An immensely clever, able friend of mine worked for someone who was afraid. It stopped him being effective. It drove my friend to distraction and eventually out of the organisation which badly needed his skills. The boss in question was possibly afraid of my friend’s vision, capability and sheer energy: and definitely afraid of the many headed hydra which is Diversity and Inclusion. The boss spent most of his time controlling, micro-managing and getting upset about the what is everyday bread and butter to people who work in diversity/inclusion (blank sheets of paper, strategy development and implementation, board room influencing, external, senior government relations and big, big events as well as the immensity of the change agenda).
Hearing this reminded me of when I was invited to an internal event to update HR competences. In the round robin the Chair dutifully listened to everyone’s contribution but skipped my turn. I asked why…. the reply was – because everyone does diversity, we all know what you do. I asked what that was and she replied: ‘well, you look at stats and make sure our managers aren’t racist and sexist’.… I took a deep breath reeled off a list of strategic change initiatives and projects the Diversity team had been involved in which was either organisation wide or part of a UK government initiative. In other words the thinking behind the policy and ultimate practice that mainstream HR implements. It was a surprise to the Chair.
And this has given me pause for thought about the debate – ‘Diversity has failed’ . Maybe the issue is how wrong organisations have been to have left Diversity and Inclusion in Human Resources. A significant amount of the job of the Diversity and Inclusion specialist lies outside HR. It is hardly surprising that HR does not acknowledge its impact. And this goes as far as the removing Diversity and Inclusion as a distinct specialism from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development competence map. Of course the rationale for doing this was sound but misguided: Diversity and Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. Er, yes and no.
I and so many Diversity/Inclusion specialists have found ourselves forging a business start up, persuading senior managers to allocate seed funding; working to create accessibility standards; participating in teams developing inclusive products and services; training procurement specialists in inclusive procurement; developing the skills of sales people to understand inclusive products and services (and to use inclusive language and behaviour…) advising government about how legislation needs to change and sitting on public platforms with entrepreneurs and government ministers to talk with authority about our subject.
But maybe is goes back to my friend’s boss: diversity and inclusion is about change: change creates fear and uncertainty: fear of change and fear of disruptive thought and disagreement. For years HR has been accused of ‘not being strategic or business focused’ Is it that HR is so frantic about being ‘business focused’ and interprets this as avoiding debate, argument and disagreement. But to be a proper business partner, business deserves and needs more: it needs challenge, debate and difference of opinion.
Diversity and Inclusion, at its best, thinks out of the box and challenges HR and business to do things differently. This can be painful but it cannot be effective if its HR line management is timid or afraid. It cannot be effective if the changemakers are reined in. Diversity and Inclusion is about changing minds and behaviour; it is about creating structural change and challenging and guiding business to forge a different future, it is about telling the business what it doesn’t particularly want to hear.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress” Frederick Douglas, the former slave and abolitionist said.
Bringing about a more inclusive organisation involves being disruptive, but disruptive for good. Something that we in the Diversity & Inclusion community must not forget to remember.