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.


Early thoughts from Day One at #cipd13

While time allows, I wanted to write some early thoughts and reflections from the morning at CIPD’s annual conference in Manchester. The first for me is about the keynote by Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee. Apparently, they’ve written a book or two. In talking with Martin Couzins, he ruminated on how the focus was on the big corporates and organisations – and nothing from the SME (small and medium enterprises) population. If the UK is largely kept alive because of these SME’s, we need to be more mindful about the case study’s we expound and who they’re meant to represent.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion in HR. Yet at these conferences we typically hear from white middle aged men (and some women) in senior positions. Because, you know, BME executives and senior managers just don’t exist, or have anything of value to share. Am I being harsh? Not at all. It’s a fact of conferences. Whic in turn is a fact of corporates and organisations. Diversity and inclusion is a core part of HR and organisational practice? Not from what I’ve seen so far, or from what I’ve been reading on the backchannel.

Additionally, then, there’s no diversity of thinking from Rob and Gareth. They’ve just created their own version of an employee engagement methdology, written a book about it, and are talking about it. Because organisations can’t think for themselves. This pisses me off. Organisations get so myopic in their operational activity that they seem to forget they have the capability to make a difference without needing the likes of Goffee and Jones telling them how the big corporates do it.

I also take issue with the data source Rob and Gareth had access to. By his own confession, Rob Goffee said they naturally end up talking with executives in organisations. And then later he talked about the need for ‘difference, radical honesty, and authenticity‘. Yet they didn’t talk with other members of the organisations they’ve investigated. What about junior workers? Middle managers? Subject matter experts? Adminstrators? Do they not also have stories to share? This natural inclination towards the senior leaders is understandable, but goes against current thinking about open and transparent organisations.

I’m not knocking the keynote itself, it was very good. They presented a lot of useful information which will probably get the grey cells working for a lot of people in the room. What was lacking though was deeper content about creating best places to work.

The next session held a lot of promise in the title – Creating Meaningful Work through Big Data. This was delivered by Andy Campbell, HCM Strategy Director, from Oracle. Now, being Oracle I was expecting some impressive stuff about how Oracle is used to help create meaningful work. Instead what we got was quite lacklustre stuff about how big data is being used in other parts of the workforce. In truth, you could get just as much from a post I wrote before about this.

We were shown a demonstration of how they incorporate all sorts of data about a staff member into one system so a manager can see everything about someone from one place as opposed to different systems. That makes sense to me, and is not necessarily about big data as opposed to aggregation of a lot of data into one place. And there was one example of the smart use of data which I loved. In professional rugby, each player wears a GPS chip in their shirt which sends immediate data about their performance on the pitch. Using information such as the player’s performance, the team performance, previous performance, and other factors like the effect of weather on play, the time of year, all help the coached and managers make informed decisions about what to do next. That’s clever use of big data.

When we think about big data and HR, what we need to think about is how can we, in HR/L&OD, take big data and inform people practice? I just don’t think it’s happening, and I’m dubious about if it’s possible. Capturing social sentiment, turnover rates, and recruitment stats are all useful data points. What we’re not doing is finding a way to bring that together in a meaningful way which helps us to make actual informed decisions. Oracle should hold the promise for it, from what I saw and heard, they’ve not got it right yet either.

I’m hopeful that we can use big data to inform people practice, we just need to get past the hype and rudimentary systems we think are helping us make it happen, and wait for a bright spark to truly make things happen because of big data.

I’ve got a nerve

I’ve got a nerve.

One of the topics I get all het up about is inclusion. There are plenty of people writing about their experience of being excluded because of various factors. There are plenty of people writing about the need to include people of all ilks, and not discriminate. There are some very smart people moving beyond these conversations and making compelling arguments for the case.

Inclusion. It matters.

I’m fortunate. Very fortunate.

My folks chose to graft and send me to a private school to get a good education in my early years. I got my GCSEs – distinctly not all A’s and B’s. More like C’s and a combination of the rest. That’s not a good thing to making a point of. The private education was meant to do better for me than that with respect to my results. What I did learn about though was things like being independent. I went on school skiing trips, camping trips, week long I.T. camps, trips to the ballet, to Canterbury Cathedral, and more. I learned how to be confident in myself even though I may not have been academically brilliant.

From there, I went on to college to do my ‘A’ Levels in psychology, sociology and french. A year longer than I should have been there, and I got my grades to get me on a bachelors degree in psychology. I enjoyed that subject a lot. And after that, and some wondering whether I was going to go down the educational psychology route, I decided on occupational psychology and got my pass in 2003. I was a straight C student through all that. I didn’t find it easy, and often questioned what I wanted to do.

My family were there through all that. My friends came and went through all that. I also worked in a lot of different part time jobs through all that. I learned a lot about other cultures in that time. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhi, Hinduism, all became fascinating topic of interest for me. I wasn’t scholarly, but I knew a lot of people from all those religions and actively sought to find out more about them. I even did my undergraduate dissertation on the topic of homosexuality and religion.

I’ve got a nerve.

It wasn’t until I started work life that I was exposed to more. I thought I was fairly good at being sensitive to others and knowing how to behave. Then I met people who were wheelchair bound. I met people who were homosexuals and lesbians. I met people who were challenging poor behaviours at work. I learned slowly that difference exists in the big bad world, and you can choose to either accept people for who they are, or you don’t. I saw that people tended to be better when they were inclusive. I like being inclusive, and don’t like to exclude anyone. Harmony and relationships are important to me. So I take the time to learn more about these other ways of living and what that means for people.

Later in my working career, I started to work in positions where I was having to help others understand more about this topic of diversity. Wow that was hard. I had to learn a lot about my own prejudices and my own behaviours I was exhibiting. That was tough. I had to face up to facts about myself and how I thought about the world. That’s not an easy set of thoughts to own up to. I had to accept I had prejudices against gay people. I had to accept I had prejudices against certain religions. I had to accept I had prejudices against disabled people. Holy crap.

I’ve got a nerve.

Through hard work, I learned that this was just crap. I had to learn how to challenge myself. I had to learn how to value others. Because, you see, I didn’t – not really. I accepted them. I even tolerated them. How very superior, right? How very unintelligent. How very crass and single minded. I don’t think I was ever openly dsicriminatory to anyone. But that wasn’t my issue. I was privately discriminatory.

How do you get past that? How do you stop that kind of thinking?

There’s no silver bullet here people. I can’t point at a particular thing and say “that right this, and that right there” was what helped me. I had to challenge what I knew by talking with others. By talking to people in the know. By reading what I could. By taking time to reflect and find out what was going on in my head.

I’ve got a nerve.

At the same time as all this, I remember learning about being English. That’s a weird thing to say, right? I mean, why would I want to learn that? I grew up in this country, so why wouldn’t I know about the culture I’ve grown up in? Because growing up in a country, and knowing its culture are not the same thing. Things like football, cricket, tea, English breakfast, beer, London Town, music, art, books – all of these things and more, make up what I love about being an English man.

Voting, sarcasm, self-deprecation, politics, schooling, education, the NHS, this is all part of who I am and what I know. Banter – oh my, what would we do without banter! I’ve learned, both through my own and through others mistakes, just how powerful a thing banter can be. It can build relationships, and it can cut people to their core. It is, of course, a British affair and not restricted to the English. And I’ve learned how to use banter as a way of testing boundaries with people. I don’t always get it right, but I do enjoy the conversation.

I’ve got a nerve.

And at some point in the last five years I started to value people. I saw past my prejudices, my biases and my own self-limiting beliefs about others. I saw the folly in that thinking and realised I love the human condition. It’s weird, wonderful, and scary. Difference rules, and we should all strive to be unique. We all need a place to land and a place to thrive. It’s why I blog now. I have a voice to help others find theirs. It’s why I’m so keen on the learning and development field. I learn so much about others that I improve myself. I become a better person because of the people I work with every damn day. We’re all brilliant, and I want to harness that brilliance and share it with everyone.

I’ve got a nerve.

How to share learning to promote Equality and Diversity

Today I was involved in some very good discussions about how we help embed topics like Equality and Diversity into the culture of the organisation. The conversations really helped me to think about how we can cultivate inclusive work environments. One of the things we became focused on was on how to usefully share knowledge with others about the topic. Let’s take sexual orientation as an example. How do we help others to understand the impact of behaviours in the workplace that negatively affect people who are not heterosexual, but may define as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT). How do we normalise the conversation in the work environment so that it’s not a taboo subject? How do we help create such a safe environment that the person is allowed to just be without a thought to having to identify or disclose their sexual orientation?

I’ll say this now. I am not confident with the topic of diversity. I find it hard, and I find it a challenge. But I refuse to let that get in the way of valuing others, and finding ways to ensure we create inclusive workplaces for all. I might also add this extends to life in general, but we have to start somewhere.

There will be a population who will say – but this doesn’t matter, we should only be treating everyone equally. Well, yes, but this isn’t about treating everyone equally. This is about valuing difference.

If I think about only treating everyone equally, then I am shutting myself down to being genuinely curious about what life is like for someone who is LGBT.

If I think only about the language and being politically correct, then I’m missing the point completely and neglecting to understand the impact my words have on others.

If I paint a broad brush and say I don’t discriminate against anyone, then I’m falling into an awful complacency of treating people poorly and without consideration.

If I want fairness for all, I have to value the difference we all bring to the table, and thereby understand what fairness means for everyone.

There are some useful ways of sharing experiences which can highlight exactly why we should be concerned.

Case studies that are based on actual experience I think can be helpful. They help to show exactly what situation a person faced, what they experienced, and the impact it had on them. From these, we can create discussions, debate, argue, and disagree. But we’ll be talking about it, and raising awareness in ourselves and others.

Poster campaigns are clearly powerful tools. Used effectively they can provoke a reaction, and cause unrest. Good. That’s what they’re there for. If a poster doesn’t hit you in the gut and show you a stark reality that needs to be dealt with, it’s not been designed well. I’ve seen some very powerful ones, and when I see them I sometimes rescind. Have you seen the Changing Faces posters? They are not easy to look at. They’re not meant to be, because they show the difficulty people with facial disfigurement face, and it’s just a poster.

Sharing news through social networks can be highly useful. In the UK there are changes to the Marriage Bill being proposed, and in all likelihood will pass as law. This will upset a good many folk as we will all have to come to understand that the term marriage will potentially no longer be between a man and a woman, but any person who loves another and wants to commit through the institution of marriage. This is just one example of how the sharing of content can help the discussion to be had.

Where organisations have E&D networks, these are useful ways of highlighting the needs of various groups which may not be obvious. Are there prayer rooms for those who want to practise their faith? Is there flexibility in the company policy about which days can be classed as public holidays if you’re not a UK national? Is the building wheelchair accessible at all levels? The considerations need to meet some level of statutory (legal) requirements but also meet the needs of the local population – both those in your workforce, and those who make use of your services.

Videos are great ways of allowing people to follow a story without having to single people out internally. I recently saw a great example of how a suite of videos were produced by a large multi-national organisation to help raise awareness of how regular workplace behaviours can have negative impacts because we’ve not been mindful of the people we’re working with.

In L&D sessions we might think we’re being inclusive because we’re talking about topics which are neutral, and we have to really challenge that thinking. In a session on effective communication, why not include a piece on cross-cultural communication? In a session on conflict resolution, why not include a piece on personal identity and how this may be affecting someone in all parts of their life? In a session on team development, why not include a piece on eradicating discrimination against anyone? Any of those pieces can happen as a natural part of the session without needing a label that says “we’re now going to talk about diversity in relation to this subject”.

And then there’s just talking about it with others, which is probably the hardest of all, but the best tool we have available. It involves being curious, and asking questions we might think are uncomfortable, and hearing responses we may not be comfortable with, and having to process that information into a way of potentially changing your behaviour.

There’s certainly enough practitioners around who can and do help to keep the conversation relevant and prevalent. I’m glad I know them, and I’m glad to be minded that this is something which will take regular iterations in order to move an organisation to a positive place. The challenge is helping people to understand the topic and why we need to value others. I’m up for that challenge.

Where are all the Indian males in HR?

While at the CIPD annual conference, I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about a range of topics that sit in and around HR. One of those conversations centred around why there aren’t enough Asian/Indian males working in HR. I threw the question out there in Twitterville, and the responses I got ranged from “why do you think?”, to “why does it matter if there are or not?” to “do the CIPD not have this type of demographic data?”. Here’s my thoughts about this.

I guess the first thing is to throw out a caveat. I’m talking from a personal perspective, and haven’t looked into the data which I know is readily available. Also, I’m going to use the term Indian males to capture the ‘group’. I’m also only talking about the UK population.

As I see it, here are some things which I perceive to be true.

The recruitment industry I think has a higher proportion of Indian males than other areas of HR.

HR generalist, learning and development and OD and have a low proportion.

I can say this with a fair amount of confidence as when I’ve attended HR (and L&D for that matter) conferences/seminars/unconferences I’ve certainly been one of the few men present, and most definitely the only Indian male in the group.

So let’s take a step back and have a look at some history. When the first wave of Indians emigrated to the UK, they secured various positions of work which gave them a secure income to raise a family and buy a home. Their kids were encouraged to attend school, get a good education and become skilled professionals in either medicine or law or accountancy in the main. The next wave after were given even better opportunities and suddenly all opportunities were very open in the job market.

What kind of jobs did this most recent generation (think 24-35 year olds) go for? Everything from business consultancies at the likes of Bain, or investment banking at the likes of UBS, or IT at the likes of Sun Microsystems, or graduate schemes for central government or finance at the likes of LloydsTSB. Big roles, big salaries and big companies. If you didn’t fall into a role like this, then you most likely went into a manual labour role or some kind of sales role.

HR for most Indian males was never an option as a natural starting point for your career.

Indian males suffer from two things – a sense of pride, and a sense of machismo. In a highly skilled professional job you’re pride is taken care of and in turn you get good recognition in your community. The sales thing matters because if you do well you can buy certain items perceived as valuable and create an impression in the community you are doing well, taking care of the machismo. To my mind, this is why more Indian males will go for roles in recruitment.

It’s not that there’s a taboo about working in HR as an Indian male, it’s just more that it’s never really been seen as an area for an Indian male to work in. I think there are a few reasons for that. The first is it’s certainly not promoted enough in the Indian community for men to even be aware of the opportunities of working in HR. For those who do know, there’s a perception that it’s mainly for women to work in HR due to the people side of the role and not for men. The third piece is the perception of it not being a highly paid profession and so doesn’t lend itself to the machismo side of things.

I also don’t think there is an anti-diversity agenda here. Indian men aren’t being discriminated against for working in or by working in HR – not that I’m aware of at least. (If I reflect on my own career in L&D, I don’t think I’ve been discriminated against because I’m an Indian male) As I see it, this is more of an awareness piece of letting this ‘group’ know that HR is a profession with many opportunities and they’re just as valid as any other profession they may consider.

I’m not setting out to launch a crusade into getting more Indian men into the profession, I just wanted to put some of my own thought to what I think is happening in the industry, and to give some context to why I think there aren’t many Indian men working across the various HR roles. I’m also happy to be pointed in the way of evidence that will suggest otherwise, and data that presents another perspective.

The joy of difference

I’ve not published a Q&A post in a while, and today certainly lends itself to doing so.

On this morning’s training session on Assertiveness training, we had some really good discussions about the normal range of things which arise on this topic – the difference between passive behaviour, aggressive behaviour and assertive behaviour; defining assertive behaviour; creating a bill of rights and responsibilities; how to say no; and active listening. One of the unexpected discussions that came through the session was about cultural differences.

It’s something which does often raise its head on this topic, and is something which always creates a fascinating discussion. What I love about the discussion is the sudden level of appreciation created in the room amongst everyone.

I enjoy some duality in living two cultures. I enjoy British culture, and follow many of our well established rules of behaviour – complaine about the weather, talk dryly about pretty much everything, believe that a queue can be formed for everything, being a stickler for correct use of English. I enjoy Punjabi culture too – finding any excuse to have a family gathering and party, finding an excuse to always mention my education (Masters degree dontcha know), have an unhealthy attitude in favour of Indian sweets, believe that family reputation is front and foremost the most important thing to worry about.

Some of the things shared this morning from the Dutch, Italian and Spanish delegates were around how easy it is for their passion and directness to be misunderstood as rudeness. They get told to be like that, but don’t be like that. They get told that they need to be more ‘British’.

So let’s share some cultural insights – what things do you do that get easily misunderstood because culturally this is what you would do?

What is it about culture?

Others before me have said, and more learned folk after me will say this – organisational culture cannot be controlled or managed. We forget that a workplace has us in it. We exist and bring to work a form of ourselves that has to fit in with everyone else. This is inherently a minefield of personality, opinions and people. And it will have both positive and negative impacts on everything around us.

Did I expect to change some fundamental beliefs I held from being in the workplace? No, I really didn’t, but I did. Not because it was enforced through an organisational design programme or effective learning and development, but because of those I interacted with. With such a focus on efficiency and meeting targets we forget to focus on those who are actually there.

Could you benefit from changing the way you think about topics at work? Yes, and the more conversations we have the better we will work together. Be you a believer in collaboration or not, it is the key way we measure and think about success. Your colleagues and peers give you a benchmark to measure yourself against. That’s a lot to bear in mind when thinking about that engagement survey.

We have such a pre-occupation with measuring and engaging and listening that we forget the basics of life at work. People like to be successful. We like to talk with others. We enjoy solving problems and helping others. We are social beings and seek out opportunities to connect willingly and actively.