Diversity and inclusion has become one of the hot button topics of this generation, with many businesses taking major steps to ensure their workforces better reflect the shifting landscape.
That includes appointing specialist diversity and inclusion (D&I) professionals to take the lead on equal hiring practices and promoting new initiatives.
In fact, companies' demand for D&I professionals shot up 23% in 2019, per Indeed data. And the trend is expected to continue well into the new decade: Glassdoor is calling the emerging profession one of its "2020 Work Trends," with employers expected to ramp up D&I investment 64% this year.
But just what exactly does the rising role involve, and what are the skills required? CNBC Make It spoke to some leading D&I professionals to find out.
As with any job, the specific duties of a diversity and inclusion professional vary between companies and industries.
Yet, as a rule, their role is to act as a subject matter expert for D&I, consulting on the specific needs of an organization and designing relevant solutions, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's vice president of diversity, inclusion and belonging, told CNBC Make It.
"They provide thought leadership, manage business relationships, and execute initiatives to help the organization make progress on diversity and inclusion goals," she said.
Rising demand for D&I professionals has given way to more specific roles over recent years, noted Davis, who has worked in D&I for 15 years.
Where businesses once employed a lone D&I manager to focus solely on diverse hiring, many employers are now investing in "multi-level" teams — ranging from program managers to analysts and C-suite level representatives — to implement inclusivity and culture programs and ensure that diverse talent sticks around.
Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer at recruitment firm Randstad US agreed, noting that D&I today has become about so much more than filling quotas.
"The real challenge is making sure opportunities for professional growth and development (in addition to compensation, of course) are equitable across the organization — that's true inclusion," said Jenkins.
Regardless of the specific role, one key responsibility for all D&I specialists is to encourage engagement from staff across the organization. That's true regardless of a company's size, said Cara Pelletier, director of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Ultimate Software.
"By encouraging others to demonstrate the values of inclusion and respect in their day-to-day interactions with each other, an entire company's culture can shift in a meaningful and positive way," said Pelletier,
Experts agreed that calls for two specific skills beyond those typically required of HR professionals: The ability to connect people and the ability to read data.
"Introducing D&I efforts can be challenging, and everyone, from senior management to junior staff, needs to buy in for the effort to become a natural part of the company's culture," said Jenkins. "The person in this role should be the connector who demonstrates why D&I is relevant to everyone in an organization — even the ones who think it doesn't affect them."
Indeed's Davis added: "Professionals must have expertise in drawing meaningful insights from data to create a successful strategy, communicate a compelling narrative, and create action through accountability."
As demand for D&I professionals continues to grow, so too do salaries.
Salary aggregator, PayScale crunched the salaries of more than 1,000 U.S. D&I professionals for CNBC Make It and found median pay hovered between $84,000 and $126,000 across three major roles. Each of the roles recorded a net increase in pay over the past six years.
But the role also offers other fulfilling rewards, including the opportunity to implement change and see real results within an organization.
"I've found that people will stay in their roles longer and recommend a company as a great place to work when there is a diverse workforce, and employee engagement scores are high for inclusion and belonging," noted Davis.
"The best part of the role is shifting mindsets and organisational culture. D&I professionals can break glass and make an impact that benefits a company for years to come," Randstad's Jenkins added.
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