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The challenges of 2020 accelerated the demand for a values-led approach across the corporate landscape. There’s a new set of stakeholders to consider when it comes to evaluating business success and a new set of metrics. The way companies treat their employees, their communities and the planet is under a powerful historical spotlight that will not only impact their legacy and growth but determine what type of world the next generation will inherit.

Thriving in a purpose economy has meant a shift at the top. There’s more transparency, agility and less silos. Not only is gender and racial diversity paramount in C-Suites, but re-imagined leadership teams with new titles and expanded responsibilities are emerging. According to a 2019 report by EY 82% of CEOs added a C-level position in the last five years.

The growing acronyms might make you dizzy, but trending titles can tell us a lot about the challenges facing the private sector and how they are pivoting to meet new expectations.

Let’s take a look at some of the roles growing in responsibility and importance.

Chief Sustainability Officer

In 2018, Weinreb Group research found there were 44 Chief Sustainability Officer positions at roughly 7000 publicly traded US companies. That number is surely growing.

Sustainability is defined by the United Nations as ‘development that meets the need of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

This role, which traditionally focused on environmental stewardship, now encompasses all that helps a company create long-term value for stakeholders. The issues a Chief Sustainability officer has to tackle are diverse and numerous. Many of them are reflected in the 17 SDG Goals that many companies have selectively adopted to give their plans focus.

From gender equality to clean energy there is a growing demand for accountability and action in the private sector to solve real world problems. While that responsibility falls on the entire C-Suite, Chief Sustainability Officers have been key leaders in designing the blueprint for action and driving innovation across the business to best serve people, the planet and the bottom line. Perhaps today’s Chief Sustainability Officers are the CEO’s of the future.

Chief Diversity Officer 

This is the fastest growing C-Suite title of 2020 according to a LinkedIn study. The summer of last year saw protests across the country demanding an end to generations of systemic racism. This only intensified an urgent expectation in the corporate landscape to examine company cultures, eradicate unconscious bias and foster inclusive and diverse environments.

It has been proven diverse teams are more creative and innovative and diverse management teams outperform. In late 2019 Wall Street journal research analysts ranked industries and companies for diversity and inclusion – they found a clear link to performance. Those with more diverse teams had a competitive advantage. The data is proving what many leaders have known to be true all along.

Diversity encompasses many dimensions beyond race including disability, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and more. And since the role has not been a traditional fixture in the C-Suite and investment has not historically been put into programs at scale, new approaches and best practices are being piloted and shared across industries. This role is set to be a permanent and powerful fixture of the modern C-Suite.

Chief Learning Officer

The role was first introduced (on record) in the 1990’s at General Electric. Today the focus for a CLO is not just about skills training to keep up with the demands of a constantly shifting tech landscape. It’s also about transforming company culture. Learning is social and collaborative, and therefore the right environment needs to exist for all employees, from leadership down, to grow and develop.

Harvard Business Review conducted a survey in 2020 with 21 CLO’s and identified three key principles of change they were driving. They were: learning goals, learning methods and learning departments. To cultivate curiosity CLOs were personalizing, digitizing and autonomizing learning.

Predicting where the world is going and what your workforce will need to be equipped with is a tough gig, but what is clear is that investing in your employees now and empowering them with new experiences, access to data and information will help set your business up for longer term success.

With new vision, talent and priorities C-Suite teams need to be ready to face the future – and help build a better one.