What is the role of HR?
As many companies start to realise the importance of diversity and inclusion and put strategies and policies in place, it’s quite likely that HR will be tasked with leading the process. This is a huge opportunity for HR to make an impact and help to create a workplace where equality and a sense of belonging become a reality for everyone in the organisation.
There is a reason that the terms diversity and inclusion (D&I) are placed together. It is not enough to hire people from diverse backgrounds. Unless there is a culture that gives individuals a voice and values who they are – without trying to make them fit the corporate mould – then D&I becomes nothing more than a tick box exercise.
The stress of being left out
From the outside the company may have the appearance of being diverse and leadership may even pat themselves on the back for their efforts. But if people don’t feel included unless they dress a certain way or act a certain way then D&I efforts are not meeting their objectives. If HR has a role in driving the process then it’s up to them to identify where inclusion isn’t being felt and start to have the conversations around how things could be done differently.
An important part of the hiring process is finding people that are a good fit for the business. People whose values align with what the company wants to achieve and who can help make a valuable contribution. If HR embarks on hiring with diversity in mind but does not prioritise inclusion as part of the process then it won’t be effective. When a person feels that they can’t be themselves at work, they can’t express their thoughts or ideas or they can’t act as they normally would it makes the workplace a very stressful environment for them. They’ll spend their time second guessing everything they say and do. It’s very likely to not only affect how they’re feeling but also their contributions and productivity.
How HR can help
If HR is to drive the process of diversity and inclusion it must be on the understanding that it is a complex process. There are many factors that influence culture and whether individuals feel the culture includes or excludes them. In effect, HR is being tasked with trying to change elements of the culture – weed out bad habits that may be resulting in the company being less inclusive. It starts with having really honest conversations with senior leadership and having at least one senior person who is willing to become the D&I champion.
Its subtle things in the workplace that make people feel excluded. It can be a comment about the way they dress or do their hair and it takes a senior person to identify and call those things out to make others realise that what they’re saying is impacting how people feel as professionals. The culture of a company is not created through policy, but rather through the actions and reactions of senior leaders. Employees take their cues from how managers act, so when management starts to change what they say and do to make the workplace more inclusive it will filter down into all areas of the business.
The other way in which HR can help is by creating a platform where people can be heard. This can be done by inviting conversations around diversity and inclusion and really taking the time to find out how people are feeling. Do they feel as though the company is one big happy family or is there a disconnect between the company policy and culture? It must be remembered that people won’t easily share their thoughts, especially if they are already feeling excluded. HR can create that safe space where people can either report incidents anonymously or know that they will actually be heard. That something will be done about it, because if not, what’s the point of speaking up.
Most importantly HR can help communicate why D&I is important. Rather than something to do because it’s a trending topic, there’s real business value in having a pool of different perspectives to draw from. That’s where ideas and creative solutions are found and that’s how companies grow.
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