The New Normal of HR Needs to Be Inclusive: A Reflection on the Responsibility of HR Researchers and Professionals

Author(s): Elysca Fernandes

The past few months have been a been a glaring reminder to pause and reflect. Many of us have focused on adjusting to a global pandemic as well as grasping the pervasive racism in our society that endangers the human rights and experiences of Black and Indigenous communities. Our organizations are no exception: as anti-racism reflections spark broader discussions about inclusion, I have seen intentional reflections from individuals, teams, and organizations on allyship – how to use our inherent power and privilege to support marginalized groups who face oppression and systemic discrimination.

Recently, I have been reflecting on how to sustain allyship in my daily life and work, in areas where I can make an impact. As a senior analyst in McLean & Company’s HR Research & Advisory practice, I provide guidance to members in a variety of areas, including Talent Acquisition and Talent Management. I do not focus exclusively on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), but like many HR professionals I work with, I am passionate about building better talent practices.

Better HR practices rely on our openness to learn and continue to improve to ensure they are inclusive. It requires us to take responsibility and start now, while knowing we will need to continue learning and unlearning. Systemic discrimination is deeply rooted in our structures, pervasive and difficult to see or name. It exists in our policies, procedures, and institutions that favor dominant groups over marginalized groups.

The pervasiveness of systemic discrimination means there’s work to do for ALL of us, to address the systemic inequities perpetuated by practices we build and implement. Regardless of existing resources or D&I expertise, HR professionals today have the responsibility to build their own awareness and the opportunity to address inequities perpetuated by existing talent practices as they define the new normal of work.

This journey often starts with a purposeful D&I strategy. McLean & Company recently published research on Creating a People-First Diversity and Inclusion Strategy to help HR uncover and address systemic inequities in their organizations. It includes a primer to understand key concepts such as systemic discrimination, anti-racism, and allyship.

However, many organizations that do not have a D&I strategy or dedicated D&I resources are also looking to adopt inclusive practices, recognizing it is long overdue.

McLean & Company recognizes that we have a responsibility to support our members in building more inclusive practices regardless of the availability of resources to dedicate to D&I. We have started doing this in two ways:

(1) We purposefully explored inclusive practices in HR programs that do not rely on an existing D&I strategy. For example, my team and I published research on how to best Sustain Work-From-Home (WFH) in the New Normal.

Sustaining WFH is a critical opportunity to build an inclusive program that provides flexibility and addresses existing inequities.

    • According to Catalyst (2020), flexible work practices can reframe what used to be perceived as special accommodation as the norm, reducing the stigma and career impact. This creates a greater opportunity for all employees to thrive in their careers, especially women, including women of color, caregivers, and people with disabilities.

However, flexible work programs are not inclusive by default:

    • According to Owl Labs (2019), male employees who work remotely full-time are 25% likelier to earn over $100,000 and are significantly more optimistic about promotions than female employees.

In our research, we caution against current practices that perpetuate existing inequities and limit access to WFH flexibility. For example, a common eligibility criterion that organizations consider is performance. However, current performance measures are often poorly defined, subjective, and risk inconsistent or biased application that harms marginalized groups. Another criterion often considered is employees’ set-up to WFH. We caution against using this as an eligibility criterion as it enacts barriers based on socio-economic status or financial constraints. Instead, we recommend organizations ensure they are only including minimum requirements and are partnering with employees to support them in accessing requirements (e.g. through expense reimbursement).

We also created a catalog of ideas for HR leaders to update talent practices to support an inclusive WFH program. In Talent Management, this includes avoiding an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality for remote employees in succession plans and promotions. We built reminders into our recommendations on conducting calibrations, ensuring employees from marginalized groups who may be more likely to use the program are equally aware of opportunities (e.g. through virtual career fairs), have access to mentoring opportunities, and are included in performance and promotion conversations.

(2) We also recognize we need to sustain momentum and hold ourselves accountable to continue building better, more inclusive talent and L&D practices. We facilitated discussions to engage our entire HR Research, Advisory, and Learning Solutions teams to take responsibility and identify improvements. This involved:

  • Reflecting on the contribution each of us can make in our own roles. For example, our content creators have the responsibility to critically evaluate current practices and identify barriers to inclusion. Our Learning Solutions team identified additional opportunities to ensure accessibility of content (e.g. inclusive design, non-discriminatory language). As advisors, we reflected on the opportunity to recommend inclusive practices and caution against practices that enact barriers to inclusion in each of our areas of specialization.
  • Recognizing our positionality and limitations. Our individual experiences and our positionality – the social context of our identities (e.g. race, class, gender) – influence our outlook, our perspective, and our work. We needed to recognize our limitations in understanding diverse experiences of people whose various identity characteristics we do not share. We reflected on where we need to expand our knowledge and perspectives through additional resources and training. Here, expanding our knowledge of the inequities faced by marginalized groups in organizations must include consulting and learning from diverse experts or educators with lived experience.
  • Sustaining change through process improvements and accountability. Our teams documented specific changes to our process in content creation, quality review, and project management. Now, we are embedding these actions into our project expectations, quality review process, and performance metrics. As a team, we will continue to identify improvements to our solutions and support organizations to build better practices.

At McLean & Company we are committed to applying an inclusive lens to the work we do to drive meaningful change through our solutions. In all our roles, we will continue to hold ourselves accountable to unlearning and challenging systemic racism and all forms of discrimination. I’d love to hear how you are driving change in your role to define the new normal of work!

To learn more about how McLean & Company can partner with you on your DEI journey, please visit our DEI Resource Center or contact Jon Campbell at


“Covid-19: Women, Equity, and Inclusion in the Future of Work.” Catalyst, 28 May 2020.

“Equal Pay for Equal Work (From Home).” Owl Labs, 2019.

By Elysca Fernandes

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