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The diversity challenge: Changing the face of HR through DEI

Hope Lukoto, CHRO at BCX, unpacks the value of ensuring that diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives have a real and relevant impact on the business and its culture.

Johannesburg, 08 Jan 2024
Diversity, equity and inclusion are not defined by metrics and quotas.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are not defined by metrics and quotas.

Over the past three years, human resources (HR) has become a central player in curating the culture of the organisation beyond processes. Today, HR is a juggler – ensuring that the balls of remote work, wellness, connectivity, technology and uncertainty are deftly kept in the air, while ensuring employee retention and engagement remain high.

According to the State of HR report, HR practitioners are also increasingly focused on how they can embed the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into the business, as these are integral to building a better work culture. This sentiment is shared by the Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2022 report by HR Research, which underscores the importance of incorporating DEI initiatives in building stronger relationships and driving success.

However, the report also reveals a landscape of DEI complexity. Companies are finding it difficult to create mature DEI programmes, with only 9% stating that their DEI initiatives are highly effective. The challenges inhibiting organisational immersion are limited leadership prioritisation (43%), poor metrics (41%) and a lack of training (41%). This is despite the fact that DEI is a proven value-add for the organisation – research by the CEPR found that DEI is “positively associated with seven out of eight measures of future profitability, such as return on assets, return on sales”. It is linked to higher profits and valuation measures and has a long-term impact on the culture of the organisation.

This means HR has to evolve its approaches to bring about more engaging and cohesive policies to attract and retain talent. Many companies are still in the process of rebuilding their workforces thanks to the 'great reshuffle', 'quiet quitting' and other workplace phenomena that have defined the landscape since the pandemic. HR is critical to ensuring that the culture of the company and the policies that shape it are cemented in DEI principles that are upheld throughout the business, especially by leadership.

The first step is to recognise that DEI is not defined by metrics and quotas. It is a shift in how the organisation thinks, and this is a far more significant shift than many companies realise. Entrenched beliefs, a lack of understanding across cultures, different age groups and perspectives are all important to the business and not, as has been seen in the past, deviations from the so-called norm.

It is this diversity that can fundamentally change the success of a business and its approaches to customers and innovation, but it is equally this diversity that’s traditionally not aligned with the perceptions of the C-Suite. HR’s role here is to work with the C-Suite to find meaningful ways of driving DEI and overcoming legacy beliefs and approaches.

HR professionals are also key to building a DEI culture through technology. Technology plays a pivotal role in helping HR and leadership truly empower employees and build more inclusive environments within which DEI principles can thrive. The right technology will ensure rich collaboration between the HR team and the DEI team with shared policies and approaches that operate outside the traditional silos. DEI cannot be pursued by one team. It must be a collaborative, cohesive effort that shifts it out from under metrics and KPIs added to either HR or DEI team profiles and makes it an active part of the organisation. It’s how HR recruits talent, recognises value, embraces diversity and creates sustainable change.

Moving forward, HR has to create strategic plans that centre DEI as more than an objective, reframing it as a culture of equity and equality that empowers employees and upholds an ongoing commitment to diversity.

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