Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group, joins The HR Risk Podcast to discuss the relationship between an organization’s HR and Diversity & Inclusion functions. Subscribe to The HR Risk Podcast on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app!

Jennings: Our topic today is HR Meets Diversity & Inclusion. Creating a diverse, inclusive workplace is a key part of the mission of HR. But with Diversity & Inclusion’s high-profile emphasis within the HR function, we often forget that D&I applies to more than hiring, promotion, and retention. It also goes to how an organization interacts with its suppliers, with its customers, and with the public. In that light, just what should the relationship between D&I and HR look like? Joining us to discuss this question is Doug Harris. In 1993, Doug founded The Kaleidoscope Group, which has been recognized among the top 10 pioneers in the D&I industry and whose services cover D&I, cultural change, education and organizational development.

Jennings: Doug, welcome to The HR Risk Podcast.

Harris: Very excited to be here, Andrew. How are you today?

Jennings: I’m doing well. I hope you are. Before we get started, I wondered if you could tell our listeners just a little bit more about yourself and the work that you do.

Harris: I’m with The Kaleidoscope Group, the CEO of the organization. The organization serves as a full-service Diversity & Inclusion consulting firm and I have been doing this work, in August it will be a 30 years. And we really help organizations to systemically do the change journey when it comes to the topic of Diversity & Inclusion, addressing all components of that. Our motto as an organization is “real people, real conversation, real issues, real change” and so that is what we stand for. We consist of about 42 people and we have done this work in 44 countries.

Jennings: Doug, we’re really excited to have you on to talk about our topic today, HR Meets Diversity & Inclusion, this theme of diversity and the HR functions working together. Just as a threshold question, does Diversity & Inclusion fit entirely within HR and if not, how should we conceptualize Diversity & Inclusion’s role and place in an organization?

Harris: I think the partnership between human resources and Diversity & Inclusion is very important and I’ve seen this work done a couple of ways. One is where it sits entirely within the HR community. Other times it fits within some other business function, with a strong relationship to the HR community. I think the key for success is no matter where it sits, making sure that the D&I office has access to all elements of the company. Sometimes when it falls underneath HR, some of its extensions are limited, which can impact its effectiveness. I think ideally it would be to sit outside HR, but I’ve seen it done very well inside.

Jennings: Could you give us a little more of your experience on the pros and cons of having a standalone Diversity & Inclusion office or leadership position, versus one that is housed in HR versus one that’s housed in another department, for example, a compliance department or the legal function? What are the trade-offs that a company has when it puts this function one place versus another?

Harris: Human resources owns the people processes that are responsible for the culture, the selection, development, retention, and advancement of people. So all the things that take place hopefully create an environment for people to feel valued and respected. So when it fits within HR, there is a natural connection to all of those processes and systems, which can sometimes make it easier to be successful within the organization. At the same time, there’s this underlying thing that shows up at times, where it’s some type of competition. It’s almost a question of, “well, you know, we can do that in HR. We might not really need D&I.” And so many times when it sits outside of HR, they get better insight. We have one client where D&I sits underneath the business strategy office, another client where it sits underneath the COO, and so it really gets linked more to business success versus just strategically that people processes. Now no matter where it sits, I think in a healthy organization, there needs to be a strong relationship between human resource and D&I. And that really becomes not only a structural question, but also goes to relationships, competence, an understanding of the value that each one brings to the organization to help it be more effective.

Jennings: We often think of Diversity & Inclusion as being really focused on recruiting, retaining, promoting people in the workplace. But there is the aspect of Diversity & Inclusion as a set of values and aspirations and goals, and sometimes rules, that apply to other parts of the company, whether that’s procuring items or services in its relationship with vendors or its marketing function or its product development. It’s a broad area that really touches on a lot of areas, probably more heavily than others with HR. Do you see any risks, or have you seen any risks, with having a separate Diversity & Inclusion office or leadership role in terms of folks viewing it as siloed: “that’s a separate office. That’s not my function. I don’t have to worry, therefore, about Diversity & Inclusion” when the reality is that it’s a set of concerns that a lot of layers and a lot of managers should have throughout an enterprise?

Harris: Great question. We talk about who owns what when it comes to Diversity & Inclusion and so many times the normal leadership chain owns results. That is their role to own results. And then the second component of the work is that the D&I office and employee resource groups, they own the strategy and guidance. And then the third group is like human resources, marketing. They own the processes. Now the D&I office can have influence on all elements of the business. It should have the influence and connections to be able to influence the marketplace and customers.

Harris: It should be able to influence some of the creative, innovative new directions, product development, continuous process improvement. And that’s when you really achieve the overall value of what this topic brings to the table. And if it gets siloed in HR, the outreach around it impacting the business can be seen as not being a point of focus. So that’s one of the downsides. But the reality is that no matter where you sit it, you have to be committed to its true value and make the necessary changes.

Jennings: Picking up that topic where D&I sits in an organization, in terms of just the hierarchy, in terms of the org chart, either formal or informal, where have you seen D&I sit in a way that is most effective for it developing a fruitful, productive relationship with the HR or the employee relations function and what are some potential risks of putting D&I in one place versus another, in terms of hindering that relationship with HR?

Harris: The most powerful way I’ve seen is directly underneath the CEO. That person is a C-suite member with accountability and relationships with all other C-suite members and the appropriate type of input, influence, and impact on the company to really drive change. And so that’s probably been the most effective place. But again, I want to be repeat, where you sit is a part of that equation, but how much influence you have is even more important. I’ve seen situations where they sit at that table, but nobody listens to what they said. So it has to be seen as a true value and it has to be owned by all the stakeholders. It has to be owned by HR and has to be owned by the C-suite.

Harris: It has to be owned by the D&I office and the other processes if it’s really going to achieve the result. Now, one of the other things I’ll mention here is that HR is so important for even a competence standpoint in the D&I world. The D&I office many times will consist of three, maybe ten people at the most. And HR is all over the country, all over the world. So when people have people issues, the first place they’ll go to is human resources to get answers and support. So if they are not embedded in the topic, regardless of where it sits, from competence standpoint, it will impede their effectiveness in creating that culture where people feel valued. One of the things we do a lot of work on is improving the competence of the HR community, both as in a partnership of alliance, but also a partnership of competencies, and they can play their role well.

Jennings: You raise a really good point about having a seat at the table, whether you have a diversity officer or somebody else senior who has a high-ranking position on paper isn’t always the same thing as having somebody or a function that is taken seriously or that has a lot of influence on decisions within the company and its culture. What are, in your practice, some best practices for how HR leaders or other leaders can champion and empower the D&I function? And I think similarly to that, you were alluding to it, what are some best practices for how HR teams can really leverage and use a D&I office or leadership role as a resource for bolstering their mission as human resources professionals?

Harris: I think the first place is to have a strong partnership. With the human resource strategy, so many times they’ll go sit in the room, come up with their strategies, have no influence or connection to the D&I office and then go have a conversation. But how do we work together? So I think sitting at the table early in influencing the direction and the nuances attached to how do we do the HR work with a D&I lens is a key best practice in moving this forward. I think the other piece is that when you start getting involved with goal-setting and establishing objectives, that needs to be something within the HR community where there are goals and specific objectives that they need to meet as a support system for driving long-term success. That could be things such as enhancing and expanding their recruitment resources, building the competency around dealing across lines of differences in the interview process. Challenging leaders, because HR plays a key role in the hiring processes. So when leaders are letting their biases maybe take over, HR needs to be a vehicle that can help challenge leaders to see the world in a more open way. And again, the stronger that relationship and the stronger the competence, the better able they are to play that role.

Jennings: In your experience, is there an ideal picture you could provide of an HR department and a D&I office that are just really working spectacularly hand in hand, productively together toward advancing their mutual missions? And on the flip of that, are there any prototypical examples that you can think of instances where those two groups are not working effectively together? If listeners identify that in their own set-up it might be a warning sign of, “hey, we should think about ways we can work together more closely or bridge whatever gaps that we have to be more effective in advancing the HR and the diversity mission.”

Harris: It’s a structural conversation and it’s a competency conversation and then it’s a belief structure conversation. So that belief structure is “how important is this topic?” So when I see the relationship work well, the lanes of operation and execution are very clear, how we partner in those lanes is very clear. And there’s a value statement or value belief that we really need one another as assets to create the change. So I’ve seen two of the exact same structures, one work great and one work badly, typically because of the people who are in the structure. It’s not the structure, but the execution and operation of that structure which drive the change. And so what sits above both of those parties is a C-suite or executive team that is being held accountable for results.

Harris: That is making sure that those two groups work very well together as far as driving the organization towards change. And then, I’ve seen people who are just very good in both the HR and the D&I seats as it relates to building those partnerships with the organization. When it doesn’t work is when people get real territorial as it relates to this work. And they don’t think about the organization first, but they think about the language they control and that’s when we’ve seen a lot of concerns and challenges come to the table.

Jennings: I guess in some ways it’s a little bit like making a car, or building and designing a car rather. One person is responsible for designing the steering wheel and one person’s responsible for designing the powertrain. You can’t have a good, effective, running car without all of those folks working together carefully. And I think that’s true with Diversity & Inclusion and its constituents, especially its HR constituents. And to some extent it’s not so much the structure that you put in place, but the personnel is the policy, to cite an old quote.

Harris: We talk a lot about commitment, course, and competence: a commitment to the change, a course of action for that change to happen, and competence to be able to drive that change. And all three of those must be at play if true change is going to happen. And people often call a consultant and they’ll ask for the best strategy but then not have the competence to execute that strategy. So they still won’t achieve the results they’re looking to achieve. So you’ve got to have that commitment with meaningful accountability and you’ve got to have that strategy with tactical goals and understanding, and then you’ve got to do it well. And when it is done well, I think at the end of the day, the big point is that the organization benefits from getting the best people and maximizing their performance.

Jennings: I think that’s a good point. It’s really a three-legged stool: you can’t have one without the other. Doug, if our listeners want to learn more about what you do or want to reach out, where can they go for that?

Harris: Yes, our website is KGDiversity.com and you’ll find a lot of information about what we do, who we are, our uniqueness in this work. We’ve been doing it for 30 years. I have a lot of experience, but we’re constantly reinventing ourselves and trying different things to stay relevant and be on top of both the new trends and the new things that are driving change. We would love to talk to you more based on where you are in your journey and any type of support we might be able to give.

Jennings: That sounds like a great resource and I’ll put a link to that on the show notes. Doug, thank you for joining us on The HR Risk Podcast.

Harris: It’s been such a pleasure, Andrew, thanks for having me. Maybe we’ll do it again.

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