Notable DE&I departures in 2022

A number of DE&I leaders headed for the exit this past year, but the exodus doesn’t have to continue.
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The past few years have seen corporate America make a concerted push on diversity. Many companies hired their first head of DE&I—and some have since seen them leave.

Let’s take a look at some of the year’s most notable DE&I leadership departures, and the lessons HR pros can learn from them.

Tesla and Twitter. What do these two companies have in common, aside from being run by Elon Musk? They’ve both seen DE&I leaders exit in recent months.

In June, two Tesla employees who held volunteer diversity positions, presumably in employee resource groups (ERGs), were among the 10% of workers laid off. In October, the day after Musk took over Twitter, the social media company’s chief people officer, Dalana Brand, resigned. A respected name in DE&I, it was during her four-year tenure that Twitter started paying its ERG leaders and welcomed its head of diversity into the C-suite.

(Meanwhile, Musk was tweeting about the ills of the “woke mind virus” and its corrosive effect on humankind.)

Warner Bros. Discovery. Following the Warner Bros. Discovery merger in April, the newly created entertainment giant restructured its DE&I department. As part of the shift, WarnerMedia’s corporate comms head and chief inclusion officer, Christy Haubegger, departed. Prior to the merger, she reported directly to the CEO—a sign, she previously said, of the company’s DE&I commitment.

Nike. The sportswear brand hired its first head of DE&I, Kellie Leonard, in 2018 after a series of reports of a toxic, “boys club” culture. Since then, it has had two other DE&I leaders, including Jarvis Sam, whose tenure in the role ended in November after just five months.

Papa Johns. Another company with a history of culture issues, Papa Johns saw its chief people and diversity officer, Marvin Boakye, announce his departure this October after almost four years.

Many, many municipalities and schools. A number of cities and colleges saw their DE&I leaders depart this year. As Ferdousi Faruque, the first DE&I chief for the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, who resigned after four months in the role, told GBH, “Two of the key factors in my resignation were the gatekeeping that was going on—I wasn’t getting the information I needed…as well as someone a department head who I would have to work with, really, seeming to intentionally mispronounce my name all of the time...those are the factors that kind of let me know.”

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She added, “The change that needs to happen, maybe Lowell wasn’t ready for it.”

Lessons learned. HR pros should consider these three things when appointing and onboarding DE&I leaders:

1. Executive buy-in. Hiring someone to lead DE&I is a great first step, but without a commitment from leadership, they can only do so much.

“Having the CEO share the organization’s commitment to DE&I in visible and consistent ways on the website, in media, in external events, etc., signals to future DE&I leaders that this leader and this organization is serious about DE&I,” Aarti Shyamsunder, YSC Consulting’s global head of DE&I, told HR Brew via email.

Executives can help by “making time to show up to meetings, events, and workshops to demonstrate serious commitment to the DE&I agenda,” Shyamsunder wrote, in addition to “showcasing the DE&I leader internally (and as appropriate, externally) as someone with decision-making authority and a strategic role in the organization.”

2. Support. DE&I leaders can’t do it all on their own. They need a team with expertise in recruiting, workforce planning, communications, and compliance.

“DE&I is not a ‘plug and play’ operation but demands a deliberate, contextualized, and long-term strategy,” Shyamsunder said, and involves “making introductions and showing visible support to the DE&I leader as they navigate their way through the system.”

CEOs may also want to consider hiring an executive coach for a new DE&I leader, Elizabeth Weingarten, head of behavioral science insights at leadership development platform, told HR Brew via email. “Coaches can support emerging leaders as they navigate new organizational environments, helping them grow as they try to understand their new context and create change,” she said.

3. Fit. As is the case when filling any role, the candidate needs to be a good fit for the company in its current situation. But that doesn’t mean that internal candidates should be favored, Mandy Price, co-founder and CEO of DE&I software provider Kanarys, told HR Brew via email.

“Organizations must be careful not to assume that all underrepresented employees have a background in DE&I work, and instead, they should hire a DE&I professional who has the experience driving organizational change,” she said.—AK

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected]. For completely confidential conversations, ask Aman for his number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.