Brian Reaves, UKG’s chief belonging, diversity, equity and inclusion officer, spoke exclusively to HR magazine on why work towards fostering workplace diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging must continue, despite the backlash.

The most important thing for leaders focussed on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to do is the stay the course, said Reaves.

Reaves urged HR and other C-suite leaders to focus on ‘the influenceable middle’, rather than the people within a business who are change-averse, or the cohort that is keen and open to embracing change. The influenceable middle, he argues, are key drivers of the right environment for transformational change.

“Do not veer towards extremism,” he argued, “focus on moving the influenceable middle from awareness to advocacy. The more you keep them focused on trust, on pride in their work, on camaraderie, and really try to quest for what ‘for all, today’ might be, you will become that next great company, and you’ll write the next great chapter of your company.

“When it’s executed right, DEI strategy can be a great change agent,” he said. “The work of DEI leaders is influencing HR professionals to think more about changing how we do business, and that’s exciting.”

He also reminded HR professionals to of the importance of creating employee cultures that prioritise a strong sense of belonging. “Our focus should not just be on DEI but also the ‘B’, for belonging. That’s the most important thing to me.”

LinkedIn data from 2020 suggests that UK employers hire twice as many people in roles that are specifically designed to focus on improving diversity and inclusion than any other country. But has the UK’s commitment translated to more inclusive and representative workplaces? And has representation in senior roles like Reaves’ improved?

“I’m seeing more representation,” he said, “but not always for the right reason.

George Floyd’s murder was a catalytic event. Something that had been happening every day, and for years before, was caught on camera, and it made people become more curious about the way the world really looks.

“A lot of people may have hired people that look like us [both Reaves and I identify as black], but they didn’t support them. I thought: Is this a [knee-jerk] reaction?

“People were trying. But were they really on the journey towards being [inclusive of all people]?

“It was a moment but it didn’t make it quite to a movement. People who are hired into roles like mine, which is a privilege, we get to be on the journey towards a movement.

“Unless you have a seat at the table, and unless you’ve done the work to infuse DEIB into the business, and thread the needle so that everyone buys in, then people will start cutting and you won’t be empowered to make change. As we’ve all seen, companies are reducing resources in this area.”


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