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.

#HRD11 final thoughts Part 1

In a range of posts recently, I’ve been posting thoughts about the sessions I attended, and the planning of #HRD11 itself. Today, I’d like to address something about the content of the exhibition and conference. If you look at both the exhibition free sessions or conference seminars, is there a particular topic which seems to be glaringly missing? Let’s take a look…

Leadership development? Check.
Organisational development? Check.
Change management? Check.
Wellbeing? Check.
Coaching? Check.
Conflict? Check.
All manner of things to do with being an effective internal L&D consultant? Check.
e-learning and blended learning? Check.
Social learning? Check.
NLP? (Trusty old NLP – *spits* > I really should write a post on why NLP sucks arse.) Check.

I’ve probably missed others, but I’m building the case for my point.

Why have attendees or conference organisers not thought to include Diversity as a topic that should be discussed? There were several suppliers present, but I saw none of them present, or the timetable didn’t have them on there. What’s going on here? How have we missed this? Seriously?

Cynicism on the topic aside, there is currently so much happening in our workforces that Diversity is pretty much the one topic that just doesn’t get enough PR. And to not include it on the rolling list of topics at a celebrated event such as #HRD11 just serves to reinforce this point.

There are a myriad of positive ways to reinforce the message of Diversity and Inclusion. The days of sitting people in a workshop to make them ‘get it’ are long gone. Well, ok they’re not gone, they still exist, but they’re so old hat it makes me sad. But let’s take a basic look at this topic. On your team, what is the mix of people you have? A wonderful mix, I’m betting. And what is your organisation doing to reinforce that mix? Not a lot I bet. But not because they’re ‘afraid’ of the topic, or because they don’t want to upset the ‘PC brigade’, but I’m betting more because they’ve just not put the right thought on the topic.

People ‘get’ Diversity and Inclusion on an intuitive level. And that’s fab. But the trouble is organisations are not intuitive, and there’s too much scaremongering going on that enables a culture to be rich with this type of thinking.