Thousands of HR professionals gathered in Chicago on Sunday, June 22, to kick off the 60th Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition. The event was the end of one era but not the beginning of another.
In a speech at the opening session, Susan Meisinger, SHRM president and CEO, said farewell to the organization she has headed for the past six years. Meisinger, 55, will retire on June 30.
But her successor will not be introduced at the conference, which lasts through Wednesday, June 25. At a press conference on the opening day, Meisinger said that China Miner Gorman, SHRM chief operating officer, would assume chief executive responsibilities until a new CEO is appointed.
The search committee and SHRM board have set a goal of selecting a CEO by August 1, Meisinger said.
"It’s very far along," she said of the search process.
With a new leader still in the wings, Meisinger had the stage to herself in Chicago. She used her opening remarks to exhort HR practitioners to be bold and aggressive in contributing to their companies and shaping their own careers.
"Please stop asking for a seat at the table," she said. "The point is to add value and become essential to your organization … to work in such a way that the seat has your name carved into it."
Meisinger, 55, has spent 20 years at SHRM and served for the past six as CEO. She announced her retirement in January, saying that she wanted to spend more time with family members who are in failing health.
Although Meisinger will make appearances throughout the week in Chicago, her opening-session remarks essentially were her valedictory. She took a moment to thank SHRM’s membership, which has grown from 170,000 at the beginning of her tenure to 245,000 today.
"You and SHRM have owned a piece of my heart for these many years," she said.
Robb Van Cleave, the chairman-designate of the SHRM board, credited Meisinger for improving SHRM and the HR profession.
"She’s championed a new agenda for HR," Van Cleave said. "Sue taught us what strategic HR can accomplish."
During a press conference later in the day, Meisinger outlined SHRM priorities. The organization is conducting research on diversity and managing across borders. It is working with more than two dozen universities to develop curricula for HR undergraduate and graduate courses. It also is developing a program to help HR lead company sustainability efforts.
Meisinger also stressed SHRM’s influence on public policy. The organization is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, and has a strong presence on Capitol Hill. Meisinger began her SHRM career in government relations.
She touted the fact that SHRM has become the first business organization to endorse a bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure was approved this year by the House and may get a Senate vote this summer.
SHRM announced its position last week. Advocates have eased the bill’s path through Congress by removing provisions regarding transgender workers.
SHRM also was part of a business coalition that worked with the disability community to secure a compromise on a bill that would amend the American With Disabilities Act. It was approved overwhelmingly by House committees last week.
Meisinger used the bills to illustrate that HR can be a catalyst for overcoming corporate inertia and making the workplace more diverse and fair.
"We need to be that third option between action and inaction, between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ " she said.