Chief diversity officers may be the ones getting all the buzz when it comes to corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but for most American companies, DEI efforts still fall squarely within the realm of the HR department. According to a May 2021 survey of US employers conducted by XpertHR, 52 percent of respondents said the person responsible for their company’s DEI efforts was the chief human resources officer. Only 11 percent named the chief DEI officer as the person responsible.
So what are the best ways for chief HR officers to tackle the vitally important task of making their companies diverse and inclusive? These six tips and strategies, recommended by HR leaders across a range of industries, can help.
1. Conduct regular DEI audits
If you want to improve and promote diversity at your company, you need to know where you’re starting from. What groups of people are under or overrepresented at your company? Who holds positions of power or authority? Where are new and diverse job candidates coming from, and how many of them are getting in the door? Conducting regular DEI audits that ask essential questions like these will help you create a picture of what diversity currently looks like at your company — and develop a vision of where you want to get to.
2. Review all HR aspects that impact diversity
If your goal is to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace that goes beyond tokenism, you need to think in terms of systems, not just isolated gestures. Just about every aspect of HR impacts diversity in some way, from recruitment and pay scales to career mobility and opportunities, and you’ll need to review these closely to determine how your core HR systems are supporting (or impeding) current and future DEI efforts. For example, it won’t do much good to focus all your efforts on attracting diverse new hires if a review of your HR systems shows that those same diverse hires have a smaller chance of being promoted in the future.
3. Make the interview experience more DEI-friendly
When it comes to DEI, one of the most important HR areas to focus on is the interview experience, as this is where even well-intentioned companies can make mistakes. To create an interview experience that’s more DEI-friendly, HR experts recommend that it be as standardized as possible. Make sure that all job candidates are asked the same questions, in the same order and in the same way, to minimize the risk of hiring bias.
Furthermore, in your efforts to bring greater diversity to the interview process, don’t forget about who is doing the interviewing. Having a diverse interview panel allows candidates from all backgrounds to see people who look like themselves, and thus understand that there are opportunities for everyone at your company.
4. Reframe your thinking around “culture fit”
When assessing new candidates, HR leaders often ask, “How well does this person fit into our company culture?” However, hidden dangers are lurking in this question. “Culture fit” suggests the ability to conform to the organization, which can lead to a homogenous company culture and is essentially the opposite of a DEI mindset. Instead, HR experts recommend reframing the question as, “What can this person add to our company culture?”
Thinking of “culture add” as opposed to “culture fit” deliberately embraces individuals from diverse backgrounds and with different skillsets and experiences, helping foster a culture of inclusiveness in which differences are valued rather than feared.
5. Commit to development, and make it easy to access
Tokenism happens when diverse candidates are hired to make a company look “progressive” but are not given the support they need to be successful. Chief HR officers can help address this issue by bringing strategic intention and action into the picture. First, they must identify high-potential diverse candidates, then make sure that leadership is committed to providing opportunities such as mentorship and coaching that will help develop these candidates into high-performing employees. The more programs and resources you can provide and the easier they are for your employees to access, the more authentically diverse and strong your workforce will be.
6. Communicate the benefits
Culture change can be hard, especially in long-established companies that are dealing with firmly entrenched, non-inclusive HR policies and practices. A chief HR officer’s role here is to help everyone in the company — particularly the C-suite — keep their eyes on the prize. The significant benefits of having a diverse workforce and a diverse leadership team are well-established, so make sure that your messaging around DEI efforts clearly emphasizes the positive impact that these efforts will have on the company. When people — workers and leaders alike — understand that their company only stands to benefit by becoming more inclusive, then diversity can truly become part of the company’s values rather than a mere matter of optics.