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UPDATED: Lessons for HR from CIPD ACE 2022

The HR magazine team headed to Manchester for the CIPD’s annual conference and exhibition (ACE) this week, opened by ITV News political editor Robert Peston. 

The hybrid event, which allowed delegates to tune in virtually or attend in person, featured plenty of forward-thinking leaders in the people profession and beyond, including CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, Peston, 2022's top HR Most Influential Thinker Perry Timms and more.

This live article will be updated by the HR magazine team daily so you don't miss a thing.

Top lessons for HR leaders from CIPD ACE 2022:



Workplaces should be a safe space for speaking up

When it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion at work people can often fear saying the wrong thing.

Mohsin Zaidi, author of A Dutiful Boy, said workplaces should be a safe space for people to make mistakes and learn from them.

He said: “People feel scared to ask the wrong question and that’s dangerous – it fosters underground misunderstanding and hatred.”

Zaidi added that using storytelling rather than logic can be a better way to get a message across.

He said: “By telling people a story I can engender change, and I believe the same is true in the workplace. It’s easier to provoke sympathy and empathy.”

Building on Zaidi’s keynote, a panel discussion highlighted the need for a variety of safe spaces in the workplace.

Hannah Awonuga, global head of colleague engagement, diversity and inclusion at Barclays, said: “Often people think you need to create safe spaces for diverse people – absolutely you do – but white people use safe spaces as well.

 “Especially at the senior leadership table where you know that they’re majority white men – they still need to have safe spaces. So how do we help them to create that safety to be able to ask constructive questions?”

Awonuga said her team is looking to implement something like the NHS’ Freedom to speak up initiative which encourages colleagues to share their concerns about the organisation, and drives leaders to learn from them.

Later, sharing a case study on key success factors for HR transformation, David Bearfield, director of the office of HR at the United Nations Development Programme, said his team will also be setting up a dedicated anonymous reporting app to help employees speak up with queries and concerns as part of ongoing D&I efforts.


HR professionals should not assume they’re D&I experts

HR professionals need to be an example to the rest of the business when it comes to taking diversity and inclusion (D&I) learning seriously, but it can’t happen overnight.

Awonuga reminded delegates: “We shouldn’t assume we are all D&I professionals. HR needs to have a base level of training and understanding around D&I – the CIPD could even do more with training for HR professionals regarding the topic.

“There’s a personal journey everyone needs to go through with D&I. You need to learn things but may also need to unlearn things. HR isn’t exempt from that – it should be at the forefront of it.”


Creating shared values with communities is essential to the future of work

There are plenty of good examples of businesses teaming up with charities to create community engagement but this is no longer just a ‘nice to have’.

Nebel Crowhurst senior HR leader and HR Most Influential practitioner, said: “There’s a greater expectation from suppliers and customers, but also from new talent coming into the business.

“We all need to follow the narrative we share about our organisations. Ask what do we stand for and what is our sense of purpose? There’s a real demand from people now to have clarity on social element and understanding is greater.”


Change and empathy are key skills for the future of HR

In a fishbowl discussion led by Perry Timms founder of PTHR, delegates shared ideas for the skills HR needs for the future.

Common themes included:

  • The ability to guide organisations through change and the pace of change
  • Empathy, especially as a baseline for D&I
  • And learning how to learn – as well as teaching people the value of teaching others


Diversity hiring is meaningless without follow-through

After making the effort to bring more diverse talent into the workforce, companies need to make sure they continue to provide them with support.

Philippa Bonay, director of people and business services at the Office for National Statistics, said the hard work shouldn’t stop after candidates are hired.

She said: “We can bring colleagues into an org quite often through diversity pipelines. We might bring them in, do something for a couple of years and then let them go off on their own. That doesn’t work. We need to ensure there’s a wraparound for people throughout their career.

“It’s not enough to say we’re bringing people in, it’s how we are enabling people to progress through an organistion particularly when they’ve come from different backgrounds from other people.”

Tola Ayoola, head of leadership engagement at the Cabinet Office, said businesses need to use their data around discrimination productively.

She said: “Data is much more sophisticated, but also we need to remember that discrimination has mutated We need to think about what we’re linking data to and what outcomes we actually need.

“There’s almost an obsession to have data and to prove something. However, that doesn’t always translate into how people feel in the org. Sometimes we forget about people having feelings and experiences.”



Inflation is likely to impact work into 2023

Peston opened day one of the conference with a gloomy forecast for the state of the UK over the coming years. 

He predicted inflation and the cost of living crisis were likely to continue following seismic shifts in the political landscape. 

He said: "Inflation is going to be with us at slightly higher levels than authorities forecast and for longer than they forecast. I have a fear that the Bank of England is probably going to be wrong. 

"It will go on for longer than people currently think and will come down next year but the working assumption is more likely to be at a rate of 4-5% than 2%.

"These are once-in-a-generation structural shifts, and we are certainly going through one of those." 

Yet Peston argued that there will continue to be a very significant demand for goods and services.

He added: "We [the UK] are a big and rich economy. The important thing is to recognise that we always get through these different periods and there is always a recovery, and businesses that do best in those circumstances are those that invested significantly during that time in people, kit and operations." 


Diverse leaders should not be judged too quickly

Increasing diversity in senior leadership is to be celebrated, but those leaders should be given time to grow into their role before being judged on performance. 

Ruth Sealy, professor of responsible leadership and director of impact at the University of Exeter Business School, said diverse leaders are often representing more than themselves. 

She said: “You have to be careful when making judgments on people who are the first of their group to do something as their behaviour is often more about who they represent rather than the individual. 

“That’s how we end up with people saying ‘we had one of those and it didn’t work'." 


The jobs market is far from stationary  

Danny Stacy, head of talent intelligence at jobs site Indeed, shared some insights into job market trends. 

He said: “We used to see 600,000 jobs added to Indeed each month. This year we’ve seen this increase to more than one million per month.” 

Stacy also said the site had witnessed a 44% increase in the number of jobs between now and pre-pandemic (March 2020), however this increase was not reflected equal across the country. 

He added: “There is not a broad UK job increase. We only saw a 31% increase in jobs in London, whereas in the North East there was an 86% jump. 

“The events of the last few years have definitely made colleagues and potential candidates address what they really want from an organisation.”  


HR should take the lead on fairness in the workplace 

On a panel about fairness in the workplace Cheryl Samuels, deputy director of workforce transformation at NHS England, stressed that calling out inequity was an imperative for HR. 

She said: “When we see those inequitable practices it's important that we have the courage and conviction of our profession to call it out.” 

Building on Samuels’ point Matthew Pitt, head of people at Novus Property Solutions, gave delegates three pieces of advice on how to instil fairness: 

  1. Recognise where you are today as an organisation – He said: “We're all in very different places […] don't try to emulate others that you see on LinkedIn because they might have a team of five, six, seven people in their inclusion team, you might not have a single individual so you can only do what you can do.” 
  2. Build high performing teams and not individuals. 
  3. Line managers are key – He said: “We can't just expect them to do it on themselves, we've got to give them the right environment and tools to enable them to do so. 

Giving HR leaders frustrated at the lack of progress in D&I a helpful reminder too, Pitt added: “As long as you make the world better tomorrow than it is today – that's all you can do.”