversity training – 19.42%
  • External diversity partnerships – 18.85%
  • Employee resource groups – 11.1%
  • Internal diversity events – 9.24%
  • External diversity conference sponsorships – 6.2%
  • Talent programs (mentorship/sponsorship, etc.) – 6.16%
  • Diversity councils – 2.02%
  • Community practice groups – 2.27%
  • Other – 10.59%

In 2021, the conventional wisdom of delegating “diversity and inclusion” to — and only to— human resources has become an antiquated idea. While the CDO and the team that reports to them have specific duties, the efforts are ultimately collective and symbiotic.

More importantly, since expectations for transparency and accountability are only increasing with the general public and employees alike, the entire workforce has a stake in a company’s efforts, and the teams dedicated to facilitating the D&I function are growing accordingly. As you look forward at your strategies around diversity, it’s vital to see it as a business imperative and cultivate a team capable of applying their expertise into all areas of the business.

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