My overriding motivation is the one that originally attracted me to HR – namely, helping people to have a better experience at work.

Paul Deemer

Head of Diversity and Inclusion at NHS Employers

How did you get into a career in diversity and inclusion?

When I was working for Barnardo’s as the regional HR lead for London and the South East, I was approached by the national HR Manager after they had tried to recruit to a national diversity lead post three times without success! To be honest, at the time, it wasn’t something I would have even considered – so I was grateful that someone saw something in me that I hadn’t seen! The rest – as they say – is history!

What are the key responsibilities in your role?

My job is primarily to link the policy to the practice and the practice to the policy. So we work with diversity and HR practitioners on the ground across the NHS to help them embed legislation and policy and – at the same time – listen to what their concerns and issues are. We then also work with the policy and legislation makers by feeding in those concerns and views from the front line to help improve and refine future policy and legislation development.

Describe a typical day.

Every day starts with a social media trawl. So I’ll check Twitter and LinkedIn to see what the latest thoughts / views / trends are across the world of diversity. Being a national role, I could be anywhere in the country in any given week – but wherever I am I am usually either at one end of that spectrum that I described above – so either at a national event / roundtable / meeting trying to influence at that level – or at a local / regional event with HR / diversity colleagues discussing more practical / operational issues.

What skills do you need for this role?

Patience (things don’t change quickly in the NHS!). Diplomacy (there are as many views about diversity as there are staff in the NHS!). Adaptability (you often don’t know what you are going to be walking into – and you need to be prepared to respond to the “curveballs”!).

What challenges do you face in this role?

My personal challenge is continually having to demonstrate that I am a credible voice on a very wide range of very sensitive subjects – from age diversity to disability to race – without being an “expert” in any of them. So my contact with the front line is extremely important to me – because I am able to use those examples as my evidence and to use the personal stories that I see and hear and witness as testament to whether a particular piece of legislation or policy is working in practice.

What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?

My overriding motivation is the one that originally attracted me to HR – namely, helping people to have a better experience at work. But as I have specialised in recent years in the field of diversity, my motivation has broadened into something around using my privileged position to be able to give voice to those who do not have the privileges that I enjoy. Diversity and equality are not the same – and inclusion is a distant cousin to those two. So my motivation is to try and bring the three closer together.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in diversity and inclusion?

Either before you embark down that road, or very early on in your journey, undertake some in depth personal development – so that you fully understand what your drivers, prejudices and biases are. And I don’t mean just going on an unconscious bias training course – I mean a course of emotional intelligence where you unravel and unpick your core beliefs. And find a mentor – who is not like you. My best mentors have been women.

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