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Connecting the Dots: HR's Role in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

What are the critical competencies for contributing to a better workplace?

​Since the murder of George Floyd, I've been struggling with what I might be able to do as an HR professional to contribute to a better workplace. I've been asking myself "What is HR's role? And what are the critical competencies needed to fulfill that role?"

HR pro and blogger Sharlyn Lauby has described HR as the "architect of work." Like an architect, she wrote, HR professionals are "responsible for creating functional, safe, aesthetically pleasing, economical structures. They get their job done by not only designing but communicating their design to clients, builders, and others."

I believe we in HR are responsible for balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of the people. We are there to help everyone participate in creating a climate that promotes inclusion, equity and diversity. We are also there to discourage and call out discrimination, racism, sexism and any other hurtful activities.

So how can we be effective in designing and building the best employee experience that ensures the success of our workplace and includes everyone?

I am white, so for answers, I turned to a respected and experienced Black colleague. Columbus Brooks is the CHRO of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) and has positively impacted the culture in a number of ways. His Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan for the URA for 2020-23 recognizes that a diverse organization is valuable, and that equity and inclusion are necessary to build and maintain it. The plan includes specific goals and objectives for HR to "ensure all segments of society see themselves represented … and support is provided to current and prospective staff members to foster a positive work environment."

One goal identifies a core responsibility for HR: "Commit to the principle of inclusive excellence to help create an environment where employees of all backgrounds can thrive." Pursuing this goal will require actions such as establishing a confidential reporting system for employees to address concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) without fear of retaliation; providing ongoing DE&I training; identifying and removing institutional barriers to equal employment opportunities and physical barriers to individuals with disabilities; creating assessment tools to measure improvements; and supporting DE&I initiatives through best practices for decision making, compliance oversight, policy updates and strategic collaboration.

If these kinds of actions are necessary to our HR culture design/build project, what competencies do we need to develop as project architects? An argument can be made that all of the HR behavioral competencies in the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) are necessary, but I think four are key: Leadership & Navigation, Consultation, Communication, and Global & Cultural Effectiveness.

The Leadership & Navigation competency includes:

  • Navigating the organization. Works within the organization's hierarchy, processes, systems and policies.
  • Vision. Defines and supports a coherent vision and long-term goals that support the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Managing HR initiatives. Executes the implementation of actions that support HR and the organization.
  • Influence. Inspires colleagues to understand and pursue the strategic vision and goals.

Communication includes:

  • Delivering messages. Develops and delivers, to a variety of audiences, communications that are clear, persuasive and appropriate to the topic and situation.
  •  Exchanging organizational information. Translates and communicates messages among levels or units.
  • Listening. Understands information provided by others.

Consultation includes:

  • Evaluating business challenges. Works with partners and leaders to identify challenges and opportunities for HR solutions.
  • Designing HR solutions. Works with leaders to design HR solutions and initiatives that meet business and employee needs.
  • Implementing and supporting HR solutions.
  • Change management. Leads changes in strategy, organization and/or operations.
  • Customer interaction. Provides high-quality customer service and contributes to a strong customer service culture.

Global & Cultural Effectiveness includes:

  • Operating in a diverse workplace. Demonstrates openness and tolerance when working with different cultural traditions.
  • Operating in a global environment. Manages globally influenced workplace requirements to achieve organizational goals.
  • Advocating for a diverse and inclusive workplace. Designs, implements and promotes organizational policies and practices to ensure diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

It is critical that we further develop these competencies now to be successful going forward. There are a variety of ways to grow yourself. You can engage in developmental activities on the job, in a classroom or group, through formal or self-managed education, from mentoring or coaching, as a member of your profession or community, and through additional assessments. Vary your activities depending on available resources. Consider your own learning style: Do you retain information best by hearing, reading, seeing or doing? Individual preference has a big impact on development, so keep that in mind as you pick activities to engage in.

HR professionals are on the cusp of great opportunity when it comes to DE&I in our workplaces. We can make a difference in the actions we lead. Determine your needs for developing the competencies that will help you do your best, and go forward.

Phyllis G. Hartman, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in Freedom, Pa. She is the author of several books for the profession, including A Manager's Guide to Developing Competencies in HR Staff (SHRM, 2017).


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