What HR can learn - By an HR Director in Tech (Anonymous)
It's been a momentous few weeks. All the recent social unrest has collided with Covid-19, toxic political climates and economic turmoil.
The focus of this is the events following the murder of George Floyd.
So, what's it all about?
And what should HR do about it?
The initial reactions of some in the HR community here in the UK to the events following the murder of George Floyd was "well...it's a US problem".
Because the political climate in the US is so toxic, isn't it? And the national obsession with guns creates an underlying tension between any police/public interaction, doesn't it? And the 18,000+ police departments in the US are more like heavily-armed militias, aren't they?
So it's not quite the same as in the UK, is it?
Well, yes, that may well be the case.
But it does miss the bigger picture.
Allow me to expand...
My employer is a US-HQ'd technology company, and my role is to lead HR across the non-US territories across EMEA and APAC.
What's happened in our company?
First of all, our CEO was quick to publish a passionate blog around the importance of equality, inclusion, justice and support for the BLM movement. My reaction to this was one of surprise that he had done this, tempered by pride that he was prepared to give a damn and "put it out there". The fact that he is not white (indeed, he is a first-generation immigrant into the US) meant he was speaking from the heart and there was no question of this being a PR stunt.
Second, there have been a LOT of conversations, initially amongst our US colleagues, but increasingly across our non-US offices too. Some of these have been emotional, with a lot of soul-searching, which in turn has prompted reflections at a company and individual level of "what can we do about this".
Third, our company's black network arranged an all-hands webinar last week and during this call they talked about the concept of "allyship". They encouraged all of us to:
1. Educate ourselves about the background to BLM. It's been developing over generations.
2. Recognize that there is a problem.
3. Talk about it. Discuss it with our black or mixed race colleagues and friends. Learn. Question. Listen. Empathize.
4. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. It's not an every-day, easy, conversation to have. Our thinking will be challenged. Our comparative privilege may be brought to the fore.
5. Don't worry if we don't have the answers. There aren't any ready answers.
6. That said, recognize that we can make a difference. Don't just be quietly uncomfortable with any racism that you witness. Call it out.
What can we, as experienced HR practitioners, learn?
I am sure most of us have always viewed ourselves as socially aware, in our roles most of us will have played some part in advancing the cause of diversity and inclusion for the various employers we have worked for.
The bigger picture piece is to move from just being "socially aware", with a strong sense of right and wrong, to actually underpinning this with knowledge, passion and action-orientation.
We need to educate ourselves on the reasons for disparities within various sections of society.
We need to listen and learn from people who suffer injustices on a daily basis.
We need to redefine HR's role in all of this.
First, we need to make sure that the workplace is a safe environment that supports our employees who are engaging with this, to the extent that they are comfortable with. From the more vocal, activist-oriented employees, to those who may have strong thoughts about this but are nervous about bringing politics to the workplace, or blurring the personal with the professional.
Second, we need to understand the current situation. It's important to establish our baseline by understanding the composition of our workforce, and benchmark with other companies and D&I organisations to get a feel for where we would like to end up.
Third, the destination... HR is in a unique position to drive equality in the workplace. "Diversity is reality, inclusion is a choice" has in my view been a great aspirational statement but one that many businesses pay lip-service to.
It's time to move the inclusion needle from "choice" to "reality".
So we should ask these questions of our employers:
- Does the culture genuinely value authenticity, and enable people to feel comfortable being their true selves?
- Are all contributions valued, and voices listened to and respected?
- Is diversity and inclusion baked into our value proposition, and reflect how things are genuinely done?
- Does our company's website and social media presence use diverse imagery and talk to equality?
- What programs are in place to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds?
- Do we hold third-party recruitment suppliers to account, in terms of accessing diverse candidates?
- What new channels have we started to use in recent months to access different candidate pools?
- Do we use de-biasing tools to ensure job descriptions, whilst conveying a genuine feel for the role and the company, are neutral?
- Do our hiring processes support the genuine assessment and selection of diverse candidates?
- How many employees from diverse backgrounds are on our executive team? The various leadership teams within our company? In key individual contributor roles?
- Do we have role-models within the business who mentor and guide others?
- What targeted development activities do we provide?
- Is there transparent criteria for promotions? What proportion of promotions were diverse?
- What steps do we have in place to drive diversity into talent reviews?
- And succession plans?
- Have we looked at any potential pay disparities? What pay are your black employees, female employees, etc. on relative to those white employees doing the same or substantially similar roles? What action will be taken if there is a gap?
- What proportion of people leaving the company are from under-represented groups? Why do they leave? What can we do about that?
I could go on, I hope you get the picture - there's plenty of questions we could all be asking which will provide us with the data to act, to do the right thing.
Finally, make sure we are tuned in to the community that our companies serve, whilst not losing sight of the bigger picture. I work for a global company, and the picture differs significantly from country to country. Taking India as an example, BLM does not resonate at all there, as there is no black community to speak of. LGBTI is gaining momentum now that the Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex relations, but is still 20 years behind Europe and the US. But the bigger picture is that there are plenty of other sections of Indian society who suffer injustice on a daily basis and my challenge to our employees was to be an ally to those who haven't had the same level of privilege that they have had.
So if I had to pull my rambling thoughts together, I would want to leave you with this message:
1. Champion "allyship" within our businesses, and the broader HR community.
2. Engage with the black community. Educate yourself. Learn. Question. Listen. Empathize. And then do something to make a difference.
3. Apply this mindset to other sections of society which have also suffered from systematic prejudice over the years.
It's the right thing to do.
And if that's not enough for you, I haven't even touched on the proven business benefits that those businesses that genuinely embrace equality realise... That should get your leadership team's attention!
That's a topic for another blog, but here's some bed-time reading to get you on your way...
That's all for now. Be good, and see you soon.