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Enacting positive DE&I change with intent and tech

“It’s a new day. It’s a new way. It’s a new time.”

Photo by @lelia_milaya via Twenty20

Unleash Your DE&I Leadership Workhuman speaks to UNLEASH in an exclusive interview with their CHRO, Steve Pemberton on how HR leaders can be impactfully embracing DE&I within their organizations.

  • DE&I efforts have largely been ‘label-driven’, which is problematic. For example, by disabilities, race, gender, generation, LGBTQ, etc.
  • Today, especially in our transactional world of work, understanding the stories below the waterline, is vital. We need to be able to unpack and discover the unique perspectives every individual brings to the table.
  • We need a runway of patience for organizations to get things in respect of DE&I right though.

UNLEASH Editor Yessi Bello Perez recently sat down (virtually) with Workhuman‘s CHRO Steve Pemberton to discuss his take on DE&I.

We jumped at the chance to interview Steve, given he is such a renowned human rights champion and someone we know has made equality, access, and opportunity the foundation of his personal and professional life.

Watch the FULL LENGTH interview HERE

There’s been a global realization that, despite movements such as Black Lives Matters and #MeToo, corporations have failed to establish strong and tangible DE&I strategies. Strategies employed in the past have been necessary, Steve noted, and important in their time, but he emphasized that now we must be shifting and evolving off the back of that.

Businesses have been in varying stages of action but there is now an ask and expectation to give proper attention to DE&I — and for organizations to explain their approach internally and externally. Organizations must show active engagement in creating environments that will develop all people, whether that’s through heading up DE&I practices or holding departments and their company accountable through measurable objectives.

Some of our highlights from the interview:

The Paradigm Shift: Purposeful and Real Intent

Steve spoke to UNLEASH about how, in the past (for centuries even), DE&I efforts have largely been ‘label-driven.’

These labels are problematic because they don’t tell the entirety of an individual’s story. Steve recognizes there has been a paradigm shift, supported by technology, where we are now understanding the need and creating the ability to recognize the totality that someone brings and the broader contributions that all people make.

Yessi and Steve discussed that technology can actually enable us to move past this label-driven approach and also away from looking at DE&I in an adverse way (through the context of racism, harassment, discrimination, etc.).

Through purposeful and real intent in changing your perspective to DE&I, you can begin to understand the commonality of experiences and the value that individuals bring to your organization, supported by the insights and enablement that technology offers, rather than just seeing DE&I through a labeled and negative lens.

It’s time for HR leaders to be accountable and impactful about embracing DE&I within their organizations.

Let’s not get held hostage by where we think we should have been, or the mistakes that we made in the past. It’s a new day. It’s a new way. It’s a new time. That includes all of us. How can you not be inspired by that? We all can be inspired by that.

Commonality of Experiences

Understanding the stories below the waterline is vital, Steve commented. There’s a real danger, Steve warned, of seeing things through the ‘single story’ — meaning we just see someone as ‘female’ or ‘mixed race’ for example, and believe their experiences and perspectives are based around these.

But, if we begin to unpack what individuals are exposed to beyond the workplace, and actually consider “what’s your story?”, “what’s your organization’s story?”, we become awakened. We can begin to understand the value of people’s perspectives, and once you do this, you’re able to actually cultivate these perspectives.

We need to create a conscious effort to shift our working worlds from transactional relationships, especially in this remote world, and enable an environment where people can share their different backgrounds, beliefs, and stories.

Corrective Action to Competitive Advantage

The history of equity conversations across societies and organizations has been largely focused on corrective action and righting a wrong, specifically in the way of discrimination and harassment.

During our interview with Steve, we considered the need for DE&I to be part of an organization’s business strategy, but also how it’s important to look at DE&I, not just focusing on corrective action, but around the competitive advantage too.

The history of equity conversations has largely centered around righting a wrong, specifically in the way of discrimination and harassment. But DE&I needs to be one of your core strategies not just to right wrongs, but because it’s now something you cannot ignore to remain even level with, let alone ahead of your competitors.

DE&I has to be one of your strategies at its core. And if it is not, then I can assure you that it absolutely is for your competition.

No company is perfect, cautioned Steve, as he considered we need a “runway of patience” for organizations in the time it takes to enact these purposeful changes surrounding DE&I and thus we have to mindful of speaking about “what does success look like” too much. 

Developing Leaders, Recognition and Common Stories

I see technology on matters of DE&I as almost like a mirror. Right? You know, a mirror exists to reflect what we see so we can correct what we see.

Speaking with Steve, we really wanted to grasp some practical takeaways for HR leaders and our community. So here’s a summary of just some of them:

  • Mentorship / Sponsorship: Leaders should represent the spectrum of diversity to show there is the possibility for mobility and advancement, providing a tactical and actionable plan for development for employees. Not only is it important to have role models in senior positions with DE&I in mind, these leaders should also actively mentor and sponsor their teams, and employees and organizations should be enabling this through training or mentorship schemes too.
  • Peer-to-Peer Recognition: The ability to provide real-time recognition for a colleague’s work has proven invaluable at Workhuman. The power this has to recentre the entire conversation and enable a humanized workplace experience that means employees feel that they can bring their entire selves to work and this is not just welcomed, but celebrated, is invaluable. Workhuman’s Social Recognition tool provides the ability to do just this.
  • From transactional relationships to defining your story: As we’ve already highlighted, Steve believes that work shouldn’t just be a transactional process between people, but an opportunity to delve into people’s experiences and perspectives and reap the value these have to offer our organizations by understanding these.

And a final thought to leave you with: our DE&I efforts need to center around accountability. It needs to be like most other aspects of business, when we want to enact something we deem to be essential to the efficiency or growth of our organization, we design a plan around it and we hold ourselves accountable. DE&I should be no different.

Check-out our upcoming webinar with Wokrhuman and AstraZeneca and make sure you register now to save your space!

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