Why HR Must Lead Diversity Efforts

Too many organizations still confine this key element of success to a single program or initiative.

By Henry G. Jackson September 27, 2017

Later this month, HR and diversity and inclusion leaders will gather in San Francisco for the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition. It is one of our most important and most popular events, and one that continues to grow every year. After decades of focus on and countless conversations about diverse workforces, they have become more critical than ever.

We already know that companies with high levels of gender and ethnic diversity outperform others by up to 35 percent, according to McKinsey. Yet too many organizations still confine this key element of success to a single program or initiative. Instead, leaders at all levels should view every process and goal of their organizations through a diversity lens. Taking this approach can bring into focus everything that diversity can do for your business today and how your company can reap greater rewards going forward.

Today, it takes more than checking boxes and targeting ads to create a workplace that realizes the full potential of the differences diverse talent brings. It takes motivated individuals across the organization with the vision to be diversity leaders—not just in HR, but throughout management, in the C-suite and in operations. 

It is the role of HR to cultivate these diversity leaders throughout the company to identify, develop and advance people from every talent pool. HR models and gives organizational leaders the lens needed to see new and nontraditional sources of talent—including candidates with unconventional education and work histories. Your diversity leaders, and the people they bring on board, will become your organization’s best ambassadors and recruiters, constantly enriching your workforce with talent that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Diversity leaders further use the lens to create a work environment that cultivates and values diversity of thought and ideas. Today’s complex problems demand a variety of viewpoints to be solved, and leaders who do not value and consider an array of perspectives lose growth opportunities and suppress innovation. 

Using a diversity lens, however, comes with a certain level of responsibility. A diverse and inclusive workforce must be nourished and supported constantly to be productive, because employee needs and circumstances change. In this month’s issue, for example, the article “How to Create a Robust Reasonable Accommodation Process” offers practical advice for smoothly accommodating and supporting employees with disabilities. And our article “Taming the Unconscious Beast” offers steps for weeding out and preventing unconscious ethnic, racial and gender bias that can hurt your company’s success. 

As HR leaders, we still have much work to do to ensure that our leaders understand the business advantages of diversity and inclusion. SHRM is here to help you lead the challenging discussions around difference, providing resources and support as you focus your own diversity lens across your organization.

Henry G. Jackson is the CEO and president of SHRM. 


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