For over 30 years, researchers have argued that diverse and inclusive workforces are good for business. Organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion (D&I) are more innovative and agile; outperform their competitors; and attract a wider variety of stakeholders, ultimately benefitting the bottom line.


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However, some organizations struggle to implement (or even acknowledge) D&I initiatives. The following article considers the role of the human resources (HR) function in driving D&I and the importance of compliance management in overseeing changes in organizational behavior and practices.

D&I and HR management

D&I is more than just employing different types of people. It is a moral and corporate responsibility that creates a sense of belonging and organizational justice and provides an employee with the assurance of fair treatment and opportunity in every aspect of employment. Today’s workplaces are complex, and inclusivity is vital for team cohesion, imagination, and empowering employees to readily contribute to business initiatives and outcomes.

An employee comfortably portraying their authentic self benefits well-being, builds confidence, and strengthens commitment to the organization. Conversely, a failure to adopt effective D&I initiatives can impact an employee’s idea of psychological safety in the workplace. Underrepresented groups are emboldened when their voices are heard and their contributions supported and formulated. It improves organizational efficiency as well as employee morale.

D&I should also be considered in the context of geographical location. For example, Asian organizations might be more focused on issues relating to national culture and employee value proposition when developing D&I programs, in comparison to Western organizations.

Understanding the organization’s social climate is important when designing interventions, as one size does not fit all. Engaging employees on all organizational levels and adopting a psychological approach might also be useful for identifying knowledge gaps and gaining a better understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and views on D&I, belonging, and equity.

HR as partners of D&I

The HR function has a unique aerial view of the D&I impact on the organization and should ensure effective strategies permeate into every component of people management. It should be evident in hiring practices—developing neuroinclusive recruiters, for example, who understand the importance and advantages of hiring neurodivergent individuals to bolster the talent pool beyond neurotypical candidates.

Neurodiversity is considered a form of competitive advantage in the war on talent, and increasingly, companies are enhancing recruitment practices to ensure equal opportunity to job applicants. Employee onboarding, as well as reward and recognition programs, are other ways of gaining insight into an employee’s unique needs and can benefit their performance and productivity.

From a risk management perspective, building D&I knowledge is vital for assisting in preventing reputational and financial damage caused by equality legislation breaches. Sometimes unconscious bias training is viewed with trepidation, and there is the risk of unwanted effects if interventions are poorly managed. However, the aim of unconscious bias awareness is to educate employees on the consequences of prejudicial and discriminatory behavior and the impact on individuals and the organization.

When employees recognize the efforts being made to include diverse voices in developing business strategies, there is a greater likelihood of gaining support and agreement during implementation. Silo mentality barriers are diminished, and knowledge management is strengthened when individuals of different backgrounds and cognitive thinking are represented in strategic, advisory, and oversight roles. It improves problem-solving and helps to reduce the potential for business failure due to lack of innovation.

Succession planning and leadership development programs are also key areas in which HR leaders must consider the diverse attributes of the workforce and how initiatives can support development and progression.

D&I as a channel for compliance success

Effective D&I strategies contribute to sound corporate governance. They demonstrate to employees a commitment to fair treatment and equity, no matter which group(s) they represent. Again, it strengthens risk management strategies by encouraging and promoting different types of employees into key decision-making positions, shaping a culture of transparency.

The compliance function should play an active part (in collaboration with the HR function) in understanding how the organizational climate may be positively or negatively affecting the progress of D&I and the impact on employee conduct.

Challenging biases that hamper an organization’s ability to effectively fulfill its legal and internal obligations is another important aspect of compliance in D&I. The compliance function must be fearless in questioning the homogeneous composition of the boardroom, the C-suite, and other business divisions by promoting the benefits of having different types of voices as champions of good corporate governance. If boards and C-suite leaders genuinely value business sustainability, they cannot ignore the uniqueness of their employees.

Final thoughts

It is the task of HR leaders to improve objective decision-making processes by devising inventive ways of addressing workplace bias and promoting inclusive environments that provide opportunities for all employees. Workplace D&I is complex, and simply creating a diverse workforce is not the destination. It requires continuous effort, commitment, and monitoring.

Effort means celebrating rather than marginalizing employees because of their individuality. Commitment means implementing business strategies that actively identify and support the unique needs of employees throughout each stage of their employment journey. And monitoring means challenging business practices that undermine organizational values and fail to treat employees equitably.

The International Compliance Association is a sister company to Compliance Week. Both organizations are under the umbrella of Wilmington plc.