HR ‘still has a diversity problem’, according to a panel of senior HR professionals at this year’s CIPD conference.
Discussing the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programmes on the second day of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition (ACE) in Manchester, HR heads from the BBC, Houses of Parliament, Barclays and BBC News called for the membership body to do more to support education in the profession around inclusion.
“We are part of the problem,” said Janet Campbell, HR director for the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority. “We need to have an honest conversation with ourselves and hold a mirror up to the profession.”
Campbell recalled reading a recent article suggesting that if HR were a person, it would be “white, female and able bodied”, and argued that this had to change. She added: “If we are the ones developing the policies and the processes, driving the culture, we have to look to ourselves. We have made some improvements as a profession and a society but there’s still some way to go.”
HR and diversity
According to the CIPD’s most recent statistics on the profession, HR is indeed 63% female, 11% of people have a disability, and 11% are from an ethnic minority.
Hannah Awonuga, global head of colleague engagement, diversity and inclusion at Barclays, said the CIPD could do more to offer HR professionals training around D&I fundamentals.
“We shouldn’t assume we are D&I professionals but we do need a level of training,” she said. HR professionals should also be at the forefront of confronting their own personal biases and experiences and how these apply to their role.
She added: “When George Floyd was killed in 2020 a colleague reached out to me and asked what it meant for us as an organisation. She had grown up outside London in a racist household and when she came to work there it was a culture shock and she had to do a lot of ‘unlearning’. Often we have experiences so ingrained that we need to go on that personal unlearning journey, and HR can be at the forefront of that.”
‘Don’t devolve D&I’
Julian John, a disability campaigner, agreed that it was important for HR practitioners to build their own knowledge rather than “devolving” to another function.
“There’s a risk with D&I that it becomes a department or person. But we’re on a journey to empower people. How many conversations are we having about experience and knowledge of D&I when we’re discussing career progression in HR?”
John argued that organisations should work towards building a “foundational knowledge” of D&I issues because this allowed constructive conversations to take place, rather than focusing on one initiative at a time.
There’s a risk with D&I that it becomes a department or person. But we’re on a journey to empower people.” – Julian John, disability campaigner
The panel also considered how to respond to pushback from a few senior leaders who think inclusion initiatives are “woke and left wing”.
“I am so worried about this unhelpful narrative,” added Campbell. “I am filled with despair when I hear politicians use that language. The only way to deal with it is to use your lived experiences to get that discussion on the table. Get the board to listen to someone with that experience and put themselves in their shoes.”
Irene Asare, global HR director for BBC News and Current Affairs, applauded the role of employee resource groups in raising the profile of challenges among under-represented groups.
“They enable us to have frank conversations about some of the challenges, their shared experiences, and where we want to get to as an organisation,” she said. This could be difficult in a news organisation where people often have strong opinions, she added.
“We try to foster a constructive conversation with some positive conflict. We don’t have all the answers, and often things come up that we’ve never come across before.”
Thinking about how policies and processes will land is crucial to building that empathy, concluded Campbell. “How often have you been on the receiving end of one of your policies? We have to think about the impact of the policies we create, and how we support the line managers who have to implement them.”