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Who has responsibility for D&I?

The broad consensus among experts is that every person in an organisation is responsible for driving adherence to diversity and inclusion principles

There’s obviously a wider organisational responsibility to promote and achieve diversity and inclusion but who should be responsible for making it an everyday reality? Should it come from HR, C-suites or the employees themselves? And how can each employee play a role in ensuring their organisation is fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce?

The broad consensus is that driving an inherent adherence to D&I principles is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation. Colin Scott is vice-president for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and dean of social sciences at University College Dublin. He says at UCD they talk about EDI "being everyone's business".

“At UCD, we recognise that advancing equality, diversity and inclusion requires both leadership at university management team level, organisational support and also mainstreaming with our heads of unit, people managers and all employees,” he explains. “I think it is important to build engagement from all employees, including managers, with the reasons of seeking to remove barriers to equality, celebrating diversity and promoting inclusion.”

He sees EDI as a responsibility that someone must take seriously, whether it is engaging in training programmes or reporting something they feel contravenes these principles. “Responsibilities range between knowing about our policies and getting training on them, as appropriate, acting on inappropriate behaviours, to promoting behaviours going beyond our policies, to promote a positive culture that is inclusive in a deep sense that allows staff and students to be themselves and to contribute to the wellbeing and development of the university community,” he says.


Scott was the first vice-president for equality, diversity and inclusion at the university and he works closely with colleagues in the university management team on leading strategy, policy and cultural change in respect of EDI. He says UCD has a golden opportunity to foster diversity and inclusion in its graduates before they enter the workforce. “As a university, we engage students with everything we are doing and recognise that the commitments and behaviours of our students and alumni are central to achieving a more equal, diverse and inclusive world,” he says.

Top-down approach

In a large organisation, a top-down approach is necessary, says Will Cronin, head of culture, diversity and inclusion at AIB.

“The CEO, the executive team and board of directors are responsible for ensuring that the organisation should have a clear and actionable diversity and inclusion strategy, aligned to the organisation’s purpose. That strategy is then executable right down throughout the organisation, with the tone from the top, through a programme of meaningful actions and initiatives,” he says.

Fundamentally, all employees across the organisation are responsible for ensuring a diverse and inclusive culture exists, says Cronin. This is made possible through the organisation’s policies and codes and also through a programme of initiatives, he adds.

These types of initiatives include managing inclusivity workshops and unconscious bias training, which the bank has run for more than 1,000 leaders across the organisation. “These create awareness, and also show the benefits in the areas of talent, succession and the development of our teams in a more inclusive way,” says Cronin.

“Diversity and inclusion has to be led from the top and lived by all throughout the organisation.”

These sentiments are echoed by John Mercer, chief executive of Mercer Ireland, who believes D&I is not the responsibility of one person or one group of people.

“Everyone in the organisation has a role. The C-suite sets the tone at the top by establishing D&I as a business priority and allocating resources and funding. HR is responsible for implementing policies and practices, and employees are responsible for open-mindedness towards diverse perspectives and fostering an inclusive culture,” he says.

“While all three of these are important stakeholders, leaders at all levels are the key to creating a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture as they are often making the people decisions around hiring, development, advancement, engagement,” he adds.

Torunn Dahl, head of employee relations, engagement, diversity and inclusion at Deloitte, believes the senior leadership team should have overall responsibility for D&I. She agrees with Cronin that a top-down approach will be the most successful.

“There is enough scientific evidence establishing the business case that diversity of thought leads to better results. Without inclusion, there will be no diversity of thought so inclusion should be a strategic priority for all senior leadership teams,” she says.

Senior leaders

Dahl sees HR having a smaller role. And while employees have their own individual role to play, it is inevitable they will take their cues from senior leaders in an organisation when it comes to being inclusive and promoting diversity.

“HR might support in implementing the strategy but they cannot drive a culture of inclusion unless senior leaders are bought in and fully behind the importance of D&I as a priority,” she says.

“Employees are responsible too, as everyone is responsible for their individual behaviours and ensuring they are not excluding people. Nonetheless, people do take their cues from an organisation’s leaders, values and culture, hence the importance of the tone and accountability at the C-suite level.”

On the ground, it is imperative that individuals and managers ensure they personally treat everyone they work with in an inclusive manner and challenge lack of inclusion anywhere they see it, she adds.

“Challenging processes or behaviours that could be more inclusive can take courage, but if it is framed positively people can do this without causing offence. For example, suggesting how a process might be improved by inviting some different viewpoints rather than focusing on the fact that only certain people were asked to give input.” People can also offer to champion an initiative and get more involved in their company networks, she adds.

“The best organisations have worked hard to embed a culture where people at all levels are clear on the expectations around values and behaviours and feel personally accountable for living them,” says Dahl.

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times