HR and Diversity

After an enjoyable couple of days at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, I’m quite buoyed about the growing understanding amongst HR professionals to innovate their practice, and how to make their practice more human centred. There were great stories from companies who insist on their managers being of the same level and with no extra pay than the people reporting into them, stories of companies who gave their staff breakfast everyday, stories of purposeful mentoring programmes to help women achieve senior levels, and stories of how to cultivate managers to be their best authentic selves.

And as I reflect, I’m struck at just how far down the agenda diversity is. Not in terms of the conference or exhibition – there were a good range of topics to address diversity, and a good number of exhibitors who were concerned about raising awareness of various topics about diversity.

Here are the very blatant observations of what I saw.

1) Speakers were nearly all white, middle aged, and mostly men. If there were women presenting, they were also white and middle aged. As far as I’m aware, there was one Asian, middle aged, male speaker.

2) I do not recall seeing (either myself, via social media, or hearing about) any speakers who – chose to share their disability, or chose to share their sexual orientation. This shouldn’t be important to know at a conference, yet it is.

3) Far too many jokes which were not banter based at all, even though the ones making them will defend it to the hilt. Too many presumptions of acceptance, and presumptions of acceptable behaviour. Jokes that were laden with innuendo and inappropriate. It’s almost as if we excuse ourselves for making the jokes, because we work in HR.

4) I saw one comparatively young speaker.

5) The delegates (both exhibition and conference) clearly were all from a complete diversity of the population.

Diversity doesn’t matter to HR.

We’re too busy making the business case for it to the executive teams. We’re too busy navel gazing and looking for ways to make ourselves strategic. We’re too busy reading and writing blogs about diversity and how the workforce needs to be inclusive.

If HR cared about diversity, the speakers would reflect that.

The speakers were primarily white, middle aged men. Where I saw a woman talk, it was at a talk about how to encourage more women to take senior roles in organisations. Don’t believe me? Go take a look at the speakers page.

And I’m going to head the main criticism I’m sure I will hear straight off at the pass. No, it shouldn’t matter who speaks at these conferences, and no it shouldn’t matter if we know if someone is gay or not. But it does. It matters because that’s the society we live in. The profession is a reflection of me, and I should be a reflection of the profession.

Let me be clear. This isn’t a dig at the CIPD for the organisation of the speakers. It’s up to each organisation who is selected to talk, and in some cases sole practitioners will be doing the talking. This is something I’ve seen reflected in other conferences too.



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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

15 thoughts on “HR and Diversity”

  1. Great post. I want to share your post on my site Your experience at the conference is similar to the experience of many in many industries. To change the selection process 1) People of all backgrounds must apply to present 2) The selection committee needs to be mindful…even set goals for a balanced presenter roster reflective of the audience 3) Attendees must speak up and show their disappointment re diversity.

  2. Talking the talk doesn’t necessary lead to walking the walk. Many practitioners I speak with as to why they aren’t more inclusive in their selection use the standard escape, “Well, if more would apply, we would!” Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that. You can’t sit and wait for people to show up. In order to promote a truly inclusive workplace you’ve got to reach out and make the extra effort to truly include others.

  3. Great article. Far too many ‘presume’ and offend – while management look the other way. If management really were strategic minded they would also be aware of business risk. We too would like to share it and may quote snippets from this, above, on our website; HR & Diversity Management Limited founders of The National Bullying Helpline where the employers inability to manage these important aspects of our working life, UK wide, are all too often reported to us at our bullying helpline.

  4. I agree with Leo, there is a certain degree of reaching out to people to take part. People who are different don’t always feel comfortable putting themselves forward. After just attending the meaning conference and the Tedx Salford I was blown away with the variety of thoughts delivered by a variety of speakers. This is far more powerful than hearing the same message from the same people.

  5. Reblogged this on Organisational Learning and Development and commented:
    Another really good post from Sukh. My organisation is one that has a huge level of diversity across most of it areas of work, including HR, which I have noticed for us means that we don’t often talk able diversity, simply because it is part of our day to day life, our corporate DNA so to speak. What I do find interesting is that Sukh has hit the nail on the head, when I think about my networks and connections and the conferences I attend outside of the organisation. We are all for the most past, either white middle aged men or women. I am not sure however that this means that diversity doesn’t matter to HR or that if diversity did matter HR would look very different. It might mean that as a profession we are not working hard enough to encourage people from diverse backgrounds not only to enter the profession but to want to share their experiences at conferences and such and work towards leadership roles. I agree that we should reach out more and do more to encourage people from diverse backgrounds and not just for legislative reasons or the like, but because highly diverse workplaces can really encourage different ways of thinking and doing things.

  6. This is an outstanding post, drawing attention to a very important issue.

    The resulting discussion has brought up a very interesting potential solution, proposed by Sophie Medd of the Work Foundation.

    She suggests that the CIPD and UK HR leaders could follow an example from Australia and take a ‘panel pledge’ to improve the diversity of the speaker panels seen at UK HR conferences.

    Please see Update 2 on this post for further details of what such a ‘panel pledge’ might entail:

    I think this is a compelling idea, and it would be great if the CIPD, UK HR leaders, and the organisers of other UK HR conferences were to consider such an idea.

    Thank you once again for highlighting this issue in the first place, sir.

  7. Great post. Not only does HR not care about diversity, HR does not understand diversity. In the HR profession (and the corporate workplace in general) diversity (or inclusion, or cultural competence) continue to languish because it is viewed primarily through the lens of compliance (not breaking the law), and through the lens of “niceness,” (not being mean to people.) So as long as we (as individuals, as departments, or as organizations) are not breaking the law and we are not intentionally being mean to each other, everything if fine…we can run around and talk about diverse we are and how inclusive we are and we can all pat ourselves on the back. And this is where most organizations, and most leaders and most people are at today…quick to say they are “inclusive”…yet they often cannot point to one single intentional thing that they do to include difference.

    Diversity and inclusion continue to be poorly understood, most business leaders cant even provide you with definitions of diversity or inclusion that actually make sense and mean something. The same is true of HR, yet HR gets kind of a free pass on D&I, as they are viewed as “getting it.”

    Inclusion is activist, it does not happen because of good intentions. It happens because people intentionally and deliberately include additional difference in groups and processes…conference agendas for example. Proclaiming yourself (or your organization, or your event) to be good or fair or inclusive does not mean that you are inclusive…including difference is what makes you inclusive.

    I know nothing about CIPD, but my guess is that they do what most corporations, organizations, communities and associations do…they do just enough to demonstrate their good intentions…just enough to be able to tell the world that they are one of the “good ones,” and nothing more. Inclusion is hard work and always disruptive…most organizations are not really looking for that.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Wow! BAM!!! You hit the nail on the head, Joe. You’ve clearly articulated what is undermining most D&I efforts in companies: complacency and accepting the status quo.

      Have you had experience with changing this status quo? I’m constantly circulating articles and references that show the benefits of diversity, but for most people these remain academic. They don’t have the gut feeling, or the courage, for necessary change. “No pain; no gain; no change,” goes the saying. The “pain” is obviously compliance. But my question is: how to show the gain?

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