One of the key strategic questions organizations face during early phases of their diversity and inclusiveness journey is whether to create a separate office and position dedicated to diversity and inclusion, or D&I. As in most things pertaining to D&I, one size does not fit all. Rather than searching for a prescribed mold to fit, leaders should instead answer key questions pertaining to the current state of their organization and specific D&I goals: How might having a dedicated office or position communicate that D&I is separate, not integral, to our core business, or someone else’s job instead of everyone’s? How might having a dedicated office or (executive) position communicate the critical importance of D&I work on a par with other functions, or build necessary credibility? How will having a dedicated office or position help or hinder accountability and plan execution?
If your organization decides that a dedicated D&I office and/or position is critical to your success, the question arises of where to put that position or to whom that office should report. Some make it an executive-level office whose leader reports to the CEO, some put it under Quality or Compliance, and many choose to assign it to Human Resources (HR). If you select HR, there are three additional key questions to answer that will determine the success of your D&I journey.
First, is your HR department better at the “human” side, or the “resources” side of HR? Which are they known for? HR departments that are more focused on (and skilled at) the transactional paper pushing aspects of HR may not be a strong partner. D&I is about thinking differently, questioning the status quo, and considering new and creative ways of doing things and applying rules. Such an approach can be unfamiliar, challenging, or even threatening to an HR department primarily focused on processing paperwork in a timely fashion, cutting costs, crunching numbers and holding everyone accountable in exactly the same way. An HR department that is visionary, thoughtful and more concerned with equity then equality is a powerful ally for D&I.
Second, is your HR department better at “culture” or “compliance”? Any type of meaningful organizational change requires a primary focus on shifting the culture in meaningful ways, not on rule enforcement or complying with standards. The compliance approach isn’t useless or unecessary, it’s limited – it frames D&I as something being imposed by external forces, and an additional work burden that needs to be tolerated. This doesn’t encourage buy in, and ignores the real reasons D&I is essential and why top performing organizations are investing millions in D&I – it gets better results, makes more money, and supports employee happiness. Also, groups and individuals who have been marginalized, underrepresented or excluded are less likely to voice their concerns, opinions, or feedback if HR personnel are viewed as enforcers who make people nervous when they show up, or as the strong arm of management. This isn’t to say that compliance isn’t important (witness new EEOC requirements that came out earlier this year), but to be an effective D&I partner, HR overall (and not just the training department within HR) must be viewed as an ally, a resource, an advocate for all employees and champions of a fair, positive work environment. Besides, an HR department that is substantially committed to creating an inclusive culture where everyone can do their best work also creates an environment that complies with major legal and regulatory requirements – with more ease and efficiency!
Finally, what is the reputation, credibility, and focus of your top HR leader? If your top HR leader is a paper pusher at heart, the compliance police, the old guard, untrustworthy, or a passive (or active) resister to D&I, meaningful D&I change will be undermined or thwarted unless the CEO takes steps to address this leader’s ineffectiveness, or identify a leader that is better aligned with change and D&I goals.
Regardless of your decision to create a dedicated HR office or position or not, don’t underestimate the importance of a close, positive, open and equitable partnership with HR. You need HR to effect change in hiring, interviewing and employee and leader attraction and engagement. You need HR to obtain employee demographic and satisfaction data and change data collection processes if needed. And you need HR to co-create and enforce meaningful accountability at all levels.
After all, D&I is about full inclusion of diverse humanity in creating brilliance and excellence, not treating people as interchangeable cogs or inhuman FTEs.