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How can HR take a more proactive role in social justice and inclusion?

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The pandemic has highlighted the need for greater social justice and inclusion in society. As we re-evaluate our working practices going forward, HR has an opportunity to make the workplace a kinder, more inclusive environment. Will your organisation take it?

5th Aug 2021
UKI Country Leader Alight Solutions
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Inclusion isn’t something you can ‘tick off’ with company policy and inclusion awareness days – it needs to be woven into the fabric of your employee experience. It takes objectives, action, reviews, and measurement. Commitment to inclusion also takes all of us. If everyone who talks about diversity and inclusion (D&I) stood up and educated those who consciously, or otherwise, maintain exclusion, we’d start to see change.

If business leaders are to be held accountable for taking the lead in advancing inclusion of all employees, HR needs to firmly drive this at a people level. 

Sadly, we’re a long way from this. It was recently announced that gay and bisexual men are finally allowed to donate blood, platelets and plasma after historic changes in UK law – a law that’s been fought tirelessly for 25 years. On the same day, the Hungarian parliament passed legislation that bans the dissemination of content in schools deemed to promote same sex relationships and gender fluidity. This is a dark place to be at a time when we should be moving forward.

Given the discrimination people continue to face, business leaders have a huge role to play. They must recognise the responsibility and opportunity to advance inclusion in the workplace.

To be truly inclusive, decision makers must also look outside the business. They need to position themselves as ambassadors for social justice and equality in supply chains, suppliers, customers, partner and products.

HR’s responsibility to invoke action

The first action is to commit to making employees feel supported in the workplace regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability status or any aspect of diversity.

We must admit we need re-education and retraining, because some biases are ingrained and unconscious. There’s no need to feel guilty – rather, you can use this realisation in your own education and that of others. This requires constant vigilance and proactive effort. Organisations need to cultivate environments, forums, and opportunities where everyone has a voice and can share their own experiences.

Culture Pioneers link

HR’s role in inclusion and social justice

Through the pandemic it was emphasised that many ‘essential’ jobs (i.e. those that keep people alive, fed and cared for) are largely held by marginalised groups, who are least protected and respected. While white-collar employees were largely pushed to work at home – not all in ideal circumstances – frontline workers had no option but to travel to and work in often extreme and dangerous situations. Inadequate PPE and people being laid off with little or no financial support were common headlines. The social injustice was clear to all.

To that end, the pandemic highlighted the vital role of HR. HR data was key to rapid workforce management changes and worker redeployment. This same data can be used to highlight gaps in equal opportunity and other factors showing bias or unfairness.

If business leaders are to be held accountable for taking the lead in advancing inclusion of all employees, HR needs to firmly drive this at a people level. Before all else, HR needs to sell D&I, tell the c-suite to step-up and be a voice for colleagues who are too often silenced, unheard and ignored. This is, by no means, a simple job for HR leaders.

How to create an inclusive environment

Emphasise the business case for diversity and inclusion

The population demographic is changing and company leadership needs to reflect this. This is essential if organisations are to innovate and develop products and services that serve and generate profits from today’s marketplace.

Recognise bias

Analyse and look for patterns of bias in the current workforce. Where there’s over or under representation in any groups, ensure appropriate career development and leadership programmes are set up. It’s vital that high potential employees are recognised and put forward by managers. Just because someone is currently on the shop floor, that doesn’t mean they’re not potential boardroom calibre. Recruitment and promotion from within the organisation is as important as bringing in new talent, and talent acquisition objectives must recognise this.

Make everyone accountable

Not only should social justice and equality be a core value of your organisation, it should be built into 360 performance management at all job levels. Career progression should be dependent on measured progress against diversity and inclusion goals, with pay reviews and bonus pay outs determined as much on the achievement of these as on fiscal targets.

Practice inclusivity

HR needs to work with business leaders to create a safe environment where all employees have a voice and will be listened to and welcomed. Open forums and discussion groups where people are encouraged to ask difficult questions should be commonplace. We can’t expect everyone to know the right terminology, for example, if they are not educated.

Emphasise human value

Inclusion is not about prioritising any demographic over another. It’s about creating a human, homogenous, and collaborative experience for all. Celebrating contribution, effort, and authenticity over any societal advantage is imperative.

Set-up mentoring programmes

Mentoring programmes can accelerate the progress of groups not typically nurtured in organisations. This can provide a space for managers to learn and understand about building and growing diverse teams.

Diversity and inclusion are a critical component of a thriving organisational culture. By creating an inclusive environment, it will become easier to attract and retain the best people. The growth of your organisation needs unique talent in this increasingly complex world.

Ten ways to nurture a more inclusive culture in the long-term

As well as doing all the above, it’s important to acknowledge that an inclusive culture does not happen overnight. It requires time, persistence and commitment to nurturing this kind of environment. Here are ten things HR should consider in order to make this happen.

  1. Lead from the top. Ensure all people policies, strategies and planning are focused on inclusion and diversity ahead of profit/cost cutting
  2. Listen from the bottom. Acknowledge everyone has ideas, experience and ambition that can open your business to new customers and therefore, new growth
  3. Cultivate an environment that supports open dialogue
  4. Maintain vigilance and proactive efforts to create equal opportunities and access
  5. Implement frequent unconscious bias education – once a year online multiple-choice courses are not enough
  6. Encourage complex and difficult conversations around diversity
  7. Analyse and share results of successful and unsuccessful efforts and build on what did and didn’t work
  8. Act on and encourage adherence to social justice at all junctures
  9. Make your brand synonymous with sustainability (both social and environmental), which is vital to supporting social justice
  10. Set a hard timeline for achieving inclusivity and sustainability. Don’t let this slip

Finally, it’s important to remember that although the past 18 months have been a time of immense upheaval, it’s also been a time for reflection. Employers and staff alike have had time to assess what truly matters and how we want to rebuild our working lives going forward. We now have an opportunity to make the workplace a kinder and more inclusive place – and HR is perfectly placed to start making this happen.

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