Faces of HR

Faces of HR: How One HR Pro’s Proactive Approach is Moving the Needle Forward in HR

Farzana Nayani has more than 20 years of experience in the DEI field, managing and directing programs, training and designing curriculum, offering thought leadership and organizational strategy. She is also an international keynote speaker, and business coach.

Farzana Nayani

Her company Farzana Nayani, Consulting & Training is a woman-owned business and minority-certified firm that specializes in diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting, training, coaching, and strategic advising, and development of employee resource groups (ERGs).

She is also the author of the book The Power of Employee Resource Groups: How People Create Authentic Change (June 2022) and Raising Multiracial Children: Tools for Nurturing Identity in a Racialized World (March 2020).

For our latest Faces of HR profile, we sat down with Farzana to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her biggest influences, as well as how company leaders can make HR a value within their organization. According to Nayani, it starts with seeing your employees and partners as a priority.

“Company leaders who perceive their employees and partners as a main priority of the business, not just a part of helping the business, will develop an effective strategy around HR,” she told HR Daily Advisor. “It is critical to express and communicate why HR is important for the organization, so that all leadership levels and departments create goals that are aligned with business objectives along with the HR initiatives overall. In my book, I talk about how employee resource groups and DEI efforts fall in line with 5 pillars within organizations: 1) Workplace, 2) Workforce, 3) Marketplace, 4) Community, and 5) Supplier Diversity. Creating awareness about these pillars as drivers for the business and how the workplace and workforce are interconnected with each other, and all other pillars is a key component of company leadership strategy.”

In our latest Faces of HR, meet Farzana Nayani.

How did you get your start in the field?

I started in the industry focused on cross-cultural communication and intercultural understanding as related to leadership. I also did work with economic development, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. Since then, my work has led me to diversity, equity, and inclusion with specific focus on belonging in the workplace and cultivating spaces with all identities thrive. I have always had a passion for communications, curriculum design, and connecting with others that permeates throughout all the work that I do. 

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry? 

I draw inspiration from many leaders in the workplace who model steadfastness, commitment, and at the same time a connection to issues and people that keeps them centered on giving back to the communities they come from. I admire women of color who are in senior leadership and executive roles who have shared their journeys to where they are, as encouragement for others. I personally have mentors who are allies and advocates in the HR, coaching, and publishing industries who have paved the way for myself and others to access resources and fully embrace the path I have taken in this field. I also enjoy connecting with employee resource groups and networks within organizations as they wholeheartedly demonstrate how communities of identities are built within the workplace. 

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

One of my mistakes early on was working with client organizations and individuals who were not ready to do the work. If there isn’t internal capacity, commitment, or inner resolve to make transformational change happen, then the work will go nowhere.  I learned from witnessing disappointments early on that there is a minimum level of readiness needed and much preparation for organizations before they move into deeper organizational change work. It’s better to ascertain that early and take other measures to gain commitment first, than to launch into larger-scale initiatives with lofty goals resting upon a partially-committed group. 

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it? 

My favorite part about working in this industry is meeting amazing colleagues and clients from all backgrounds, who are as interested and passionate about these issues as I am.  I am delighted to meet HR leaders and members of employee resource groups who are so dedicated, creative, and inspiring! I feel as if I have a network of friends across the country and around the world who I can call and collaborate with, who are all personally invested in this work creating impact.

My least favorite part is witnessing tragedies in the news like race-based violence that resurface traumas and can have rippling effects into organizations. We must halt all other plans and address the urgencies immediately. Communities must take time to recover and heal when facing these injuries, and it is difficult to witness this happen repeatedly. 

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here. 

Safety and belonging in the workplace are absolutely essential priorities for all organizations. My focus is on how we can share all aspects of our identities and thrive within the workplace – not just survive and get by. In order to “bring our whole selves to work” or to “be authentic”, there has to be an environment that is open to receiving that. HR initiatives are critical for cultivating engagement, belonging, and connection within the workplace for all, especially those from historically excluded populations. I am also dedicated to supporting employee resource groups as they serve as a place to create and build purposeful communities of identity, affinity and allyship, within organizations. 

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

With the Great Resignation and the challenges of moving from remote work to hybrid ways of working, the industry is moving through a period of great transition. The industry is needing to address how to navigate a large level of uncertainty and tremendous change, with purposeful planning. This calls for leaders to make key decisions, sometimes with partial information – and to iterate from there. The trends are demonstrating how these decisions are made and implemented more quickly than ever before, and how a review of processes and long-standing policies are happening more frequently. 

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of the micro-moments where glimmers of hope, impact, and accomplishment unexpectedly show themselves. I recall keynoting a conference and a woman who was Black and Asian in the audience was inspired to advance her career from the talk about inclusion and identity that I gave, and I didn’t know about the effect this moment had on her until many months later when she wrote me a letter about it.

I am proud when companies create space and invite me to facilitate workshops for employees who are parents and caregivers, helping them feel comfortable sharing their concerns about having discussions about race with their children, and we talk about strategies together.

I am proud when members of the workforce can turn to their ERG for support and camaraderie on relatively any issue, and this helps them fully “be seen” at work. 

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

The key to success in this profession is to truly connect with your workforce at all levels, to understand the deeper context and dynamics that are at play. Listen and observe. Plans should be led by HR professionals and company leaders but must be co-created with some form of feedback from employees themselves. Try to develop an approach that is proactive and responsive, not reactive, with regard to any issue or challenge you will face. 

Anything else you’d like to add? We can talk about anything you’d like to discuss here.

HR professionals are a pivotal part of any organization. They often serve as a lifeline to individual employees and define the employee experience within companies. As challenges around mental health are exacerbated by societal events and world news, HR professionals need to be equipped with resources to serve employees of diverse backgrounds in culturally responsive ways. We also need to offer HR staff support in their roles and with their own mental health. This balance of HR professionals both offering and receiving support is the key to a healthy workplace environment.

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