When HR Hinders Company DEI Progress

TL: DR
Ensure you invest in in-depth DEI training for your HR teams if they are responsible for your organization’s DEI efforts.

A few weeks ago, I received a text message from a workshop participant.

“Can you talk? I need to share something with you.”

I didn’t find it odd that they reached out because I had spoken to them the day before the session, understanding they would be one of two people of color in a workshop focused on race. I wanted to prepare them for what to expect and give them an out, if necessary.

When I called them, I was shocked by what they told me.

There was an exercise that asked if you or someone you know had been stopped by law enforcement due in part to the color of their skin. The two POC turned their cameras on to indicate that was a true statement for them.

At that moment, their lead — the head of HR — decided to text them both and say, “I would have stopped you too!”. This shifted the dynamic of the entire session.

I share this because it’s not the first time something like this has happened. Yet, it is where many organizations fall short in their DEI efforts.

Step one for any DEI practitioner should be introspective — understanding who you are, what shaped how you show up, and your biases. This thoughtful examination has not been a core element of most HR training until recently. And many of the very people that are ‘in charge’ of DEI have not done the work necessary to understand how they can be the same reason efforts are not successful.

I often share that the person that caused me the most harm was the head of DEI, who loved to share that she had never done ‘this kind of work before’. When I pointed out that people of color did not see themselves in DEI efforts, I was tagged as an upset employee. When she reported me to the VP of HR and VP of sales, instead of speaking to my manager or me and I pointed out the microaggression, I was deemed someone who didn’t respect authority.

It’s no coincidence that when the STUFF hit the fan after the murder of George Floyd that she decided to ‘retire’.

These stories are not uncommon. Though 71% of HR professionals are women, that doesn’t mean that their lived experiences give them the tools and expertise needed to manage conversations on race, sexual orientation, or disability.

If you are going to put the weight of DEI on HR, the least you can do is give them to requisite skills to do so without causing harm to the very people they should be advocating for.

And if you are responsible for DEI and have “never done this kind of work,” do everyone a favor and learn about yourself and your biases before you start to work with or on others.

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Sacha Thompson (she/her)

Sacha Thompson (she/her)

Executive Coach for DEI Practitioners | Leadership Coach for Mid-level POC | DEI Consultant & Facilitator | Host of DEI After 5