D&I starts at home: How a diverse HR department can set you up for success

D&I starts at home: How a diverse HR department can set you up for success
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Organizations work hard to design policies to attract and retain diverse talent, spending a projected $9 billion on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in 2023.[1]  However, many overlook the importance of starting with a diverse HR department.

A diverse HR team can make underrepresented groups feel more comfortable, particularly when they need to discuss sensitive subjects. Your HR staff can also communicate and empathize better with people from different backgrounds if they themselves are diverse, as well as bring a range of perspectives to discussions on hiring, training, and internal promotions. 

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of having a diverse HR team and how it can help you achieve your D&I goals. We’ll give tips on hiring an HR team using skills-based hiring to access a wider, more diverse talent pool. Finally, we’ll look at how training and development on different recruitment approaches can help your HR team put your diversity and inclusion goals into practice.

A lack of diversity in HR teams

A diverse workforce can transform your business, bringing a 25% improvement in revenue growth from gender-diverse teams and a 36% improvement from ethnically diverse teams.[2] An inclusive workplace also has a positive impact on retention, with employees 5.4 times more likely to stick around at a diverse organization.[3] Given the high cost of recruitment, this can lead to significant savings. 

However, most HR teams don’t reflect the demographic make-up of society. According to a 2023 estimate based on a database of 30 million profiles, out of the 338,841 human resource managers employed in the US, 70.3% are female and 70% are White – while only 11.1% are Hispanic or Latino, 7.7% are Black or African American, and 5.7% are Asian. 

Compare this with the US census figures for 2022, which show that the overall population of the US is 59% White, 13.6% Black, 6.1% Asian, and 18.9% Hispanic. The daya shows that HR departments simply don’t reflect the population as a whole.

There are also significant drawbacks to not having enough diversity on your HR team: 

  • Communication barriers: Employees might be less inclined to communicate with HR teams lacking in diversity, feel less motivated, and could be 5.4 times less engaged.[3][5] The result is lower employee satisfaction and high staff turnover.

  • Fewer applications: When candidates see that they’re not reflected in an organization, they may feel unwelcome. 32% of potential employees may not even apply to a company lacking in diversity, which means missing out on a wide pool of talent.

  • Unconscious bias: Bias and discrimination affect recruitment, pay, and promotions, leading to hiring managers overlooking skilled candidates to fill new positions and internal promotions.

  • Insensitive policies: An HR department that doesn’t reflect the diversity of the workforce might end up designing policies that are insensitive or inappropriate. For example, a company may introduce a dress code policy that is gender-specific, disregarding the needs and preferences of employees who identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming.

  • Lack of support: Underrepresented employees may struggle to find relatable mentors and receive the same career support as their colleagues. This limits their career progression and their ability to positively contribute to the organization.

The benefits of a diverse HR department

An HR department is often the first encounter a candidate has with a company. It onboards new recruits, organizes training and development, and is responsible for creating a positive working environment for employees. 

“Establishing a diverse HR team showcases a commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB),” says certified diversity professional Janifer Wheeler. “An inclusive team with a variety of backgrounds and experiences opens the door to new perspectives on DEI-related initiatives throughout the hiring process – from recruiting to onboarding, and most importantly, retention.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of having a diverse HR team:

More creativity

When organizations have a mix of different cultures, there’s more opportunity for discussion, which brings more creative and original thought. 94% of corporate directors believe that teams with diverse backgrounds generate more innovative ideas and solutions.[6]

According to Felicity Menzies, CEO and D&I consultant at Include-Empower, “When employers succeed in cultivating a diverse and inclusive workplace, the organization is rewarded with higher quality talent, enhanced innovation, better decisions, creative collaboration, motivated and engaged employees, and improved individual, team and organizational performance.”

Felicity Menzies - include emplower quote

Increased fairness

A diverse HR workforce can help to make processes and decisions fairer around pay, hiring and promotion, and bullying and harassment. 

Kim Flanery-Rye, founder and principal DEI and culture practitioner at Inclusion Equals, highlights the issue of ‘halo bias.’ This describes when people think that those with similar backgrounds to themselves can do no wrong, which can lead to people taking the side of someone with a similar background to them in bullying cases. 

The thing about biases is they’re a bit sticky. Such as halo bias, which is when you just pick up on the goodness in people and you look for ways to confirm it and don’t look at anything else.

Kim Flanery-Rye, founder and principal DEI and culture practitioner at Inclusion Equals

By making sure there’s diverse representation on your HR team, it’s less likely that everyone will take the same side in a dispute.

At the same time, having a diverse HR team helps motivate employees from a wider range of backgrounds to apply for promotions, as they see themselves reflected at various levels in their organization. This gives you access to a larger talent pool for internal hiring, helping ensure you promote the best people for the job. 

Trust and open communication

A diverse HR team can be more attuned to the needs of diverse employees because they’ll have had similar experiences in their own professional lives. This helps create a more supportive and inclusive environment and promotes open communication. 

Tosin-James Odukoya says, “Despite not being an HR business partner, I often found that people of color would come to me with their issues and not my White colleagues…They were seeking out someone with whom they had a connection, whom they knew would understand. It’s proof that representation matters in companies”. 

6 ways to build a diverse HR team

6 ways to build a diverse HR team

HR teams have a key role to play in developing a strong company culture and establishing values of fairness and open communication. By establishing a diverse HR team you ensure a variety of mindsets are represented. This goes farther than writing a D&I policy or investing in one-off anti-bias training.

By being intentional about diversity, you can create an HR team that sets an example for the whole company. Here’s how.

1. Source HR teams from diverse backgrounds

When hiring for HR, go beyond relying on employee referrals and expand your reach. Here are some actions you can take to source HR teams from diverse backgrounds:

  1. Leverage job boards and recruitment agencies. Many agencies have access to a diverse pool of candidates like people of color, women, people with disabilities, or LGBTQ+  individuals. 

  2. Craft job descriptions in an inclusive way. Incorporate inclusive recruitment strategies and use inclusive language to encourage diverse applicants to apply. For example, use gender-neutral words like “candidate” rather than gender-specific pronouns like he/she.

  3. Partner with organizations and participate in events designed for diverse candidates. For instance, collaborate with local women’s empowerment groups or attend career fairs organized exclusively for underrepresented communities.

Use diversity hiring tools. Many platforms can help you be mindful of your D&I goals during the recruitment and hiring processes. For instance, TestGorilla’s test library has over 300 specific skills tests that can help you take bias out of the recruitment process and hire the right people for the job.

2. Use skills-based hiring

Hiring bias is a major challenge in achieving diversity. By using skills-based hiring, you can drive the focus away from personal characteristics, eliminate unconscious bias, and get a wider and more diverse HR talent pool. 

Caroline Castrillon, coach and founder of Corporate Escape Artist says, “Skills-based hiring furthers workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion by opening doors for people historically excluded from jobs based on education”.

To choose the best HR professionals for your team, you can test their HR management or leadership and people management skills.

By taking the time to understand your potential employees’ skills, rather than simply looking at their resumes, you’re more likely to find someone who is suited to and will be happy in their new role. Our 2022 State of Skills-Based Hiring report found that skills-based hiring reduces time-to-hire by 91.4% and cost-to-hire by 89.8% while improving the employee retention rate by 91.2%.

3. Use blind recruitment methods

One way to eliminate unconscious bias is through blind recruitment, which involves removing personal details from resumes and focusing solely on skills instead.

Selecting candidates based on their performance in a talent assessment before you know any other information about them means you can objectively evaluate their ability to do a job – before being aware of their age, gender, name, or race, which might lead to bias or discrimination.

It gives skilled employees a better chance of shining through and shifts the emphasis away from arbitrary characteristics like how old a candidate is or where they went to college.

4. Offer flexibility

Providing flexible work options will help you attract and accommodate a diverse workforce. In particular, this will help parents, caregivers, people with disabilities, and neurodivergent people. By offering flexible working hours, remote and hybrid work options, and accessible offices, you can create an inclusive environment for your HR team and your organization as a whole.

For example, you can make an effort to identify and understand the unique working needs and preferences of neurodivergent employees and use the information to design for neurodiversity. This will help to create an environment where such employees can perform their best. 

Another way to accommodate different types of candidates is to have employees complete an onboarding questionnaire where they detail their work habits and communication styles.

5. Hire a culture committee

In recent years, companies have shifted from hiring for culture fit to prioritizing culture add.  Now, instead of copying and pasting like-minded – and similar looking – employees into their teams, organizations look for people who align with the rest of the team on values, but who come from a broad range of backgrounds. 

One way to hire for culture add is by appointing a culture committee during the interview process. This team of individuals with diverse backgrounds from around the organization can help you design thoughtful questions and participate in interviews to make sure that candidates align with your core values. 

This is also a useful way to see how candidates behave around people with different backgrounds. For example, a candidate might act differently around women or LGBTQ+ colleagues despite seeming very open-minded during an initial meeting with a male hiring manager.

6. Track applicant and hiring data

Tracking metrics makes it easier to see what’s working and what’s not and helps you create a transparent and accountable system that further progresses your D&I efforts.

For example, by collecting and analyzing diversity metrics, you can identify disparities or biases in your hiring processes. This helps you gain valuable insights, which you can then use to set goals and design targeted strategies. 

To put this into practice when hiring HR professionals, collect demographic data at the application stage to make sure you’re getting a wide enough reach from your current job listing methods. If you notice you’re not getting a very diverse pool of applicants, you can look into sharing open roles on boards that serve particular groups such as LGBTQ+ candidates or people of color. 

Conversely, you can consider reskilling and upskilling diverse candidates from around your organization who don’t have experience in HR but who do have the skills and desire to make this move into this role.

Remember: Make sure you address all aspects of diversity. It’s not about filling quotas. Go beyond that and design and implement policies that ensure all employees feel included and get a fair shot at career advancement.

Is your HR team up for the challenge?

Embracing D&I in your HR team benefits both employees and your business. However, in order to build a truly diverse team, you need to be intentional about your D&I efforts. As Janifer Wheeler says, “Having a diverse HR team is about so much more than just ticking a box. It’s a statement that your company takes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) seriously.”

Your HR department should be at the forefront of these efforts, and ensuring a diverse mix of team members is essential for fostering an inclusive company culture. Take the necessary steps to build a diverse HR department by: 

  • Sourcing HR teams from diverse backgrounds

  • Using skill-based hiring techniques

  • Using blind recruitment methods

  • Offering flexibility

  • Hiring a culture committee

  • Tracking applicant hiring data

Not only will you have a more inclusive HR team, but you’ll boost creativity and improve employee engagement.

Harness diverse talent and skills to drive organizational success. Discover how skills-based hiring can help you reach your diversity goals. Download the State of Skills-based Hiring 2022 report to learn more


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