Exclusive: Bernadette Thompson OBE addresses inclusivity in HR profession

Employee Benefits Live 2023: HR departments need to focus on driving diversity and inclusivity within their own teams in order to better support the wider business, according to Bernadette Thompson OBE, director of equality, diversity and inclusion at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Addressing delegates at Employee Benefits Live 2023, at ExCel London, in a session focused on driving inclusion in the HR profession, Thompson discussed the function’s role in designing and maintaining an inclusive culture, but stated that it needs to get its own house in order first.

“We need to get serious as HR professionals with regards the diversity of our profession,” she said. “Diversity has to be at the heart of what we do; representation really does matter.”

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Thompson explained how the NHS hospital trust initiated a five-step challenge to create a more inclusive profession: run demographic data; review and analyse the data; understand the lived experience of the HR function; co-design interventions and implement them; and evaluate and shout about it.

When reviewing data, Thompson stressed that HR teams must consider qualitative and quantitative figures. “Get numbers but the lived experience is really important, you need the two together,” she said. “How do people feel in your HR team? What is their lived experience? How are we supporting our HR members? Don’t ask people about their lived experience if you are not going to act on it. That is absolutely critical. Don’t ask if you are not going to use their response to effect change.”

The next step is to create a plan; HR team members must be asked for their ideas, said Thompson. What support do they need within the profession, for example, mentoring, coaching or shadowing team members? The interventions should be created with team members to ensure that the organisation is offering the most appropriate support.

Thompson also discussed the importance of focusing on diversity in recruitment and talent management strategies. This could involve advertising in multiple or specific places such as diverse job boards, or tasking executive search firms to present more diverse shortlists. “How do we bring in diverse talent? If we continue to fish in the same pool, we will get the same results,” she said.

Focusing on diversity at the recruitment stage and through to succession planning will help to build capability a diverse group. “If the HR profession gets inclusion right, it will be able to support the business better,” said Thompson.