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Keep the Faith

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
The organisation is striving to be an equal opportunities employer and to have a workforce that reflects a cross section of the community. Like many organisations it realises it still has a long way to go. Prompted by events in the wider community the board has announced a review of current HR policies and strategies to make a reality of the organisation commitment to equality and diversity.
The response from employees was not what the board and senior management hoped for but probably should have anticipated. This is a quote from one skeptical member of staff.
“ The receptionist in my office is a Mozambique born Portuguese. The cleaners are from Peru, Chile and Poland. I wonder if my organisation will ask them for their opinions? I suspect not. This review will be another round of middle class leaders talking to other middle class ,” professionals” while ignoring the obvious in front of them. We don’t need reviews. We need power to change what is holding us back. We don’t need more prevarication in the guise of working groups and consultations. 
At a guess we will be told there is under representation of black and ethnic minority staff in senior positions , that these staff are over represented in disciplinary hearings   That changes should be made to recruitment processes. All things we already know. “
Experience tells me that this skepticism is not unreasonable. If the usual nominees sit down with HR they will probably produce a final report that tells the board little they didn’t already know and any recommendations are unlikely to go beyond more monitoring, fine-tuning targets and minor adjustments to the recruitment process such as interview panels to be balanced in gender and race.
If an organisation wants to do more than give the appearance of doing something then it must identify what it can do differently in appointing to senior posts, in deciding when to take disciplinary action and in how it recruits. There are difficult questions to be asked but as the individual quoted above suggests the opinions of black and minority employee should be sort as the starting point. What is their experience, what changes would they like to see in the disciplinary process and how do they suggest the recruitment process is changed. I suspect the answers will be different to those that managers would give. However the responsibility for tackling the over representation of BME employee subject to the disciplinary action and the under representation in management posts is not down to BME employees. Nor would it be reasonable to assume that simply appointing more BME employees to senior management post will lead to an end to discrimination, negative stereotyping, bias recruitment or poor management.
From my experience real change must start with an honest look at the quality of management at every level, in particular, managers people management skills. Too often managers are appointed because of their professional skills or their budget management skills not their people skills. Managers lack of people management skills will be a significant factor in employees feelings that they are not being treated fairly. HR could assist in assess the quality of management by drawing on lessons learnt from grievances and exist interviews. In addition trainers frequently pick up issues about management in sessions with staff, this information is often lost or ignored but could be useful in identifying any gap between what the organisation expects and what’s actually happening. It will also go some way in tackling the skepticism of employees like the one quoted.
This is not about blaming managers. Management is a very difficult job to do well and managers need all the support they can get. Good HR support improves the quality of management, something organisations should take account of when considering outsourcing the service or cutting it back.

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