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Embrace emotion for inclusion success, say experts

HR should embrace emotion at the core of its D&I strategy and drop a sterile attitude towards data gathering, according to the authors of a new report.

The tendency of HR professionals to try to replicate 'objective' standards of evidence for inclusion policy is failing colleagues, said Shereen Daniels, managing director of antiracism consultancy HR rewired, and they would be better served by an HR function that understands the emotional basis of inclusion.


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The report, produced by HR Rewired and employee engagement software company The Happiness Index, emphasised the importance of considering employees’ emotional responses as data when building a D&I strategy.

Daniels told HR magazine: “We’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security. We’ve been used to using very traditional – dare I say old-fashioned – approaches to collecting engagement data.

“The way in which we present information in the corporate world – we work so hard to make sure that it seems logical.

“It seems objective, it’s professional, it’s articulate, it’s neat but actually as human beings, that’s not how we operate.”

Matt Phelan, co-founder of The Happiness Index, told HR magazine that the barring of emotions from ‘professionality’ has long been a hurdle for inclusion.

He said: “We’ve been trained to treat emotions as unprofessional. So the more you look like and sound like the CEO, your rational thoughts are going to sound and appear like the CEO.

“The less privileged you are when you enter the workforce, your views, which may seem different, will quite easily be dismissed as too emotional, or as emotions, when actually they’re just a different perspective.”

Instead of using engagement data to validate whether or not their company has a problem with race, Daniels said HR professionals should assume the presence of systemic racism, and instead seek to understand how their colleagues are feeling. 

HR can then use this emotional data to help them find the questions they’re not asking – and even use it to make a convincing argument for change, she said. Using anonymised quotes from employees, for example, brings the emotion directly to those making decisions.

She added: “The employee experience is more than what can be exported to a spreadsheet.

“This ensures senior leaders do not distance themselves from understanding that data is used to transform experiences, and not hide behind numbers.”

View the report's findings here.