Should Chief Diversity Officers Report to HR?

Matt Gonzales By Matt Gonzales July 17, 2023

​Most chief diversity officers (CDOs) globally tend to sit two levels below the CEO, often reporting to HR, according to recent research. Sometimes that works well—but sometimes there are disadvantages to having diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) professionals report to HR.

Amy Mosher, chief people officer at software firm isolved in Charlotte, N.C., believes that having CDOs report to HR can ensure employees of all backgrounds feel welcomed and engaged, fulfilling the promise of DE&I.

"Beyond employment decisions—like hiring, promotions and pay practices—HR can ensure DE&I is embedded across all business initiatives," she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, HR leaders helped businesses globally change work processes overnight and adapt to a new reality, showing that HR expertise has become crucial to helping companies address new challenges and plan for innovation and business expansion, Mosher said.

"HR leaders can ensure DE&I is included in succession planning, building an employer brand and creating an engaged workforce," she said. "When done right, HR and the head of DE&I can ensure there are fair and equal opportunities available to all employees."

John Staines, managing partner of global HR at executive search firm DHR Global in Washington, D.C., said that synergies exist between HR processes and DE&I practices, which could make reporting to HR advantageous.

For example, HR can help CDOs incorporate DE&I metrics into scorecards. Talent acquisition and management strategies also can help drive change from a DE&I perspective, he explained, and how employees perceive the DE&I evolution will reflect on company culture.

"[Another] advantage of having the head of DE&I report to HR is that the CHRO will most likely give it more time than the CEO," Staines said.

Workplace experts weighed in on the advantages and disadvantages of CDOs reporting to HR


  • HR leaders with strong business and operational skill sets can enhance DE&I efforts.
  • HR can ensure an organization's culture is incorporating diversity to its potential with intentional strategies, such as inclusive onboarding and bias-free performance management practices.
  • CDOs and HR leaders can collaborate to create employee resource groups, inclusive onboarding and bias-free performance management practices.


  • DE&I could be pigeonholed as an "HR project" rather than an initiative critical to business success.
  • By reporting to HR, DE&I work can become too focused on employees and miss the opportunity to embed DE&I into a company's broader strategy, operations, products and community impact.
  • HR leaders already manage many moving parts—such as employment decisions, compliance management, and learning and development—risking DE&I priorities falling to the wayside during a workplace crisis.

Juliette Mayers, founder and CEO of DE&I consulting firm Inspiration Zone LLC in Boston, said that HR is an essential partner for DE&I strategy and must be aligned with DE&I goals. But she thinks that the head DE&I position should report to the CEO.

"This model works if the goals of the leadership team are aligned in a meaningful way so that all departments have clear, meaningful goals to ensure the creation and implementation of DE&I across the enterprise," she said.

Mayers believes that more CEOs would have their CDOs report to them if they had the "right level of support and expertise from a trusted advisor." A trusted consultant, she explained, could help them flesh out an effective strategy.

Keep Stakeholders in Mind

Nika White, a leadership consultant and DE&I expert in Greenville, S.C., believes that having CDOs report to HR limits an organization's potential in achieving DE&I-related objectives. Viewing DE&I as strictly an HR function, she believes, is a disservice to the entire organization.

"DE&I needs to be a part of an overall business strategy, not just an add-on or a hiring plan that disappears when the right mix of diverse employees joins the staff," she said.

CDOs and HR could also have conflicting organizational goals. In an article for Fast Company, Amira Barger, a DE&I expert who is the executive vice president of global health at Edelman in San Francisco, said that the goals and approaches of DE&I too often conflict with those of HR. CDOs promote transparency, whereas HR focuses on protecting the company, its brand and its central interest—profit—against potential litigation.

However, Staines explained that the CDO's reporting structure depends on the message CEOs want to send both internally to employees and externally to shareholders and consumers.

"Each of these strategies sends distinct messages to your constituents," Staines said. "Would you have the head of marketing report to the COO? Would you have the chief revenue officer report to the CFO? You can argue DE&I and HR are closely related, but are they more related than revenue is to profits?"



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