Back in October, you let a discussion with the HR leaders at The HR Reinvention Experiment titled “Reality Check: Does HR Really Get Diversity?” This discussion left me with a number of thoughts and questions that I think might be interesting to talk about here.
As we had the discussion that day and you talked through some of the really compelling cases for getting real about diversity in organizations, I was struck by how much my peers in that discussion seemed to really be struggling with this issue. It appeared to me that they had all at least considered the importance of diversity and some of them work in an organizations where they have diversity initiatives in place. But, when it came down to talking about HR’s role in driving a more diverse workplace, there didn’t seem to be a lot of either conviction or certainty about how HR should be involved.
The bigger realization that emerged for me out of this conversation was that not only does HR not seem to get it, we may in fact be a bit part of the reason that our organizations aren’t more diverse. I guess I should clarify that when I am talking about diversity here, I’m really talking about organizations who welcome, embrace and promote all types of difference. I’m talking about inclusive workplaces that are places where difference flourishes. What I’m not talking about is affirmative action plans.
Human Resources is the function within organizations that writes and maintains policies. We create the dress codes that make people look more uniform, more the same. We design performance appraisals that reinforce a specific set of behaviors, generally a set list, with the intention that the overall behavior of our employee population is more consistent, more the same. We enforce compensation equity and fairness, treating all people more the same. We build recruitment processes to attract and hire people that “fit the mold” and are the same as the other people we employee who have proven to be high performers. As organizations have increasing pushed towards a standard of efficiency, we’ve begun to treat people more and more like machines. And HR, despite being the department with “human” in our title, has led the charge because that’s what was expected of us.
So, I walked away with some conflicted emotions. Do I think HR gets diversity? Not really. I think we have a sense that it is important, but I think that the nature of our job gets in the way. Do I think that HR can be the champion for organizational diversity? Probably not. Before the conversation at HR Revinvention, I may have argued the opposite. But, as the conversation unfolded, it became clear to me that the work that HR does most of the time is designed to drive variance and difference out of the system, not invite more in. So, until the fundamental focus of HR shifts, we probably can’t effectively be the champion for diversity in our organizations.
That being said, I’d like to know if you share the same opinion. Despite this being the case, it’s important that HR teams and leaders acknowledge this dilemma and start taking some steps to become less of an obstacle to diversity and more inclusive. What would be your suggestions for where we should start? Do you have some ideas for practical steps that HR pros can take to move towards being more inclusive and to become more of a champion for diversity despite the barriers?