We just had a fantastic Louisiana SHRM Conference and being a member of the conference team I’m happy to report that this one is in the bag, wrapped up with a bow and (literally) in the record books. Allow me to brag for a moment about the super job done by the conference committee and to acknowledge the hospitality extended by the residents of the great state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans as we welcomed more out-of-state guests than we’ve ever had at a conference. Fun times.
Now I’ve worked on the conference for a number of years but for 2012’s event I took on a new role as Speaker Chair. As we charted the course for this year’s conference, I laid out a few simple objectives in my mind:
- I wanted to provide more overall sessions by adding extra concurrent time slots and more options each session – this meant I needed to sign, seal and deliver 27 speakers vs. 16 the previous year (check)
- I wanted to provide speaking opportunities for Louisiana HR professionals (check)
- I wanted to provide enough of the traditional content many attendees expect such as legal and compliance updates (check)
- I wanted to broaden the perspectives of attendees and expose them to some of the leading minds in the HR, Recruiting and social space (check)
To further that last objective I reached out to our wide wonderful community and was so happy when a number of friends came from near and far to join us: Daniel Crosby, Joe Gerstandt, Jason Lauritsen, Bill Boorman, Paul Hebert, Dwane Lay, William Tincup, Cathy Missildine Craig Fisher and Scott Eblin. We added a Social Media team with Shauna Moerke and Chris Ponder. We also had attendees who made the journey from a number of states (Texas and Ohio to name a few) plus Buzz Rooney and Josh Rock, because, let’s face it – who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans?
Gumbo. Beignets and chicory. Laissez le bon temps rouler.
And a dash of long-standing prejudices and stereotypes. Sigh.
The folks who traveled to Louisiana to visit the conference left, albeit temporarily, their worlds and entered our world. Some of them, while hanging in town, experienced a somewhat casual and institutionalized racism. Shocking, quite frankly, if you don’t run into it every day. And sadly normal for those who live in it.
Offhand comments in conversations were tossed about – “how the city/neighborhood/company was better until they let the you-know-who’s in” (except they didn’t say ‘you-know-who’).
Louisianians casually mentioned how the gays/Jews/blacks/Mexicans/pick-your-group have ‘ruined’ A, B, or C.
I’m not saying this happened continuously, but I do know these types of comments were overheard and these conversations were observed both out-and-about amongst the general Louisiana population… and from HR professionals at the conference.
It led me, when discussing it with an out-of-town guest, to recollect when I first moved from Wisconsin to the Deep South 10 years ago. Mr. S. and I were at a golf course (he was playing; I was driving the cart) on a lazy Sunday afternoon when we caught up with the group in front of us. As we gathered near the tee box waiting for the group up ahead to finish on the green, one of the men in the other party said to us “sorry we got all backed up; they never should have started letting those people play here – they’re the ones holding it up.” And he gave a disgusted snort, chomped on his cigar and pointed at the foursome of black men finishing up the hole.
Inviting people to a conference is like inviting them into our collective home.
When I invite guests to my home I make sure there are fresh flowers, fancy little guest towels in the bathroom and sufficient assorted beverages. But I also make sure the trash has been emptied and the cat’s litter box has been cleaned.
I may send a guest home with a little keepsake of the event – a tchotchke, leftover petit fours, that extra bottle of wine - but I’m NOT going to send them home with a piece of crap from the litter box.
So along with all the good memories and information, I hope we haven’t sent our out of town Louisiana SHRM guests home with piece of HR crap.