A culture of difference

It is no longer unusual to find a ‘head of diversity’ in both public and private sector organisations. But what does this role actually involve?

Sam Clark has been head of inclusion and diversity at Accenture for two years and leads diversity initiatives for the management and technology consultancy in the UK and Ireland. Her role has existed within the remit of HR at the company since 2002. She reports to the HR director who, in turn, reports to the managing director in the UK.

Clark believes it is vital to have someone leading on diversity.

“You need to have a function that sets the tone for the organisation. This is about creating an inclusive culture that really does embrace difference,” she says. “Line managers often need help so that they can understand how best to manage different people. You want an environment where people want to come to work and feel that they will be treated with respect.”

Chris McCoy has been head of equality and diversity at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) since September 2004. There has been a diversity and equality unit for at least eight years, since before the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was renamed Defra.

Raising awareness

Unlike Accenture, Defra’s diversity and equality unit does not sit within HR. Instead, the HR team reports to McCoy.

“We don’t actually get involved in procedures such as selection, but we advise HR on the procedures they use,” she says.

The team sits in the ‘improvement and delivery group’ at Defra and McCoy herself reports to the head of the corporate development team. “It sits here because my role involves managing change and developing leadership,” she says. “At Defra, diversity is about making hard decisions and looking at strategy. It’s about managing staff and customers better,” she says.

Both Clark and McCoy are responsible for raising awareness of diversity issues. Clark’s main role is to manage a programme of events for specific groups, including an annual Inclusion and Diversity Week.

This year Clark organised a global women’s day, which linked 20 of Accenture’s offices via a live webcast with speakers – including Germaine Greer – talking about having a successful career as a woman.

“The idea is to stimulate people with external spokespeople. If you do something a bit different, it gets people interested,” says Clark.

McCoy heads Defra’s diversity champions group. This is a collection of people from all parts of the organisation on all levels who have an interest in diversity. They meet every quarter to consult. “People talk about different scenarios and ask if anyone else has had to deal with similar issues,” says McCoy.

However, training is higher on McCoy’s agenda. Her philosophy is to tackle diversity issues head on and discuss the subjects that people feel most uncomfortable about. “We want staff to feel that they can ask questions such as: ‘Why do disabled people get interviews when other people don’t?’ There are usually a few sharp intakes of breath, but you have to get these questions out in the open,” she says.

The key to this training is the message that sometimes you have to treat people differently to treat them fairly. “We are trying to teach managers to make these judgements,” says McCoy.

Clark is also leading training on areas such as what kind of language and behaviour is acceptable at work. “We don’t want to change anyone’s personality, but create an environment where people can respect each other,” she says.

McCoy is also responsible for assessing diversity within the business and has initiated the unit’s five-year strategic plan. “This addresses issues such as how diversity is viewed by managers and whether it hinders their jobs,” she says.

It is not in McCoy’s remit to translate equality legislation, but she works closely with both HR and the legal department to keep up with new rules. “I try to be proactive during relevant consultations.”

According to Clark, the heavy stream of new legislation underlines the need for a diversity team. “You need a central function to anticipate some of that,” she says. “You don’t just need to follow the letter of the law but the spirit of it as well.”

Measuring the impact

However, both McCoy and Clark struggle to measure the impact of diversity initiatives. Clark says: “You can measure retention and how many women return after maternity leave, but happy people are harder to quantify.”

The responsibilities they share and where they sit within their organisations may be different, but Clark and McCoy have the same goal – to embed diversity within the workforce. The irony is if they do their jobs well, their roles may become redundant, says McCoy.

“In a sense, I’m trying to do myself out of a job,” she admits. “But I want diversity to be embedded in everyone’s roles and I can see that happening in as little as 10 years’ time.”

CV: Chris McCoy

  • 2004 to date: Head of diversity and equality, Defra
  • 2002-2004: Diversity manager, Defra
  • 2000-2002: Private secretary to Robin Cook, leader of the House of Commons
  • 1998-2000: Assistant private secretary to Department for Work and Pensions ministers Stephen Timms, Hugh Bayley and Maria Eagle
  • 1997-1998: Industrial relations manager, Child Support Agency
  • 1991-1996: Personnel and equality manager, Stratford Benefits Agency Office

CV: Sam Clark

  • 2003 to date: Head of inclusion and diversity, Accenture (UK & Ireland)
  • 1991-2003: Range of HR roles at Accenture, including graduate recruiter, European director of change management division and employee relations manager
  • 1987-1989: Graduate trainee scheme, specialising in HR at Royal Mail Letters

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