CIPD Annual Conference 2018: HR ‘uniquely placed’ to affect diversity and inclusion, says Sir Lenny Henry

But keynote speaker tells HR professionals improving representation ‘isn’t just getting some bloke off the telly to come and talk to you’

People professionals can effect “seismic change” in working environments, Sir Lenny Henry CBE told delegates at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition as he delivered the closing keynote address in Manchester yesterday.

The comedian turned diversity campaigner said the lack of inclusion “impacts on all aspects of society”, but that it can be improved “as long as we all commit to creating true representation”.

Discussing the role that HR can play in improving diversity within organisations, Henry said the profession was “uniquely placed” to impact on culture change, and one of its most important skills is “getting the right people into the right job”.

“By choosing the right people with the right temperament, attitude and qualifications, you can effect seismic change in their lives and working environments,” he told his audience, adding that organisations should advertise “in a variety of places” when recruiting, rather than “ringing round your pals for a recommendation”.

“If you broaden the range of people you’re seeing, you’re giving more people a chance to compete,” he said.

Henry also described how improving inclusion is more than just the opportunity to “tick a box”, adding: “Sorting diversity out isn’t just getting some bloke off the telly to come and talk to you. You actually have to do something.”

Urging his audience to encourage, mentor and nurture a more diverse workforce, Henry warned that enacting real change will take “constant pressure and time”.

“The fight can be won, but no-one can expect it to happen immediately,” he added.

Describing the “racism, bullying and violence” of his upbringing in the West Midlands, Henry said that a career in television seemed “out of the question because you never saw any black people on TV”.

Having joined the BBC in the 1980s when there was “no sense of diversity”, Henry told delegates how he “got angry because there were still no black people on Sunday night television” and began campaigning for better diversity in the media in 2012.

Thanks to his work, which has taken him all the way to Downing Street, every major broadcaster now recognises the importance of diversity, and the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky all have major diversity strategies.

“But there’s still a long way to go,” he added.

Missed out on the CIPD Annual Conference this year? Catch up with People Management's coverage of Rachel Botsman's opening keynote, John Amaechi's ACE Talk, plus day one highlights and day two highlights.