Inclusion Beyond Recruitment— a guide for Human Resources


Table of Contents

Inclusion beyond recruitment — a guide for Human Resources.

In my last blog post, I looked at 3 common pitfalls of ‘inclusive recruitment’ — one of which is that it is often treated as the silver bullet for all things EDI in our organizations. To get us beyond recruitment as the “be all and include all”, in this piece, I explore a different area that’s critical for accelerating inclusion (or not, as it were) — the role of HR.

Let me start by emphasizing that the precondition for building inclusion is strategizing for equity.

If equality of outcome is the ambition of our EDI commitments, it is an equity-based approach that shifts the dial towards achieving this. Structural barriers exist in organizations and treating everyone “equally” doesn’t get us very far, at all. In fact when we recognize the reality of systemic inequity, equality as an approach just doesn’t make any sense. Put simply:

  • Equity (as an approach) means treating people differentially, based on existing barriers and differential needs and starting points, in a world that is unequal.
  • Equality (as an approach) means treating everyone in the same way, irrespective of existing barriers and differential needs, in a world that is unequal.

When we take an equality-based approach, we end up perpetuating the status quo — which is one of inequity. That leads us to try and ‘include’ people in systems, cultures, and organizations that were already functioning to limit their access, participation, and most importantly, power. Without strategies for equity — inclusion is a misnomer. For example, if the annual leadership skills course at your organization is available for all junior managers and allocated on a first come first served basis (i.e., an equality approach), can we be sure that folks at the sharpest end of inequity will a) hear about this opportunity and b) put themselves forward? Targeting these opportunities to those least likely to be encouraged towards or progress into leadership — ie. an equity-based approach — is how we strategically effect change.

How, though, do we go about designing equity and building inclusion into the fabric of our organizational ecosystems?

Every single person in an organization has a role in weaving the fabric of inclusion across the ecosystem. To build equitable and inclusive cultures we need to work holistically: from the top down, the bottom up, and in the middle layers. We need buy-in and direction from our senior leaders and we need collective commitment to practicing equity in the micro everyday workings of our organizations (which requires shared paradigms like the one above). But too often conversations around inclusion, equity, and how/who realizes it in our organizations set up a rather false binary between senior leadership and “everyone else”. So let’s look at a key function in the middle layer of most organizations that can dramatically further or reduce equity and inclusion — Human Resources.

In the simplest terms, the HR department is a group that is responsible for managing the employee life cycle, through the core functions represented in the image below.

The image has an inforgraphic with “human resources” in the central circle and 8 circles indicating the core functions of HR surrounding the middle circle. From left to right, these read “coaching and facilitating, “learning and development”, “influencing thought leadership”, “performance cycles”, “investigations”, “workplace conflicts”, “data collection and analysis”, “organizational design”

HR represents a unique and pivotal point within the architecture of an organization, with every dimension of this function representing a significant opportunity to design, build, and nurture inclusion.

Wondering whether you are equipped to drive equity and inclusion? Linked here is a 10-question self-assessment you can use to diagnose!

Let’s look at what skills HR needs, related to these core functions:

  • When it comes to data, HR teams need to establish and interrogate data sets using an intersectional framework to drive inclusionary action forward. If the data the organization relies on is collected and analyzed in siloes, our solutions promise to only cater to a small section of the population and further invisibilize those experiencing layered and compounded inequity from multiple intersecting systems. For example, if we’re siloing data by gender and race — how do we know about the specific experience of Non-Binary Black folks? Or South Asian Women? And how do we design strategies that build inclusion for them?
  • Effectively managing workplace conflicts and investigations requires the capacity to have courageous conversations with colleagues more junior and senior to HR — both in receiving feedback about the impact of one’s behavior and offering moments of learning, and accurately diagnosing where and how inequity is playing out. This is also necessary to counter normalized problematic ideas, comments, and suggestions in meetings, 1:1s, team away days, etc, quickly and expertly.
  • Influencing thought leadership/coaching team building by advocating ambitiously for equity and inclusion to garner buy-in through sophisticated influencing of stakeholders in the organization, is key. This means moving beyond mainstream, superficial talking points to more profound articulations of what’s existing and emerging in the org.
  • Organizational design/policy: policies act as the formal agreements and expectations within an organizational ecosystem. Policies not only guide activities and operations but articulate an organization’s culture and values. HR teams play a vital role in leading the development and renewal of policies and need to be able to a) identify where existing policy lacks equity and may be built as an equality measure (think healthcare and leave provision and the needs of those with physical and mental ill health) and b) where there is an absence of equity-based policy that specifically caters for marginalized folks (think transitioning at work policy, religious and cultural holidays). And beyond identifying the above, HR teams need to advance policies that ensure deep inclusion.
  • Learning and development needs are another vital area where HR can advance inclusion through skills training that is targeted to those most marginalized, to accelerate their opportunities for success, and skills training for advancing inclusion capability across the org (note: training in the unconscious bias training will not meet these goals, for reasons we explain here)
  • Performance and progression: while it is line managers who conduct performance reviews and put their reports forward for progression HR has sight of the patterns of performance review and progression across the organization. The important work of identifying and challenging where these patterns preserve the status quo and reflect the logic of inequity therefore sits in the wheelhouse of this team.

The thing is — if we’re committed to equity and inclusion, we need to work across our ecosystems — and our HR colleagues and teams are instrumental in driving change.

And if this article has got you thinking about where else in your ecosystem you can enhance your inclusion beyond recruitment? Look out for part 3 of this series where we’ll dive into another key area: equitable line management.

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