Sharing the Responsibility: Delineating the Relationship between EDI and Human Resources


Despite the constant rebranding, Human Resources (read: Human Capital, People, Talent) seem to be in a perpetual fight for influence and gravitas in the traditional corporate structure. I often find it comical how organisations boldly state that “people are our greatest asset”, yet rarely include HR in key business decision making. Instead, relegating HR to “the directed”, rather than directing business strategy, though this is an anthology for another day…

How the above affects an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (“EDI”) strategy, however, is what I wish to discuss.

EDI = People = HR

In previous articles, I have argued that EDI should be recentralized as a core business strategy. In reality, however, EDI is confined to the organisation’s “People Agenda”, which, for most organisations, fits solely within the purview of HR. As such, an already embattled (often toothless) HR has EDI slopped onto an already full plate of deliverables.

Putting aside whether or not HR have the skillset to drive an EDI strategy (again, the assumption is that all HR personnel are people’s people doing people’s work, so they will know what to do without training or further skills development, an EDI strategy should not be spearheaded by HR alone, but instead be driven and embedded by Senior Leadership, in conjunction with HR.

Three Components of a Successful EDI Strategy

A successful EDI Strategy has three components. Here below we'll unpack them below and discuss who holds responsibility for each of these :

  1. Design and Prime: an effective EDI strategy requires a fit for purpose design. One that meets the needs of that specific organisation, rather than a generic EDI training rollout, for example. Once designed, an organisation and its personnel require priming for the seamless implementation thereof. HR hold the responsibility for the full realisation of this component.

    • Design:            HR is fully responsible for identifying trusted EDI partners, designing a fit for purpose strategy taking into account the broader people and talent strategy and the current and future business needs. Senior Leadership are to be consulted on the EDI strategy to ensure that it includes their key business objectives.

    • Prime:             Once the EDI strategy has been designed, it is imperative that HR prime Leadership, EDI Champions and the rest of the business for its implementation. This can be done through townhall events and/or email communication, but also through co-opting support from key stakeholders within the business, such as L&D, influential managers and D&I committees.

  2. Drive and Grind: once primed, HR then hands over the baton to Senior Leadership. It is here that Senior Leadership needs to drive the EDI strategy and embed (grind) it into the fabric of how they do business. Leadership behaviour is often that which makes or breaks any organisational change journey. For EDI, it is no different. Leadership are responsible for the success or failure of an EDI strategy.

  3. Support and Refine: this component is to happen in conjunction with the component above (Drive and Grind). Again, HR is responsible for this component of an effective EDI strategy implementation.

    • Support:          HR are required to support Senior Leadership in the driving of the EDI strategy. This support may take the form of training and coaching of Leadership personnel, coordinating resources and insights that may assist Leadership in driving the strategy, as well as emotional support and guidance for Leadership (and the rest of the employees)

    • Refine:            HR are to provide Senior Leadership with constant feedback on the success/failures of the various EDI interventions. HR need to be robust enough to pivot and refine the strategy as it progresses. HR needs to be the compass and guidance for Leadership when driving this strategy. Further, HR is required to hold Senior Leadership accountable to the EDI strategy as far as possible.

EDI as a Business Investment, Not a People Investment

In no way am I arguing to limit the influence of HR in driving an inclusive culture. HR are fundamentally connected to an EDI journey given their proximity to People and Talent. What this article hopes to obliterate is the reliance on HR to be the designers, primers, drivers, grinders, supporters and refiners of a strategy as important as EDI. It is not sustainable, nor feasible to think that HR can miraculously change behaviours and structures without Leadership commitment and accountability.

As previously positioned, if “people are our most important asset” then EDI is the most important investment, and one that requires the attention and care of both Senior Leadership and HR to fully realise the short, medium- and long-term returns thereof.

Roy Gluckman