What Does HR Have To Do With It?

By Rebecca Weaver, Head of People & Culture

I have a love/hate relationship with HR. I’m sure this doesn’t seem to be a particularly edgy statement. These days, everyone hates HR. But it’s my chosen profession, a profession which I think is in serious need of an overhaul.

Nickolett Hocking, our Director of People & Culture for Consulting, and I returned just over a week ago from an amazing experience at Advertising Week in NYC. As co-founders of HRuprise, we were asked by Time’s Up Advertising to be a part of a panel they called “What Does HR Have To Do With It?” We talked about the ways in which HR has been complicit in creating terrible work environments within agencies. We talked about the implicit and explicit bias that exists within the workplace, how it affects those in power, and the ramifications for those of us in HR.

Rebecca and Nickolett share the stage with Keesha Jean-Baptiste (far left) and Natasha Bowman (middle right).

While it was exciting to be there at Advertising Week (I’ve never seen such an impressively produced event), what was the most exciting was the incredibly refreshing open and honest dialogue about topics that aren’t typically discussed within this discipline; this is where my love/hate relationship with HR really kicks into overdrive.

There are far too many HR pros who are what I think of as the “shiny, happy HR people”. For me, they represent the people who are more interested in the glossy-brochure version of company culture, but they’re not willing to engage in the tougher, more meaningful labor. Do a quick search on social media right now and you’ll see the small group of HR influencers who exist, tweeting #HRpositive and #HRonpurpose with an abundance of exclamation points.

Don’t get me wrong — I understand the need for internal moral support for what can be a difficult profession — but I think this focus is all wrong. It’s hiding the real problem with HR. It’s again turning away from the conversations that really need to happen within HR.

HR doesn’t need defending. HR needs a revolution.

I think what people really want is not ping pong tables and free-flowing beer and wine (though there are some days where the free-flowing beer and wine sounds more appealing than others). I think what people really want is an environment where they can feel safe to do their job without having to dodge grabby hands or inappropriate comments. We can talk about engagement all day long, but I think what people really want is an honest dialogue about the code switching they have to do just to make other people feel comfortable around them. I think what people really want is an honest dialogue about sexism and racism in the workplace, even if we screw it up a bit. I think people want to know how their leadership recognizes and cares about the issues that really affect their lives and more importantly, how it affects their ability to do their job. And I think most people are looking for sincerity above perfection. This means we will screw it up sometimes.

So, flash back again to Advertising Week. This was the conversation, the real dialogue that started on that stage. But it’s just the beginning. I feel absolutely sure that, with groups like Time’s Up Advertising and HRuprise working hard to change the dialogue about company culture, true engagement, and HR, change is possible.

Rational Ideas is the thought leadership hub for Rational, a digital agency and consultancy based in Seattle, WA.