As HR professionals and business leaders, we are often seen as the guardians of our organization’s culture and tasked with leading change in the work environment. That said, molding a culture into one that embraces and encourages Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is not necessarily an easy task. There is no switch to flip, and every organization is different. Yet in order for our organization to reach its fullest potential, we need to foster diversity within our workforce and create a true sense of belonging where employees feel valued, respected, and treated fairly.
As Gallup points out, diversity in the workplace can be viewed broadly representing “the full spectrum of human demographic differences — race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status or physical disability. A lot of companies consider lifestyles, personality characteristics, perspectives, opinions, family composition, education level or tenure elements of diversity, too.” However, as our nation continues to struggle with systemic racism and racial injustice and inequities, we want to focus this discussion on how HR can continue to play a pivotal role in short and long-term change in these specific areas.
Recently, Matt Baker, President and Founder of KNK Recruiting, posted a conversation on social media highlighting the established social and economic systems within our country and communities that he believes are in need of changes in policies that discriminate against people of color. Those systems being:
- Criminal Justice
We were inspired by Baker’s open dialogue and frank conversation on these issues. Given his 20 plus years’ experience as a senior HR and talent management leader and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion experience, we reached out to dive further into Baker’s insights and recommended actions that HR professionals can take to address systemic racism and improve the systems he highlighted in his post.
Baker said as he continues to see and hear how communities are dealing with systemic racism and inequities, acknowledgment is the first step toward positive progress for all parties. “This is more than just a difference in perception. This is actually going on.” Baker impressed the importance of having both the organization and its leaders “understand what systemic racism is, and understanding implicit bias that we all have, and its impact on race relations.” Once that understanding is in place, then companies as a whole can begin to have greater effects on the systems built around them.
For example, healthcare is an important area for HR to address. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the disparity in our healthcare system. Baker indicated that he has had conversations with other company leaders on how this can be addressed, such as providing additional education on the benefits available to employees and how to use them. Yes, this is done through open enrollment, but providing ongoing dialog and assistance so employees understand coverages and can ask questions can be integral to keeping these options top of mind.
Educational training opportunities can present barriers for employees who are people of color that many employers may often fail to realize. Beyond the cost and accessibility of higher education, additional training, or other non-traditional educational opportunities, these training opportunities can be a challenge to take advantage of if they are not located in an easily-accessible location (i.e., normal work location or at a location accessible by public transportation) or if they take place outside of regular work hours (as childcare can then become an issue). To address this, employers can consider bringing learning on-site, or providing transportation, ride-sharing or other options to make it easier for employees to attend. Also, could group childcare opportunities be available? These are some considerations companies can make in order to have educational training more accessible to all.
While it may be difficult to imagine how HR can impact employee housing, there are opportunities to eliminate potential discrimination based on an individual’s living situation. Baker pointed out that many managers have been known to search the address to see where a candidate lives, potentially giving hints to the predominant race of a neighborhood. HR has an opportunity, and frankly – a responsibility – to educate recruiters and talent acquisition leaders to not ask for a candidates’ address or limit the application to city and zip code only until further in the process.
HR’s role in following fair and nondiscriminatory hiring practices may seem obvious, but an important question to ask is “are we really doing everything we can to pursue a diverse candidate pool”? A critical step toward increasing the diversity of a company’s workforce starts with defining the specific requirements, skills, and experience that are needed to succeed in a position. Be sure to take a critical look at what’s truly needed for a position, particularly if your criteria could unnecessarily exclude a more diverse candidate pool. Then, rather than just posting on the basic go-to job boards, actively pursue a diverse candidate pool in your posting process. Companies need to ask themselves if they post positions in ways to purposely reach diverse candidates. Are they specifically sharing positions with black and other minority professional organizations or networking groups?
In the end, HR has an abundance of opportunities to weave Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the fabric of an organizations’ culture. It starts with leadership at the highest level being open to having what can feel like difficult conversations with an approach and desire to “help me understand.” A common mistake leadership can make is remaining silent. In conclusion, Baker said that leaders must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations to gain perspective and start to define a path forward.
Human Resources professionals have a unique opportunity to guide our organizations in finding ways to end systemic racism and creating racial equality. First, you need to assess where your organization currently is in order to see where it needs to go. For some, next steps can involve creating ways to start what may feel like difficult conversations and helping employees to understand the value they will provide. For others, the opportunity is in building on conversations, lessons learned, and actions that have already been taken to continue to foster diversity and inclusion. As guardians of the company’s culture, HR can help guide their company toward the recognition that our experiences have given us different perspectives, opinions, and lenses through which we see the world, and that we are all better off when we have a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment to have open dialog and to learn from one another.
Thank you to Matt Baker, SHRM-SCP, CHHR for sharing his insights with Cathleen Snyder, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director, Human Resources & Development with Strategic HR
HR Strategy in Diversity & Inclusion not only plays a critical role in your company culture, but it will impact the company’s bottom line. After all, the experience your employees, suppliers/partners, and customers have, in addition to how they perceive your company’s reputation can directly impact their interest in working with your organization or willingness to purchase your products/services. If your organization is struggling to attract, develop, or retain a diverse workforce, contact us to discuss how we can help with your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy.