Would you like some diversity with that HR ?

diversity ship

Tonight’s headlines HR…. Entry level female employees still suffering pay disparity with their male peers, 11 female CEOs in the FTSE 350 (or 3.14%) still massively under-represented at the top of the organisation, HSBC chief says banking is still ‘too pale and male’, ethnic communities are still overly represented in the areas of poverty and unemployment in our country, meritocracy still means that being educated at the same private schools is a pre-requisite for running the country and we still produce crap, homemade, fascist organisations seeking simple, exclusive answers to our society’s ills when austerity hits us and Diversity gets binned.

Elsewhere, which modern day hero is going to help us from ourselves ? Only in this country could we not spot the irony that the current champion of women in the workplace Karren Brady, rose to fame by working under two famous pornography barons Gold and Sullivan in her 20s. Yeah, go figure 🙂

In a corporate environment I’ve watched large organisations for 20 years approach diversity in the way that borders on the patronising to the ridiculous. Diversity, for a while, was sprinkled affectionately (and so often inauthentically) on any old HR process, product and policy. Here is but a mere snapshot of what passed for diversity for me during that era :

  • My first HRD (or Personnel Director) in my first role as a Personnel Officer 20 years ago in the NHS, used me as a non-participative member of an interview board who would call foul if there was a hint of sexism entering the lips  from the godlike creatures of the medical profession. I blocked and tackled and sought to avoid litigation. Typical bloody HR.
  • I discovered along the way that nobody can do feelgood, fluffy, irrelevant flurries into Diversity more than the Financial Services community. I’ve been subjected to roundtable discussions involving Pamela from HRBP world whose contribution was to articulate her nervousness of the first Asian family to reside in their street. Powerful contribution there Pam.
  • I’ve witnessed one prominent high street Financial Services organisation organise a series of highly awkward workshops inside theatres to explore our diversity needs (we were all evidently white and middle-class but it didn’t stop the flamboyant, indulgent HR guy from staging a show that ended with a 14 year old semi-naked Turkish girl trying to force the head of department into a dance.)
  • I’ve had the MD of another large banking institution planning to put on a corporate hospitality event involving his top 150 clients….”and their wives” (his words) ! Men in a plenary session talking business of the day and women meeting Pat Cash in another room to help calm their social nervousness. Had Harry ‘women know your place’ Enfield done this we’d have seen the satire but my offending MD went to be promoted to the upper echelons of this fine high street retail bank.
  • I’ve had a global high technology provider request that our London office dress up as native Americans as part of our global diversity initiative. We did. It made HR look fools but the office had a laugh.

I could go on and on but this stuff has always been there and always troubled me. You see, as a sustainable part of our corporate evolution, Diversity in the last generation has  been reduced to this abysmal level of tokenism for the following five reasons :

  1. It is just too overwhelming for us to comprehend and move forward in large organisations. Too many sectional initiatives have proliferated across the UK to make this an agenda that doesn’t look like alphabet soup. It used to be a binary male : female debate, then race got involved but then a plethora of issues from Lesbian Gay and Transgender to giving Vulcans special religious status.  Organisations just don’t see it as part of the commercial landscape and treat it with just enough respect publically to ensure they fool enough people around them. But (they whisper) HR make me do this !
  2. We just don’t care. Enough. My experience tells me it polarises people. Unless you are one of those under-represented classes then you really can’t get yourself mobilised. It doesn’t become a talent debate but one about social justice, and that just puts certain people off from engaging on an even footing. Good god, there’s a movement on twitter called “Women in HR”. At 83% representation in the UK, that’s a bit like setting up the “Catholics in Vatican City” group. 🙂
  3. It’s the epitome of the relationship-driven HR functions of the past. It’s in the bucket of work that includes HR obsession with rules and process, the policing of casual bouts of an ‘ism’ that falls within the profession’s limited role in the workplace. Recruitment campaigns or training programmes treat diversity like 100s and 1000s, there to be sprinkled on at the end of the selection process like garnish.
  4. We have a society that gives in too often to casual forms of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, etc. Sportspeople, ‘celebrities’, newscasters have all been outed over the last few years for casual bouts of the inappropriate but with a shrug of the shoulder we seem to be, well not as tolerant as we like to think we are. Utter it quietly but as the stage show Avenue Q eloquently puts it “everyone’s a little bit racist….sometime”
  5. It’s HR’s fault. Too often it’s been given to the least impressive data-inspired part of the organisation, HR, and left on the peripheries of the business agenda. The commercialism debate gets lost, especially in a decade symbolised by decline and retrenchment, some say Diversity is the first thing to go. A self-defeating pity really. Another by-product is that Diversity people are careerists in that field, they don’t spread their wings but stay rooted to that discipline. Nothing wrong with that in itself but even in HR, hardly a catch-all for gender diversity, it throws up an issue of isolationism that leaves the agenda on the sidelines. Lastly, a call out to those clever sods in recruitment who managed to charge a premium in mandated searches for all that hard, extra effort required of finding a diverse candidate pool for their client. For the basic fee they’ll get you ‘male and pale’. And so it goes on.

I want to hope that the next generation make a better fist of it than mine. I recognise that its failure is a symptom of HR’s period of utter ineptitude in the business world. At a macro level the CIPD has resided over a period of utterly ridiculous employment legislation that turned the profession into a corporate policewoman and business into a soviet bloc bureaucracy, lacking any commonsense commercial agenda. I’m not convinced the trade union slogans of ‘better working lives’ adopted by Peter and the team in Wimbledon are game changers but time will tell.

I believe good HR professionals can help shape a more positive future on this. Whilst there aren’t enough of those forward-looking HRDs conditions elsewhere are seemingly perfect. Talent and Technology are arriving in town riding the data train and they don’t care how diverse you are as long as you contribute to the success of their business. In return they plan to indivdiualise your relationship with the enterprise down to the location you want to ‘work’ to how you wish to construct your rewards. Collaborate, engage and be productive buddy and you’re on the team.

Opportunity knocks HR. Time to up our game and seize the moment. This could be our last chance.

Until next time.


9 thoughts on “Would you like some diversity with that HR ?

  1. Chords have been struck. And it gets no better if HR isn’t in charge of diversity but it is managed by Equality and Inclusion, reporting directly to the CEO. All 31 one of them. Some male and pale – but only if they ticked the LGTB box. I was on assignment i/c of candidate attraction and seriously got calls asking for a black accountant and a differently abled marketeer.
    We had, as an organisation, a remit to match our client base for diversity – our clients being the whole of London. When I eventually wrestled the stats out of E&I it turns out that I should only hire pale people as we were ‘over-represented’ on BAME. However, only in the lower echelons. Surely a potential L&D and management issue and not necessarily recruitment (with the caveat that it makes you wonder what you were looking for when recruiting)? What struck me most was it was less about tick boxes and more about access. One of the biggest issues was class……

    And just to let you know that I blogged yesterday on the very topic of the new CIPD strap line for us – and even got a response from Mr Cheese (I did doorstep him on twitter) – you might just like it http://interimity.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/what-the-hell-is-hr-for/

    • Loved your blog and recognised the venom of frustration. Tried to cpomment and it threw me off. I’m still of the opinion that Peter Cheese doesn’t actually exist and won’t until I see him in the flesh.

  2. Barry – loved the piece on the diversity, very droll!! I’ve seen a lot of this recently and the only way to move this forward really is to correate to P&L. I heard the HSBC Chief Exec give a talk last week on the stale/pale/male landscape and why they need to change much much more. Have just sent you a LI connect request. Regards, Ben

    • Thanks Ben for commenting and the LI invite. The poor diversity folk have remained in the outer reaches of a profession that is on the outer reaches of business. That’s a long way out for impacting P&L sadly. How we will pull them closer (along with the rest of the people agenda) is the key. Stay in touch.

  3. Pingback: Diversity and HR in 2013 (1): ‘Diversity doesn’t matter to HR’ | XpertHR - Employment Intelligence

  4. Great post, great comments. I think that for the most part HR (and business in general) do not care much about Diversity and Inclusion…I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they do not understand it, even at a very foundational level. Ask an HR leader or a business leader to define Diversity or Inclusion and you are not likely to get an answer that makes any sense. I have heard seasoned HR practitioners and leaders and authors and speakers say that the “jury is still out on the so-called business case for diversity.” It is pretty troubling when people who are in the people business do not (or choose to not) understand what Diversity and Inclusion are really all about and what the associated value is.
    Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks a lot Joe. It’s a subject matter that deserves our most attention but recieves inauthentic charm offences far too often from HR. Lots of HRDs have dined out on this for many a year without turning any dial on the issue.

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