Wanted: Chief Humanity Officers

C-suite job categories are signs of the times.

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A couple of years into the economic recovery, I interviewed Ann Mei Chang, a former U.S. State department official who had recently been hired as Mercy Corps’ first Chief Innovation Officer. Her goal, she said, was to reorient the nonprofit toward new business models and technology adoption.

Chang, who since moved on to become Chief Innovation Officer for U.S. AID, is one of thousands of Chief Innovation Officers hired in the past five years. 

The now-not-so-new job category has its roots in the recession and the rise of rapidly changing internet technologies.

Laid off workers had started new companies at a record pace. And as entrepreneurship rates skyrocketed, so did the need for executives who could nudge legacy companies, nonprofits and government agencies toward innovation.

Chief Innovation Officers* fit the bill.

A couple of years ago, another executive position started showing up in the headhunter log sheet. 

The position was Chief Diversity Officer, a leadership role that grew out of trends ranging from Black Lives Matter and urbanization to the maturing of a tech/innovation sector that suddenly realized companies led and staffed by white males were not innovative and not good for business either.

Inclusion and diversity became embedded in the language of the new economy, and the philosophy was soon codified into corporate structure as Chief Diversity Officers were hired in droves.

Which brings us to today.

As I write this, Mark Zuckerberg is testifying in front of a joint Senate Committee meeting regarding Facebook’s role in perpetuating fake news, inciting violence and violating pretty much everyone’s privacy. The Zuckerberg mea culpa comes a month after a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car, a tragedy that sent shock waves through the automated vehicle industry and the government agencies poised to regulate it.

It doesn’t take much in the way of foresight or analytical chops to recognize we are on the cusp of a new era.  

The tech company adulation that drove a new wave of Chief Innovation Officers is giving way to skepticism of the innovation unleashed by the software and social media revolutions.

The self-reflection that propelled Chief Diversity Officers is broadening to include the impact of innovation on all citizens, on the human community writ large, not just select groups of people.

One can catch glimpes of the new zeitgeist in the panel discussions starting to appear on tech conference agendas, which typically focus exclusively on innovation and (more recently) diversity. Check this event happening in McMinnville on May 2: The Humanity of Technology, An Interactive Panel of Technology Experts.

And yes, corporate hiring practices will likely reorganize in response. I predict a new wave of Chief Humanity Officers, a role defined by the policing of the technology companies create and a check on the value add new technologies bring to society.

So executives, get your resumes and LinkedIn profiles ready. Leadership hiring patterns reflect the culture and the tenor of the times. And the times are changing — at a breakneck pace.

*Arguably the first wave of new economy executive positions were Chief Sustainability Officers, which became a thing in the 1980s with the ascension of corporate sustainability reporting.

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