How HR can be detrimental to building an inclusive workforce
Updated: Feb 14
When a situation arises in the workplace, employees are generally expected to consult with their HR team about it. However, time and time again, I’ve heard that employees either don’t trust or are not comfortable speaking with, HR...you know..the very individuals that were put in place to support them.
The list of reasons is endless: “HR puts it off as banter”, “HR won’t help”, or perhaps worst of all, “HR has just gaslighted me”.
It makes me sad that many employees feel they have to walk on eggshells around HR as this, in turn, is detrimental to the organisation as a whole. Over hundreds of years, employees in all manner of workforces became accustomed to being treated like puppets on a string - in essence, as resources. But humans are not resources. The world we live in today recognises that we are people, first and foremost.
Even today, HR still tends to be perceived in a negative light; I wish I had a fulsome answer as to why, but what is clear is that some HR professionals still treat employees like resources.
HR is not just about the administrative side - hiring, firing and dealing with performance issues and disciplinaries. It’s about development, support, wellbeing, culture, retention, inclusion, and so much more but regrettably, all too often, HR professionals forget this.
Coming from an HR background, I understand the hurdles HR practitioners sometimes have to jump through and they're certainly not easy. We don’t always have the right answers, and we can’t always tell everyone what they want to hear. But we must always remain empathetic, understanding, open-minded and inclusive in our approach at all times.
It blows my mind to say this, but it’s not at all uncommon for HR teams to display a lack of appreciation of this point, and more broadly of what HR represents in the workplace. It's rather embarrassing really.
Without the right HR culture in place, organisations will forever struggle to improve productivity, retention and success, and remain unable to build an inclusive workforce in the long term.
I have personally been treated unfairly, bullied, harassed and victimised by HR professionals and what's worst is that I know too many others who have gone through the same.
Every time this happens, or when I hear about this happening, my first thought is, “What can I do to change this? What can I do to break this cycle?".
That’s part of the reason I have now entered the world of DEIB consulting.
Change doesn’t happen overnight and not everyone will adopt the same mindset as me. But the least I can do is help organisations attract, develop and retain employees with an inclusive mindset.
EVERYONE should have a part to play in building an inclusive culture, and that includes HR.
This is not to say that every HR team is an obstacle to an inclusive workforce. I have met some brilliant, inspiring HR professionals throughout my career and I hope that one day everyone can say that their HR team is as approachable, understanding and inclusive as those amazing individuals.
I have positively helped to shape the reputation of every HR/people team I have worked for and I'm proud to still be doing this whilst wearing a DEIB lens.
Here are some steps that your HR team can take to achieve the same:
Address the elephant in the room. Do not ignore the challenges arising in your organisation, but take steps immediately to address them.
Be proactive and stay ahead of the game. Tackle issues before they become issues. Remote working, for instance, is a possibility that should have been considered and absorbed long before the 2020 lockdown.
Be transparent. Not all employees understand the role of HR in the workplace. Honesty goes a long way. Employees want to know what you’re working on and will appreciate you being open with them.
You are there for the business...yes, but you are also there for the employees. Don’t protect or side with managers or leaders just because it’s the easy or safe option. If there’s a complaint made or a grievance raised, take it seriously and do your job by listening and investigating. Most of the time, employees don’t leave the company - they leave their manager.
Be supportive and open-minded. You might not always agree, but you should listen to your employees and have an open mind. Don’t let your own cognitive biases come into play.
Remember, people, NOT resources. Treat everyone with respect and fairness.
By adopting the above steps into your working style, you as a people professional can help to build a successful and inclusive organisation.
Stasia Seliverstova: People Director & DEI Lead