In one episode the main story illustrates the role of HR, corporate America HR. In a large staff meeting in the Chicago offices of the small firm the head of the firm told a story to illustrate the type of racist language which was considered acceptable not so long ago. He quoted the politician’s exact words which involved the use of the N word. At the time this did not appear to have upset or offended any of those present. However shortly afterwards we switch to a scene where a white women is interrogating a black member of staff across a table like one of those police dramas whilst two of her colleagues sit behind her taking notes. They are HR and they are investigating a complaint about the use of the N word by a senior manager. “Were you present at the meeting”? “ Dld you hear the N word being used?” , “ Who said it?”, “How many times ? “ , “ Have you heard him use this word before?” And then to another member of staff,” anything you tell us is confidential, it won’t get back to the person.” We view several interviews all come across as intimidating. Several interviewees say they took no offence and the word needs to be seen in context. HR are having none of it. The corporate policy is clear the work environment must be free from racism and racist language. The N word is not tolerated.
Shortly afterwards we see the whole staff group , with the exception of the senior managers, participating in an awareness and sensitivity session run by HR. This session involves being shown a number of work scenarios involving black staff and being asked rhetorical questions. “Do you think the person of colour in this scenario would feel uncomfortable?” Senior managers undertake the same sensitivity and awareness training but on their lap tops through a multiple question and answer program.
Clearly the shows producers are making a point about how some large organisations attempt to give the illusion of diversity and commitment to equality. However what struck me most powerfully was the way HR professionals were portrayed as intimidating bureaucrats, zealots rigidly applying a policy in such away as to alienated staff, using compulsory “re education” sessions and the absurdity of a white trainer “ helping “ African Americans understand what it feels like to be black in the workplace.
This was such an exaggerated caricature of HR professionals that I couldn’t imagine viewers would see it as in any way like reality. And then I thought about all the times I have heard complaints about political correctness, compulsory equality and diversity training, employees saying they are afraid to say what they thinking in case they use the “wrong words” and references to the role of HR in policing E&D polices and I realised this was exactly how HR is viewed in some organisations in the UK.