I had the opportunity to attend the SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference and Exposition in New Orleans on Monday and was just enraptured; it was my first time attending this particular SHRM conference.
I could tell, right out of the gate, that this event was going to be a bit different than the typical HR event (SHRM or otherwise) geared towards the masses of HR practitioners trying to scoop up re-certification credits. It was small (500 or so attendees I would estimate) and the energy, passion and excitement was palpable. Smart, authentic, honest and human conversations were happening all around me as soon as I walked in and sat down for the opening general session.
During the session, after we all did a brief activity with the person sitting next to us (talking about unconscious bias), a few people shared their thoughts with the larger audience. When an HR/D&I pro stood up and said “As a gay black male here is what I experience everyday….” it was confirmed for me yet again that this was not your mama’s HR conference. I’ve been to HR conferences with your mama (and your daddy). Sometimes she’s racist, homophobic and judgmental; she quite possibly would have rolled her eyes at this guy’s honesty.
And it was the honesty I appreciated so much at this conference; people (HR people!) were their most authentic selves at every turn. No one was afraid to point out the absurdities of some of the residual attitudes they encounter every day in their D&I work. In a session I attended the speaker said “I’m a white middle-aged male. My friends don’t understand how it came to be that I’m speaking at a Diversity conference.” (and all of us in the room chuckled knowingly).
We didn’t hear chatter about EEO-1 reports or affirmative action. We didn’t sit through sessions run by the EEOC. Rather we had the chance to discuss “Building an ROI-Focused Diversity Scorecard” and “Assessing and Developing Passion for Global Diversity.” There were session offerings about religious diversity, using Six Sigma to link innovation with diversity, and how to address the biases that exist against the unemployed.
As Dr. Shirley Davis (SHRM’s former VP of Global Diversity & Inclusion and Workforce Strategies) told me during a video interview we did “we have changed the conversation about what diversity and inclusion is.”
I agree. We have. But our continuing work is getting all HR practitioners invested in that conversation.
Here’s the deal: I’m a SHRM member, former chapter president, and long time volunteer leader at the state level and I travel around quite a bit and see activities at the chapter level far and wide. Many SHRM chapters and state councils now have a Diversity Director position on their board and quite a number of chapters (and state councils) promote “Diversity Awards.” Yet I can tell you that the old conversation still reigns supreme as race and gender (with a smattering of generational diversity) continue to be the overwhelming topic of D&I talk. Compliance and coded keywords are prevalent. Too often, in my estimation, when HR practitioners say “we have a diverse workforce” they are merely doing a mental tabulation of their workforce demographics: white vs. black, old vs. young, males vs. females.
How do we disrupt that?
The Monday afternoon keynote speaker Daymond John, said something that is wildly appropriate to everything we do in HR but especially in our approach to building and embracing inclusion:
“The world is getting smaller and there is disruption in every industry.
We can either take advantage of that … or we will fall by the wayside.”
Let’s not fall by the wayside.