Your HR VP Should Resign When They Fail To Produce Diversity Results

Note: This “think piece” is designed to stimulate your thinking about how to dramatically change diversity results.

Corporate diversity has become a top business imperative. Like any accountable business leader with a seat at the table, an HR leader that hasn’t produced diversity results should “fall on their sword” and resign.

It’s Time To Raise Our Expectations For Diversity Results 

The recent societal push for increasing equality now makes it an appropriate time to lose our tolerance of failing to meet quantified diversity representation results. Yes, even though recently corporations have been more transparent about reporting their diversity results. It’s important to recognize that their actual published diversity results have unfortunately changed very little as a result of this increased transparency. In my recent Black Jobs Matter Too article, I concluded that overall corporate diversity efforts could only be given an F grade. For example, in one study that assessed over 600 companies, only a minuscule percentage (3%) were rated excellent in their diversity performance. In my view, it’s time for radical changes in the operation of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts. 

Define Your Result Based On Your Level Of Diversity Representation 

The first major change should be more narrowly defining diversity success. It should only include quantified results in the areas of diversity representation in key job areas. Leadership positions, as well as representation in hiring, promotions, training, and retention. And although there are pitfalls related to setting diversity representation targets (based on the local population percentages). I find that there is no substitute for targeting diversity representation percentages in jobs and areas that will have maximum business impacts. Those representation target areas are listed below in priority order.

  • Diversity percentages at the board level and on the executive committee.
  • Diversity percentages in corporate leadership positions, in senior management positions, and on the succession plan.
  • Diversity percentages among all team leaders. 
  • Diversity percentages among employees in professional jobs, in professional promotions, in professional employee retention rates, and among professionals working at corporate headquarters.
  • Diversity percentages among new hires in professional and exempt positions.
  • Diversity percentages among employees undergoing recent training.
  • The percentage of total corporate budget allocated to diverse managers.

It’s critical that you make it clear that diversity actions can’t be substituted for diversity results. Completely disallow the use of “words” and actions as part of the definition of D&I results. Previously accepted phrases like, “We put in maximum effort, we assigned the best people, we trained x number of employees/managers or we ran/implemented __ new D&I programs” can no longer be considered diversity results. These actions may eventually lead to better representation results, but those actions can’t be confused with actual results.

Begin Demanding Strict Accountability And Assign Severe Consequences To Failure 

Rather than repeatedly tolerating a CHRO’s failure to reach their expected diversity representation targets, there should be real economic and job security consequences assigned to those responsible for failing to produce their expected diversity results. And those real consequences should include the elimination of bonuses, significant pay cuts, budget cuts, and, yes, the loss of your leader’s job.

I’m not trying to be subtle here. My contention is that a failure to produce quantified representation results in this critical area should result in job loss. Those that assume responsibility for diversity results should, when they accept that role, make a public promise of resignation if those results are not met within two years. Many are surprised to learn that rather than being rare, resigning because of diversity failures is becoming more common. For example, recently, CEO’s from CrossFit, Bon Appétit, The Bleacher Report, and Reddit have resigned because of diversity issues. Also, the Chief of Police of Atlanta Erika Shields recently resigned to enable the department to move forward on diversity issues. And, the head of HR at Adidas Karen Parkin also recently resigned and retired as a result of a diversity incident. In order “to unify the organization… and to pave the way for change.” In my view, those that need to resign or be terminated for failing to produce the expected results must at the very least include the VP of HR, the D&I director, and in some cases, the COO and the CEO. (As a side note, CHRO’s that fail to continually increase workforce productivity should also be expected to resign.)

Understand The Many Positive Impacts From Expecting A Resignation 

Demanding that accountable leaders resign when they fail to produce diversity results has many positive impacts. Those impacts include:

  • It reinforces the criticality of D&I results to managers and employees. While demonstrating that continued failure in diversity and inclusion results is not acceptable.
  • Completely stepping aside allows a new and significantly different D&I approach to be implemented.
  • It educates the replacement that not meeting representation results will not be tolerated.
  • Adding significant consequences to failure will attract more businesslike people to HR in D&I leadership positions. 
  • It shows beyond words that HR leaders have integrity and that they actually live their values. These consequences simultaneously improve the image of the function and the action for the good of the company partially helps to rebuild the image of the individual that resigned.

The Top 6 Actions For Dramatically Improving Your Diversity Results 

In my experience, most of the corporate Diversity and Inclusion programs are so broken that there are literally dozens of improvement areas. However, the actions that have had the highest impact involve making the diversity approach more businesslike. Almost all of these “more businesslike actions” involve the use of data to identify weak traditional HR diversity practices and then replacing them with more modern and data proven ones. The top six highest impact actions include:

  1. A data-driven approach to diversity decision-making is essential. The leaders of diversity and HR must be committed to 100% data-driven decision-making. Specifically, that means that all decisions related to increasing diversity hiring, retention, promotions, and inclusion must all be made based on metrics and data. Those that insist on making program decisions based on emotion or traditional practices must be replaced. 
  2. Implement a zero-based budgeting approach. In most organizations, so much of the D&I process is broken that it’s essential that you start with a cynical mindset. A key element of that mindset is the allocation of resources using a zero-based budgeting approach. Under this method, every diversity program, tool, and leader must re-justify itself every year with specific data showing that it is superior to doing nothing or to the available alternative approaches. When diversity has a limited budget, its resources and talent must be allocated to areas that have the highest ROI and the most direct impacts on diversity results.
  3. You must measure, reward, and recognize diversity results. Managers and executives are ultimately responsible for all hiring, development, and promotions. So, they must be proactively influenced to religiously follow the diversity protocols and that they devote the necessary time to increase diversity representation. The best way to influence them is to periodically measure and widely report every individual manager’s diversity results. To further increase their focus, managers must also be significantly rewarded and recognized for excellent diversity results. One of the criteria for promotion to the next level should also be a manager’s track record of diversity results. Executives, hiring managers, and employees must also be excited about maintaining diversity. They should be educated on the many positive business impacts that result from increased diversity that reflects your customer base. 
  4. Make your diversity goals and results transparent. It’s important to realize that recently, diversity representation and equal treatment have become dominant expectations among the wide range of your employees and customers. And that means that all your stakeholders now expect to be proactively kept informed about your diversity goals, the areas that you are investing in, and your actual diversity representation results in each area.
  5. Identify the weak points in your HR processes. You must prioritize your D&I process repair efforts. HR and diversity leaders must systematically use data to identify the weak points in their hiring, retention, training, and promotion processes. This also means identifying every major diversity failure and conducting failure analysis to identify its root causes. 
  6. Hire managers and recruiters with a proven diversity track record. Individual managers and recruiters have a large impact on diversity representation throughout the company. Make a track record of meeting their diversity results as a key hiring and promotion criteria for jobs that have a direct impact on diversity. 

Final Thoughts

Even after Fast Company magazine’s infamous “Why We Hate HR” article in 2005, it has been clear that of HR’s many faults that the failure of our leaders to accept accountability for producing results has clearly remained a top glaring fault. Yes, HR leaders will often accept ownership for the operations of an HR function or for instituting HR programs. But they almost universally refuse to accept accountability or any form of punishment for failing to produce quantified HR, business, or diversity results. 

There is evidence that the low level of trust has continued. For example, in one recent survey “Over 50 percent of employees from every surveyed company said that they don’t trust HR at their current workplace.” And, it is probably safe to assume that among diverse employees, that their trust levels are even lower. It makes sense to start your new diversity effort by surveying a sample of your employees and managers to identify their current concerns, perceptions, and expectations. You should also begin your effort by expecting a great deal of resistance from within HR. Unfortunately, Human Resources have a well-deserved record for passing the responsibility buck and failing to directly punish their own weak performers. Next, I recommend that you conduct a pilot in an extremely difficult diversity area to quickly show stakeholders that your team has the talent and the tools to overcome at least one extremely difficult diversity problem. And after you build up more trust and confidence, you should move on to other high business impact Diversity and Inclusion problem areas.

Addendum: Dr. Sullivan’s responses to the posted comments on 7/7/20.

  1. Start by realizing that no one in the corporate world respects the “Eddie Haskell’s of the world” who literally blame everyone else, who never take full accountability, and never include painful negative consequences with their business promises.
  2. The next most critical point is for HR and everyone to admit that the current diversity program approaches have consistently failed to produce acceptable results. Something dramatically new needs to be tried.
  3. Next, realize that given the significant amount of recent publicity. For this foreseeable future, there will be increased pressure to significantly improve your D&I results (beyond current targets) almost immediately. Trying hard or simply throwing money at the problem will no longer be acceptable.
  4. Next, realize that it is unrealistic to expect dramatic D&I change from current HR leaders with an extremely long mediocre track record and entrenched practices.
  5. And as the VP from Adidas did, the right thing for existing leadership to do is to step aside. If for no other reason than that someone else can have a free unencumbered hand to try new approaches.
  6. Realize that the threat of losing their job after two years will guarantee that only the best “find a way people” will take the job. And they will utilize data and experimentation to find a way around solvable problems like manager bias, unconscious biases, and inadequate poaching. Find more info on what’s wrong with diversity recruiting and fixing diversity problems.
  7. Realize that direct accountability is a necessary component for building your credibility and to open the door to get the needed additional resources. By attaching severe and unambiguous negative consequences (your resignation) to a new leader’s promises, they will demonstrate to executives that they “have skin in the game”. (Do a Google search if you don’t know the importance of “skin in the game”).
  8. And finally, realize that HR fails to accept responsibility for literally anything related to people management. And the fact that the actions of other people impact a function’s success is just as true in finance, security, IT, and sales. This is simply a BS excuse. Yes, as the article says, executives and managers should be also measured and rewarded for producing diversity results. But the ultimate buck must stop somewhere… And the person “with a seat at the table” with the most control over human resources is its VP.
  • Also, yes you should expect a measurable ROI. There is plenty of data showing the diversity results have multiple bottom-line impacts. However, diversity actions, by themselves, do not.
  •  As to those that mentioned the Bible, Jesus paid a heavy price and he unambiguously assumed accountability for many sins that he didn’t have total control over.

Please forward this article to your team and your VP of HR and pass along their reactions.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips. Please take a moment to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and to comment on his articles posted there. Also, take the time to subscribe to his weekly Talent Newsletter.

image from Pixabay.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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