We have all felt the pain of being excluded. It hurts. Whether we have been missed off an invite to a party that friends attended, not invited to that important work meeting that discussed a project we were working on, or were ignored when we tried to make a contribution in a discussion. It really hurts. It can be more subtle too…not being included in an in-joke with others, feeling your items are always last on a meeting agenda, not being credited for work done. For some people work we work with, not being included is not an occasional inconvenience or frustration and annoyance, it is a regular occurrence and all the more hurtful when it is systemic, either through indirect or direct discrimination, through conscious or unconscious bias because of your disability, race, gender or sexual orientation.
The journey to greater inclusion in the workplace has been a long one, through legislation such as the Race relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act in the 1970s, the Disability Discrimination Act in the mid-1990s ( all subsequently subsumed by the Equality Act in 2010), and through workplace policies and procedures, Equal Opportunity Policies, Equality and Diversity Strategies and more recently Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion approaches along with the corresponding training and leadership programmes, all of which have contributed, in their own way to improvements in the workplace but all of which fall short on the socially just workplaces so many of want to lead and enjoy.
What is really clear to us, is that legislation alone does not change culture. Racism, in particular, has become more nuanced and as such hovers below eye level, but is felt by those affected. What hurts is the impact of those actions, inactions, systems, processes, and behaviours of others who contribute, turn a blind eye, or fail to acknowledge, accept or even believe that these lived experiences are real and happening under their watch.
So what can we do in practical terms as HR & OD professionals in the social movement for change which has been highlighted via the #InclusiveHR…
- The HR & OD function to educate itself on race equality and lead by example.
The NHS has some excellent HR & OD departments that deliver on overall priorities, but one area that has not kept pace is discrimination and race equality. Until HR takes the time to invest in its own professional development around real race equality, the change will not occur within so they can outwardly influence the wider workforce and organisation. This means listening to your staff, being curious, and being willing to speak truth to power and support behaviours that lead to true allyship.
- Support ED and I professionals in your teams and recognise they are positive disruptors to existing cultures.
The NHS has invested, perhaps more so than other sectors, in appointing Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion specialists in our organisations. This is vitally important, however from our conversations with many of these staff, a theme that keeps emerging is that they are not getting enough support from senior leaders to drive change. These staff are positive disruptors often observing and informing the organisation of uncomfortable truths, which can be silenced or not heard which leads to inaction. Many equality professionals without proper support and supervision risk burnout and psychological harm striving for more inclusive workplaces. There are a number of things we can do, such as ensuring profile of the issues on executive and board meetings, giving visibility to ED and I staff to help showcase their expertise and the data on workplace culture they are familiar with. This is an important sponsorship role for HR professionals.
- Accountability versus responsibility
How leaders hold themselves and others to account for delivery is a huge catalyst for producing results. As HR professionals we know the importance of visibility, living by our values, and role modeling. We also know that more diverse organisations and better-balanced boards deliver better patient care. We have incredibly diverse teams in our functions and the vast majority of HR Directors and CPOs are now women, but we know the diversity of our senior leadership teams doesn’t reflect the racial diversity of the teams we lead. We need to ask ourselves what deliberate action are we personally taking to improve the racial diversity of senior leadership within our profession? If we don’t address racial equality for HR & OD staff we can’t credibly advise other functions on creating inclusive cultures. The HPMA Resource Hub should be an integral part of the career, training, and support frameworks within organisations. Furthermore, we won’t attract diverse people into the profession if they cannot see people like themselves as decision-makers. Representation matters as it inspires and provides hope in a socially unjust society.
- Don’t be afraid of change.
We all know the importance of compassionate, supportive cultures and most of us are leading projects or initiatives to change and improve our cultures, and yet we worry about the consequence of changing the incumbent culture. We work in highly complex organisations and systems delivering care to people when care and compassion are what matter most and so can fear taking risks, because of the potential unexpected consequences. With the support of our executive teams, we can take more risks, we can set more ambitious targets on race, on disability on promotion, knowing there is a link to better patient care. Lockdown has taught us we can make changes in the workplace faster than we ever thought possible. We can translate that sense of urgency into our approach to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Being excluded is painful – HR & OD need to embody the changes needed and it starts with us holding the mirror up, acknowledging areas for improvement, and taking informed action. HR & OD are the champions and custodians of best practice. This starts with a conversation within our own teams, to listen and understand the lived experience, and to take action. Ensuring our organisations and the systems in which they operate are inclusive will lead to a more socially just, compassionate, and caring workplace that can role model the society we want to see deliver for staff and deliver for patients from all walks of life.
Deputy Director of Workforce Transformation – London Region
Chair of Deputy Directors of HR Network (London)