The D&A in DE&I

Community Blog
Written by Jason Larson

DECEMBER 22, 2020

What kind of action has your organization taken in response to this year’s focus on issues around racial justice?

Evanta asked this question of our C-level communities back in our July pulse survey. Among the 600-plus executives who responded, 63.5% said they enhanced internal communications around diversity within the organization; 44% said they provided opportunities for employees to engage in conversations around race and social issues; and 27% made an official position on the protests.

I would like to think the CDOs in the room had a hand in their organization’s response strategy as everyone grappled with what to do in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. If they didn’t, they should have planted their DE&I flag in the ground. 

Here is why: The diversity in the data and analytics profession is unparalleled in the tech profession, and this includes diversity at the level of gender. According to Gartner, by 2021, the CDO role will be the most gender-diverse of all technology affiliated C-level positions, with 33% being female compared to 18% today. In addition, CDOs form a youthful cohort. In Gartner’s “Fifth Annual CDO Survey” (2019), they found most CDOs in all categories are in the 41-50 age bracket. This is good news for the tech field and CDO brand.

I use the word brand intentionally. Merriam-Webster tells us a brand is a “public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted.” What is your reputation as a leader as it relates to the diversity of your team? What is your team’s identity? How are you recruiting, cultivating, and promoting diverse perspectives on your team? Are you selling the success of your team’s diversity?

As reams of research illustrate, the competitive advantage of inclusive ecosystems stretches far beyond EVP. Diversity in person begets diversity of thought. Diversity of thought begets innovative ideas. Innovative ideas beget a strategic and financial advantage. And, most importantly, diverse teams really don’t dig the status quo. The dialogue is too rich, the view too holistic. If trust has been established on the team, there is a point for every counterpoint and debates are in good faith. 

Further, corporations play a critical role in opening up doors to segments of society who are stuck in a vicious feedback loop. As the Brown University economist Glenn Loury would say, wealth is a stock and income is a flow. To take people of color as an example, they have far less generational wealth than their white counterparts and progress has been slow in minority populations attaining white-collar jobs (oh, the double entendre of the term). If I were a data and analytics leader, I would only see opportunity in this brutal fact. D&A is one of the hottest professional fields out there (especially now), a profession full of good paying jobs and long, respectable careers. A first-generation college graduate from a black family who has “data” and “science” in their title will change the trajectory of that family’s social standing – stock and flow, flow and stock. A female risk management expert who rises to Chief Data Officer will transform the complexion of the executive team. 

The CIO-CDO partnership is much discussed and rightfully so. The CHRO-CDO partnership is nascent, and these stories usually revolve around analytics or HR’s role in data ethics. All very exciting stories indeed. But what if the CHRO’s greatest DE&I ally was the CDO? What if the CDO became the DE&I ambassador of the organization? This would be someone who has a DE&I story to tell and, forgive me, the data to back it up.

Awareness is a great start, but it’s not enough. Policies are a good next step, but they’re not enough. Initiatives are necessary, but they’re not enough. If we are to truly change as a society, we need to re-make our image, our identity. We need to look inward and ask ourselves: Do you work for an organization whose diversity markets itself? Because that’s where we need to get to. We need to get to a place where the “conception” part of the DE&I brand – corporate, division, department, team – is so deeply ingrained, so natural, that there is nothing really to conceive. It just is.


Jason Larson headshot

Jason Larson

Director, Content at Evanta, a Gartner Company


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