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Mac Alonge

The Equal Group


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Equality, diversity and inclusion: Why HR needs to take centre stage

HR teams have a crucial role to play in equality, diversity and inclusion. It’s our job to make sure this isn’t viewed as a one-off ‘tick box’ exercise.

The Black Lives Matter movement and, to some extent, the Covid-19 pandemic have brought the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) into sharper focus. With companies understanding the need for transformational and progressive EDI, rather than the high level, intangible, ‘we do our annual unconscious bias training – isn’t that enough?’ type of EDI.

When it comes to EDI, HR are perfectly placed to see the benefits and bear the consequences of good/bad EDI practices. HR must be vocal in resisting arbitrary approaches to EDI.

Progressive organisations are now beginning to look to HR teams for solutions and answers to questions that have historically not been asked – and several HR teams have been caught out. To date a lot of HR teams have considered EDI to be a synonym for ‘gender equality’, whilst neglecting other protected characteristics and failing to recognise the importance of intersectionality.

Whilst not EDI practitioners, it’s clear that HR, as people focused experts, have a fundamental role to play in EDI.

What is HR’s role in EDI?

The short answer to that question is that HR teams must ensure their organisations take a robust approach to EDI and avoid the common pitfalls that have led to years of inaction and a narrow focus on EDI.

There are a number of areas where HR teams can add a significant amount of value in a relatively short timeframe.

HR should seek data

Many HR functions will use some form of system to manage their people processes, whether that be applicant tracking systems (ATS), human resource information systems (HRIS), spreadsheets or a paper-based filing system. Whatever the approach, there will be a certain level of data to be used and leveraged.

From a principles level, organisations should be asking themselves what data (both quantitative and qualitative) they can gather and analyse to shed more light on their EDI performance from a number of perspectives, such as recruitment, progression, access to learning and development and attrition. The data gathered and analysed needs to consider as many protected characteristics and personal circumstances as possible, to give a holistic view of where performance could be improved.

HR should source experts

Whilst HR teams are often looked to as the first port of call for any EDI issues, where there is a lack of expertise, HR teams need to be confident in their ability to push back and inform their leaders that external support is needed. HR teams are burdened with numerous issues and often assume a perpetual ‘firefighting’ mindset. Unfortunately, this is something that HR teams have become accustomed to, dealing with numerous issues that are not of their making, whilst being expected to resolve – all whilst being understaffed and under-resourced.

Caution must be taken where EDI is concerned – if done poorly this will only create more and increasingly complex work for HR teams to resolve, with higher rates of attrition (particularly amongst underrepresented groups), employment tribunals and increasing levels of distrust from staff.

Obtaining external assistance can ensure that progress is made on EDI without necessarily detracting from HR activities, however, caution needs to be taken in partnering with EDI specialists. HR experts should be able to demonstrate in real terms the value that they are adding and the tangible outcomes that will result from working with them. HR teams should avoid EDI specialists that deliver the ‘feel good’ one-day workshops, without any demonstrable change.

Hold leaders to account

Leaders are typically quick to make statements and/or commitments, without due thought to how to bring to life these statements or commitments.

HR teams are often left to pick up the pieces. Therein lies the inherent conflict. HR teams are often placed in the compromising position of having to deliver on promises made in their absence, whilst not being given the budget or resources to deliver in a meaningful way.

HR teams need to get in the habit of pushing back on leaders and demanding the resources and budgets needed to deliver successfully. One of the ways that HR teams can ensure they are given sufficient resources is to improve their ability to construct compelling narratives and business cases.

Business cases highlighting the opportunity cost of not doing EDI right will open leaders’ eyes to the need to invest appropriately in this area. These business cases need to leverage clear and consistent data – making data gathering and analysis even more imperative.

Actively challenge

HR teams are often treated as an organisation’s poor relative – this is a perspective that needs to change, however, this change needs to be led by HR being more active and challenging in their approach.

When it comes to EDI, HR is perfectly placed to see the benefits and bear the consequences of good/bad EDI practices. HR must be vocal in resisting arbitrary approaches to EDI, such as unconscious bias training without a clear EDI plan, strategy and relevant SMART objectives.

The success of EDI programmes is intrinsically tied to the success of HR functions, therefore HR teams must constantly challenge their organisations to do better. They have everything to gain.  

Interested in this topic? Read Why we should not forget diversity and inclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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