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How might HR get in the way of creating truly diverse and inclusive cultures?  

Whether generalist or specialist, most HR professionals have explored diversity and inclusion (D&I). It may therefore seem counter intuitive that all too often, the very function that tends to lead on D&I actually can get in the way of creating a truly inclusive workplace.

Let’s look at some of the ways in which passionate and well-intentioned HR professionals might hinder progress in creating a truly diverse and inclusive culture.


Doing it themselves

The first and most prevalent way well intention HR leaders hinder creating diverse and inclusive cultures is that they do it themselves, yet they lack the specialist expertise to lead and develop effective diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

The lack of expertise is not the issue here, it is perfectly understandable that the expertise is not there yet. The issue is that many HR leaders either assume that they have knowledge or they are concerned about putting their hands up to ask for help. In either case, this leads to ineffective actions which in too many cases causes more harm and disengages both leaders and colleagues on DEI.


Conflating issues

With the intention of being inclusive and ‘not focussing on any one group’ HR leaders often develop generic DEI strategies with no specificity for different groups in their organisation.

While there is value in having an overarching ambition and strategy, different groups have different experiences and challenges within our organisations. Specific strategy strands which seek to understand, address and eradicate inequities for those groups are therefore vital to an impactful and successful DEI strategy.


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Carry the weight of creating diverse and inclusive organisational cultures on their own 

As with any strategic imperative D&I strategies, at their most effective, involve the entire organisation.

Significant culture change requires all facets of the organisation at all levels to reframe, shift and move towards the new culture ambition. Engagement and action is required from all, starting with the top team. Yet in many organisations, the HR team carries the weight, activity and accountability for setting and delivering the inclusive culture ambition.


What can HR teams do to maintain truly diverse and inclusive cultures?

Firstly, get the right support. Being a holistic, generalist HR leader sets the stage to be an expert in strategically connecting various parts of the employee lifecycle, culture and strategic aims of the organisation.

There are areas where deep specialist expertise is required, so get the help you need. Whether it is DEI strategy or specific underrepresented groups inclusion, there are specialist organisations who can help you – do not do it alone.

Secondly, do not conflate the needs and realities of various identities under one DEI strategy. An over arching organisational ambition pertaining to DEI is important to provide everyone a diversity and inclusion north star.

However, to achieve the ambition it is vital that the strategy includes identifying, understanding then delivering equity strategies for those identities which are currently underserved and underrepresented in your organisation. One size cannot fit all when it comes to creating diverse and inclusive culture.

Lastly and perhaps with support from your specialist DEI consultancy, engage the top team and the entire organisation in their roles in creating a diverse and inclusive organisation. Empower them with awareness, skills and knowledge and then create a framework to hold them accountable for diversity and inclusion outcomes. Putting the accountability where it needs to be and providing knowledge, credibility and skills will secure your success in achieving a diverse and inclusive culture.


Aggie Mutuma​ is a 2022 HR Most Influential thinker and CEO at Mahogany Inclusion Partners


This article is one of a series of articles HR magazine will be publishing throughout October in celebration of Black History Month in the UK. Check out all the articles, when published here.