Chief Diversity Officers Take On New Visibility, Challenges

JLL JLL, the Chicago-headquartered commercial real estate services company, announced the appointment this week of Ingrid Jacobs to the newly created global role of head of diversity and inclusion.

Why It's Important: JLL is the latest publicly traded company to add diversity officer positions into their senior executive hierarchy. In recent months, chief diversity officer positions were established at CBRE CBRE, XPO Logistics XPO, National Grid NGG, Cadence Bancorp CADE, Aramark ARMK, Alexion ALXN and Cushman & Wakefield CWK.

The concept of a chief diversity officer is not new: the position can be traced back to academia in the 1970s, when colleges and universities began to establish "minority affairs" positions in response to the rising number of nonwhite students.

In the private sector, the issue of bringing greater diversity within the workforce, the C-Suite and the board room has percolated for years without dramatic change.
The rise of the #MeToo movement and the social justice protests following the death of George Floyd brought new attention to gender and racial inequities, with companies taking a new look internally to see if their operations reflect the nation's shifting demographics.

The duties of the chief diversity officer vary among companies. Jacobs, a former chief diversity officer at investment management firm Eaton Vance, will be "responsible for further developing JLL's global diversity and inclusion strategy, ensuring the company is attracting, hiring and developing a diverse and engaged workforce of the future," according to a statement released by JLL. 

Yet LaQuenta Jacobs, the chief diversity officer with XPO Logistics, is also focusing her attention on determining if the company is teamed with other companies that share its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

"When we identify partners, we're looking for organizations that have strong diversity and inclusion programs, but also can support the initiatives that we have in regards to our pipeline growth, our internal development and helping us assess our organization's strengths and opportunities," Jacobs said in an interview with the Fairfield County Business Journal.

What's Next: Today's chief diversity officers may need to come up with new game plans to ensure success.

A 2016 Harvard Business Review study entitled "Why Diversity Programs Fail" detailed the often-dismal attempts at building a diverse workforce in previous years.

"Decades of social science research point to a simple truth: You won't get managers on board by blaming and shaming them with rules and reeducation," the study said.

There also appears to be an attitudinal obstacle course at the highest levels of the corporate ladder.

A 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of corporate directors found that 84% of respondents believed companies should do more to promote gender and racial diversity in the workforce, but only 34% stated that racial diversity was an important consideration on their board, with 47% adding that gender diversity was important for them.

Two years earlier, a PwC survey of directors found 52% of respondents dismissing diversity efforts as being fueled by political correctness and 48% insisting shareholders were too obsessed with the subject.

Mary Bilbrey, JLL's chief human resources officer, acknowledged the effort is a work in progress.

"Our diversity inspires our innovation and empowers our success," said Bilbrey.
"We have made progress but know we have more work to do. Ingrid's appointment is an important step in our journey to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, which is core to our purpose of shaping the future of real estate for a better world."

Ingrid Jacobs, JLL's global role of head of diversity and inclusion. Courtesy photo. 

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