The first Martha’s Vineyard Chief Diversity Officer Summit 2022 is set to take place at Martha’s Vineyard Museum, an opportunity for 125 chief diversity officers from various parts of the country and multiple industries to gather together to discuss and learn from one another. The summit is scheduled to take place from Wednesday, August 10, to Friday, August 12.
Dani Monroe, founder of the summit, and former inaugural chief diversity officer of Mass General Brigham (the parent company of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital), said the idea for the event developed from “what was transpiring for chief diversity officers today.” She happened to be on the Island at the time, visiting various symposiums, when she had this idea.
“[I] realized many of the issues that were being discussed, like racial equity, healthcare disparities, social justice issues, were issues chief diversity officers were experiencing now in their jobs because the role has evolved from just focusing on human capital to expanding now to what’s going on in our external environment,” Monroe said. “At no other time in the history of the United States have we had to thoroughly explore, respond to, the needs for our employees to have their professional lives and their personal lives intersect.”
According to Monroe, diversity was historically dealt with by human resources. That included issues from hiring diverse personnel to exploring the business implications of diversity. Now the role has expanded to include various issues alongside racial equity, such as the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the pandemic’s impact on remote work, and others.
“It is probably the one discipline in the organization that cuts across every function, whether you’re talking about people, whether you’re talking about services or products. Therefore, it’s a strategically important role for the organization,” Monroe said. “A lot of [issues] fall under the CDO’s umbrella in terms of what’s the best way the organization can respond to external drivers. We just haven’t had to do that in our history.”
Alongside the expansion of the chief diversity officer’s role, there has been a recent surge of people earning the title. In 2020, LinkedIn reported that the number of chief diversity officers has increased 68 percent since 2015. Monroe said the more recent increases in chief diversity officers were due to a combination of the COVID pandemic and the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
“Organizations, being reactive, said, ‘Oh, if we’re going to do something about this, we’ll get a chief diversity officer.’ Well, that’s only the first step in the work. That doesn’t resolve any of the challenges an organization may have,” Monroe said, adding that many of the newer chief diversity officers leave after two years or less because organizations were not providing the resources they needed or expected. “The turnover used to be more like four years before chief diversity officers moved on to other roles.”
With the complexity surrounding the chief diversity officer role, Monroe said the summit “is really about chief diversity officers and being more effective leaders around their DE and I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) functions.” Additionally, she wants the participating executives to “experience some healing from the past five years because psychologically, it’s been incredibly stressful and demanding and intense.”
“We’ve been on a very high reaction mode. So this is almost like a time-out to step back and say, ‘What is going on out there? What are we experiencing collectively? How can we support each other collectively, and what is the evolving role of the 21st century chief diversity officer?’” Monroe said.
Monroe said there are some takeaways she hopes participants can receive, such as how to create impact in an organization, and the values and mindsets (e.g. courage) to conduct oneself well as a chief diversity officer, and what it means to thrive in the position as a leader and as a person.
“It is a challenging role, it is a difficult role. Oftentimes you’ll see studies with CDOs talking about feeling isolated and lonely, not heard, influence being impacted, and so one has to make sure they are doing self-care so they can stay healthy and support other people and also live healthy lives away from the organization, right? So that our lives are a bit balanced,” Monroe said. She also told The Times that since a chief diversity officer is a role that executes change, there is usually some level of resistance.
Monroe also invites members of the community to join the “Community Conversations” of the summit, which will take place on August 12. For more information or to register, visit bit.ly/3aNLx8X.
“We decided that while we would have been spending two and a half days in conversation, we wanted to open up a conversation to the Martha’s Vineyard community,” she said. “Not to talk about CDOs, but to talk about some of the issues that are current in our times.”
This summit isn’t Monroe’s first rodeo when it comes to organizing events. At Mass General Brigham, she ran five diversity summits.
“That whole notion was about bringing in leaders from across the system to have a conversation about this work, and it became extremely successful because we kept going deeper and richer in the conversation, and a psychological safety developed in those forums,” she said. The Mass General Brigham summits also brought in guests like Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” before the death of Floyd. Additionally, the Mass General Brigham summit led to a strategy for increased hiring of diverse candidates at the director level and above, “the first time in the system’s 200-year history it set any hiring goals,” and complaint boxes for employees who felt harassed, among others.
Monroe told The Times she hopes to be able to make the Martha’s Vineyard summit an annual event.