Ask the DEI Expert: How HR Can Combat Structural Racism

September 15, 2020

We have the power to drive meaningful conversations and change in the workplace. In this series, we’re connecting with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders to learn more about them, understand how their work affects the employee lifecycle, and how they can help our organizations do the important work of removing bias and becoming anti-racist. 

I love Human Resources. Is that weird? While marketing teams get all the glory and sales folks have all the swag, the HR pros are the ones doing the work to evolve policies, programs, and offerings – making the world of work more equitable and all-around better for their people. We have a lot of work to do, but we also have the chance to make real progress.

That’s why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to connect with Angelique "Angie" Hamilton. She is the founder and Chief Coaching Officer at HR Chique Group, a leadership development and Human Resources consultancy that supports start-ups, small businesses and individuals in creating dynamic, diverse and organic cultures. We talked about Human Resources, the power HR folks hold within their organizations, and how their work can create real change.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to consulting?

I started my career in HR as an intern. It was a natural fit from the start. I’ve been in Human Resources for over 20 years now and have had nearly every position in Human Resources. I started my consultancy because I’m passionate about sharing the expertise I’ve gained to help individuals and small businesses create great places to work. Employees want to work in environments where they feel comfortable, can thrive, and help the organization achieve its goals.

You were featured recently in an article in Fast Company that talked about how HR has a great opportunity to fight bias and systemic racism, but that HR doesn’t have a great track record in doing so. What’s your take on that? 

Unfortunately, HR typically gets the blame for poor operational processes and systems; especially with harassment and discrimination issues. The processes and systems are only a fraction of what helps the organization function well. Companies often designate Human Resources as being accountable for the achievement of creating an equitable environment. Human Resources cannot do it alone and is not the sole stakeholder in the company’s success. Every employee in the organization plays an important part in creating a great environment and culture. 

How do these issues show up and what can we do?

One place bias and discrimination issues can originate is in the hiring process. The hiring process is the first step in evaluating if there is an equitable and fair selection process. 

You might ask yourself these questions: Do you have a homogeneous way of thinking in your recruiting? Do you use just one source, or one pool or one individual to identify potential candidates from? And are candidates experiencing disparate treatment in the hiring process? These issues can adversely impact your recruiting process, your culture and also your brand.  

Start by reviewing the candidate feedback on career boards such as Glassdoor.com, to see what candidates are experiencing. Next, revise your recruiting process to establish a fair consistent process that promotes inclusion.

Are you getting a lot of new requests for DEI support? How do you feel about companies reaching out now?

Yes. Diversity is a hot topic in Human Resources at this moment. When I work with new companies in this area, I always ask why they want to do this work now. Diversity issues did not happen overnight. My concern is that the company isn’t conducting training or implementing a new DEI practice as a feel-good endeavor.

Diversity and Inclusion isn’t a fad. Creating the best place to work for employees is not an exception. It is a workplace standard. If you want to do this work, you must commit to creating an equitable culture. Diversity and inclusion have to be a focal point within the company values and the structure of your company. 

What can HR teams do to combat racism at work?

I’ve always believed that HR professionals are change agents. It is our role to ensure there’s equity in the organization and to work toward fair systems. Our roles are not meant to only enforce rules or check the box. We are business partners there to help build positive, engaging and fair workplaces.

Employees don’t fit in a box. So, neither should our thinking. As HR leaders, we have to be innovative and creative to develop great cultures.


How can HR teams keep this work going?

Programs and DEI plans don’t work if leadership isn’t invested in them. It can become a situation where employees respond, “We have had training. We checked the box to complete the training. There was a kumbaya moment where we came together. So, we met our D & I requirement. Nothing else is needed.” Everything immediately reverts back to the state it was in prior to the training. Change isn’t made in a day. 

It takes investment and commitment from the senior leadership team to really want to make systemic changes. If leadership isn’t invested, then I would recommend the organization not to create a program for the sake of just creating it. Your organization has to want lasting change.

You shared a bit about how bias and discrimination can show up in the hiring process, but what about other areas? What about performance management?

It really depends on the organization and if they have a traditional or progressive approach in evaluating performance. As you know, the performance assessment is often based on the manager’s and supervisor’s perceptions of that employee’s behavior and performance. To eliminate the bias, establish very credible metrics that you can tie to that person’s performance and company goals. Only when we have succinct, defined and measurable goals, can we assess someone’s full performance. 

What about in the broader learning and development space? 

Historically, I’ve seen situations where a formal development program is in place, but the program isn’t offered to all employees. So, my suggestion would be to change that. If there is an affordability concern, create a program that would benefit the entire employee population. The goal is for all employees to grow and develop in their positions. And as an employer, you owe it to your employees to help them fully develop and grow within the company.

If you could say one thing to HR leaders, what advice would you give?

In the past few weeks, I’ve read very negative articles about HR. There have even been a few surveys where the theme centered on employees who don’t trust HR. The message I want to share is that if employees don’t trust HR, we need to take action to reshape that perception. We are a true business partner, so we have to change the paradigm in how employees view us. We need to reconnect with employees. 

Angie is currently accepting new corporate clients and can be contacted through her website, HR Chique Group. You can also stay up to date on her upcoming events through her website or by following her on LinkedIn

For more best practices, perspectives, and tools to help you build a more equitable workplace, visit our Workplace Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Allyship Resource Center. Looking for more bite-sized brilliance? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sara Forner Howland

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