Diversity function HR debate: Personnel Today reader responses

Comments from the equalities ‘tsar’ Trevor Phillips that diversity should be taken away from the HR function (Personnel Today, 21 August) prompted some forthright responses from our readers. Here’s a selection of your views.

I read with interest your article on whether or not diversity belongs in the HR department, following Trevor Phillips’ recent comments.

In one sense, of course, he is correct in that neither the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights externally, nor an HR department internally, can enforce diversity in an organisation. Sure, they may be able to impose compliance on the surface, but diversity is all about attitudes, and the true benefits of diversity in business can only be gained if it is fully supported in all the management processes and culture of the organisation.

But this is true of any aspect of HR. The HR department does not itself ‘manage’ talent or pay, for example, but creates the methods and processes to produce effective pay and talent management across the whole organisation.

My concern, though, is that not enough HR departments are really grasping the true point and benefit of diversity.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) early summer survey of diversity practice in UK organisations showed that most departments were wholly focused on the legal compliance aspects of diversity and adopting a ‘do this or else’ stance with the rest of the organisation.

Relatively few leading HR departments were addressing the wider issues and attempting to create the business benefits in their own organisation that wider research has shown can result from a truly diverse organisation – from greater creativity in diverse teams, for example, or in improved customer service to a diverse customer base.

If HR departments fail to grasp this wider business and cultural agenda and remain totally preoccupied with legal compliance, then they should not be surprised if someone else picks up this agenda and benefits from addressing it. They face exactly the same challenge with human capital reporting and with organisational development: unless they pick up and address these strategic agendas, then other functions and professions will, relegating HR to an administrative and compliance backwater.

Duncan Brown, director, HR services, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Integrating diversity is the key skill for HR to master

Having worked on diversity issues for many years, it’s great to see the subject getting a front-page headline in Personnel Today.

There are pluses and minuses of diversity being located in HR.

  • Plus: ready access to employee data, policy development, etc.

  • Minus: diversity (as with many other subjects) can too often be seen as yet another HR initiative.

My view is that the location is to some extent dependent on the organisation. With public sector duty obligations, an HR location can limit the impact on procurement, for example. In a call centre environment, an HR location might work better.

Integrating diversity into everything an organisation does is less about location of the role and more about the skills of the diversity practitioner, which are as much about influencing, being politically astute (in the organisational sense), finding champions, and promoting and measuring progress as it is about legal knowledge.

And what comes first? If an organisation had a truly diverse board, it wouldn’t need a chief diversity officer, would it?

Fiona Triller, equality and diversity manager, Meat Hygiene Service

HR is far too niche to be entrusted with diversity

I have worked as an equalities officer for five years and an HR business partner leading on equalities for two years. I wholeheartedly support the idea of taking the responsibility of diversity away from HR, as it is one of the best ways of ensuring it is mainstreamed.

I would like to see some form of equalities association, as over the years I have been concerned at the ‘cowboys’ I have met, who are responsible for equalities. We need a CIPD for equalities professionals.

Sally-Anne Subidé, HR partner (equalities), Guildford Borough Council

Employers must develop an appetite for diversity

At present, there is no regulation and consistency in diversity training and advice.

An association can help with quality control and networking, and raise the profile of diversity advisers. However, the biggest problem is that the consumption of diversity advice is poor, especially where organisations need it the most – they seem fearful of change and prefer to sweep the problem under the carpet. An association cannot help deal with this major barrier.

Atul K Shah, chief executive, Diverse Ethics

Embracing diversity in the workplace is all in the mind

We can watch HR people jumping around so that their policies and procedures are being adhered to, and we can see the many groups purporting to act for diversity in so many arenas, but none ever get to the real root of the problem, which is in-bred thinking patterns.

Laws are the sticks with which to beat those blatantly being discriminatory in whatever form. Unfortunately, it is what exists in people’s psyche that must somehow be tackled.

John Hooley, posted on Personneltoday.com

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