CEHR chairman Trevor Phillips exposes massive HR rift over ‘ownership’ of the diversity agenda

Opinion is divided among leading practitioners over whether responsibility fordiversity should be taken away from HR, as suggested by equalities tsar Trevor Phillips last month (Personnel Today, 21 August).

The chairman of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights said diversity was “no longer the sole province of HR”, and called for the creation of a separate diversity function to embrace equality across an organisation’s workforce, products and services.

Many senior HR and diversity specialists agreed. Duncan Brown, director, HR services, at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and former assistant director-general at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, told Personnel Today: “Not enough HR departments are really grasping the true point and benefit of diversity.”

Brown said most departments focused purely on the legal compliance of diversity, adopting a ‘do this or else’ approach. “If HR fails to grasp the wider business and cultural agenda and remains preoccupied with compliance, it should come as no surprise if someone else picks up this agenda,” he said.

But Fiona Triller, equality and diversity manager at the Meat Hygiene Service (part of the Food Standards Agency), said the fundamental issue was about recruiting the right people.

“Integrating diversity into everything an organisation does is less about the location of the role, and more about the skills of the diversity practitioner,” she said.

Atul Shah, chief executive of consultancy Diverse Ethics, said it went beyond who ‘owned’ diversity.

“The biggest problem is that the consumption of diversity advice is poor, especially where organisations need it the most,” he said. “They seem fearful of change and prefer to sweep the problem under the carpet.”

Meanwhile, the Learning and Skills Council said that later this year it would be submitting to government policymakers proposals for a new diversity association after consulting existing equality practitioners.

Should diversity be taken away from HR?


  • “It is one of the best ways of ensuring diversity is mainstreamed.”
    Sally-Anne Subidé, HR partner (equalities), Guildford Borough Council
  • “It’s not just about who you employ – it’s about the organisation’s products and services.”
    Lee Probert, director of equality and diversity, Learning and Skills Council


  • “HR professionals are best placed to drive the diversity agenda, influencing line managers and other employees to ensure diversity becomes a mainstream issue.”
    Dianah Worman, diversity adviser, CIPD
  • “It’s what exists in the psyche of people that must be tackled.”
    Blogger John Hooley, posted on Personneltoday.com

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