Written by: Rob Drury

Many medium and large organisations in the UK may now have resources internally for diversity and inclusion (D&I). How this resource is structured will vary according to institutional prioritisation of D&I, funding, and the size of the organisation; some will have a few hours ‘bought out’ of someone’s contract, some will have a single member of staff, and some will have a whole team.

A common talking point around managing an internal D&I function focuses on where they are located within the organisational structure, and commonly, there are two main thoughts on this.

HR, Sweet HR

A common home for D&I is within HR or People & Culture functions. There are some key reasons for doing so, which have some merit to them:

  • Both HR and D&I have a fundamental commonality in working with people
  • HR often produces management information (MI) and holds data that is useful for D&I, including information on the characteristics of the workforce
  • D&I can be complex, and can benefit from the social skills developed by HR professionals

However, there are many reasons why HR isn’t an ideal home for D&I.

An initial hesitance comes from the perception that HR is there to protect the organisation. The work of strong D&I work will challenge organisational norms and may require it to change ways of working and long-held attitudes and systems. If HR exists to protect the organisation primarily, can it adequately challenge and change systems?

Another reason against housing D&I in HR, particularly small-medium sized organisations, is the transactional or operational nature of the work. Administration, recruitment, payroll, pensions are all discrete tasks and can be siloed from the wider work of the organisation. D&I should be located in a position where it can influence strategy, mission and values across the whole organisation.

On the Road Again

So, if we’re not going to house D&I in HR, then where can it go?

One suggestion could be for D&I to be a department in its own right, with a reporting line to the Chief Executive or Managing Director. Realistically, D&I can impact every aspect of a business, from marketing to finance, customer service to IT. Therefore, being given the status of its own full department could provide leverage and the sight across the organisation needed to do it well. In addition, this approach recognises D&I as an area of work in its own right, and not simply part of something else or just a case of cobbling together a policy or action plan. For D&I to be successful, it needs the appropriate care, resource and oversight, which it would receive as its own department and not as a bolt-on.

In a similar notion, housing D&I in an Operations team or department may be sensible. Operations in some larger organisation incorporates HR too, so the functions could be related but separate, and benefit from links to Chief Operating Officers and other key departments for organisational clout and relevance.

Another suggestion for larger organisations could be for D&I specialists to be deployed into different teams or units across the organisation, with a senior officer accountable for joining the lines across the whole business.

Granted, there are issues with these approaches too, which will often boil down to funding or lack of commitment. If those leading an organisation do not fully embrace D&I, they may be reluctant to commit to establishing a core function, when another department could absorb D&I. Additionally, departments require budgets for staffing, doing their work, and for events, engagement and interventions. In a cost-of-living crisis when more and more organisations are cutting back to what they consider their bare essentials, it could be hard for funding to be given to forming a D&I department if it is seen as a ‘nice to have’ by the leadership.

Whenever, Wherever

Ultimately, we must consider that the home for D&I must be relevant – and challenging – for every organisation’s specific context. Smaller organisations may have to make do with limited resource and function due to their operations, and larger organisations may need to go further on their journey before considering moving D&I.

Wherever D&I is located in the organisation, it must be given equal clout within the organisation as any other function, and not seen as a ‘nice to have’. The role of practitioners is to provide the challenge and support necessary to continually ensure that D&I is relevant, impactful, and welcomed in organisations and business planning; regardless of where the team sits in the (physical or virtual) office.

By Rob Drury



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