Has Anyone Seen HR Lately?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the past three or four years when it comes to human resources. When important diversity and inclusion decisions are being made within an organization, HR is absent. They aren’t involved in fleshing out ideas or helping to sell them to senior management and often are not there to help support diversity initiatives’ implementation.

We operate in a knowledge economy where companies with the best talent win. So it amazes me that HR, the function charged with finding, nurturing and developing that top talent, is absent when diversity and inclusion is looking to drive talent efforts. Here are three of many examples I’ve experienced.

Corporations looking to accelerate women’s advancement seem to favor sponsorship programs. In talking to a few diversity executives at firms implementing sponsorship programs, the majority indicated that human resources did not play a significant role. One executive even said the head of HR was against creating a sponsorship program because he wanted to simply improve their mentoring program, even though the program failed to deliver any significant improvement.

Another example occurred when a client asked for my help connecting the firm with influential leaders in the Latino community. The company, in the wine and spirits industry, was looking to connect with influential Latinos to drive sales. When I asked why it didn’t ask its existing Latino leaders for help, the company said it didn’t have any because HR had not been able to recruit or develop any Hispanic leaders during the past few years. When I had lunch with the head of human resources, she said the company hadn’t attended any Hispanic job fair events or been able to establish relationships with Latino organizations. “Our HR folks and recruiters don’t know the Latino segment that well,” she said.

I was further surprised when the head of diversity at a large pharmaceutical company asked for my help to determine which external diversity organizations it should consider, such as ALPFA and National Black MBA. The company also wanted my thoughts on whether it should participate in diversity rankings such as the ones compiled by DiversityInc and Working Mother. But what really surprised me was there was no input from HR in the decision. When I asked the diversity executive about this, she indicated that HR didn’t provide input because, “they said they were too busy.”

For years, human resource professionals have been accused of lacking business acumen. Now I’m beginning to wonder if they lack the gravitas to address some of the firm’s biggest diversity and inclusion challenges. To me, HR has the potential to be diversity and inclusion’s biggest ally, but it seems human resources consistently under-delivers.

So how does diversity partner more effectively with HR? First, clearly outline how HR and diversity are mutually reliant and accountable to each other. Only through successful collaboration can both functions achieve their goals; each plays a role in the other’s success.

Second, we must increase transparency and disclose our self-interests. When this is not done, it makes it impossible for the two departments to have an open environment where candid conversations can take place.

Third, a diversification of talents and capabilities has to exist among the two groups. If both functions act and think exactly alike and have the same skill sets, how will they ever achieve breakthrough thinking?

In 2005, Fast Company magazine published a now famous article titled, “Why We Hate HR.” The article struck a nerve in the human resource industry, and yet few could deny the shortcomings within the HR function that were listed. Now, eight years later, it appears the diversity function has to play a bigger role in helping
HR serve as the caretakers of the company’s largest investment, its employees.

If HR isn’t knocking on our doors asking to be invited into diversity conversations and strategic planning processes, we need to do a better job of inviting them. If we don’t, I suspect we’ll see a growing marginalization of HR by top diversity and inclusion executives. And that, my friends, would be sad indeed.