It’s no secret that HR pros face a broad range of challenges every day.
And if, like me, you were waiting to hear the broad range of topics that the world’s largest HR association is addressing from the organization’s CEO as the first full day of the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual confab dawned in Las Vegas, you were probably pretty disappointed.
That said, if you were eager to hear about the untapped talent pool consisting of the formerly incarcerated, people living with disabilities, veterans, and those people considered to be too old for the workplace, well, spending a little time at the general session Monday morning in the Las Vegas Convention Center was your little slice of heaven.
SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr.’s mini-keynoter before the real keynoter Brene Brown didn’t shed new light on the direction of his 300,000-member-plus association’s present or future. He skirted any potential controversies and closely stuck to the message of building a more inclusive, diverse and empathetic workplace. It was a valuable message, no doubt.
At times I felt like I was at a political rally. It’s clear that Taylor knows how to stoke an emotional response with videos and people’s up-close and personal stories. Taylor introduced four people representing underutilized pools of workplace talent to emphasize his signature push to put these people back in the workplace.
Taylor also reminded us that overlooking these potential employees not only causes them a disservice but tears at the “very social fabric” and causes harm for generations.
“Workplaces are where real social services begins,” Taylor said.
Taylor also noted that HR’s expanding role in talent acquisition is to remember that those who do not think, walk or talk like us deserve dignity of work. “As stewards we play huge role not keeping out wrong people but bringing in the right people,” Taylor said.
Then came a quick video set in a courtroom. The criminal was guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
That led to Alice M. Johnson, whose life sentence was commuted by President Trump after a push by Kim Kardashian, to walk onstage. Johnson, now an author, briefly and passionately told her story and offered a moving example of the second chance movement.
“There are so many more like me who are not so fortunate after serving their debt,” she said. “They were shut out and they only want to find their purpose in the dignity of work. HR pros like you can stop the cycle of poverty, you create a better world.” Her talk understandably drew a large round of applause.
“Millions are waiting for opportunities,” Taylor said. “Put biases aside. They’re not just charity cases, nor superheroes. They need an opportunity. They can become leaders, change makers.”
Taylor followed up by introducing three people with physical disabilities.
Taylor called them ambassadors for changing workplaces, adding that people with challenges like mental health and ADHD need to be supported by HR in the workplace.
“We all bring layers of challenges,” Taylor said. “HR has a profound responsibility to do our best to support these people.”
Taylor recognized veterans and then addressed the challenges older workers face by being aged out of the workforce.
“Ageism is illegal and it’s damaging to the bottom line,” Taylor said as a handful of older people dressed in all black formed a semi-circle behind him. It was a bit melodramatic but drove home Taylor’s point.
“We place premium on youth,” he said. “Aging is seen as debilitating. Let these people in. Recruit older workers.”
Taylor then closed his keynote by pounding home the benefits of a diverse workplace. “Different is beautiful,” he exclaimed. “Eliminate discrimination any time we see it.”
While it was a feel-good speech filled with personal examples, Taylor’s 26-minute reminder to hire disadvantaged talent pools was merely an extension of the initiative he launched about this time a year ago at SHRM 2018 in Chicago.
No doubt it was a moving and emotional speech, but if I’m an HR leader I know we face a shortage of talent and that it’s time to get creative with our hiring. And as Taylor implored the assembled crowd to hire these people, all I could think of was the “yes, but …” that was likely running through many SHRM members’ minds — or potentially will be after they return to their workplaces.
Taylor chose to stick to a recurring theme during his one chance to address the assembled SHRM membership. While finding talent is an important topic, HR leaders face a bevy of challenges beyond hiring. Young employees drowning in student debt; soaring health care costs; the #MeToo movement, which unfortunately seems to be yesterday’s news. We also have a president who wants to eliminate the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s HR department.Want to advocate for a membership’s cause? My guess is SHRM has a fair portion of OPM employees as members.
Yes, SHRM19 provides plenty of opportunities to air out these issues with cohorts and gather insight during sessions to solve problems back home. But Taylor could have used his half hour setting a broad tone for the conference by touching on several hot-button HR issues rather than polishing what sounded more to me like a political speech on a single topic.
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