Compliance Blog

Five Takeaways from SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference

October 30, 2018 | Paul Glavin

2018 SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference

The 2018 SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition addressed many of the hot workplace issues that have emerged since the #MeToo movement put preventing sexual harassment in the spotlight. Workplace culture, bystander intervention and unconscious bias were among the topics explored in 35 sessions at #SHRMDiv, a sold out event in Atlanta, which attracted more than 900 HR professionals and business leaders.  

Here are five takeaways:

Diversity is now a business imperative

SHRM President & CEO Johnny C. Taylor emphasized that D&I is not going away − it is only becoming more important as the US population becomes more diversified. The challenge is to figure out how employers can manage a multi-generational workforce that consists of different races, genders, ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds. Diversity is a challenge for everyone, and it’s HR’s responsibility to educate and influence employees and leadership to make meaningful progress that isn’t just about avoiding litigation and reputational damage. “There’s a lot going on in diversity and it’s bigger than a feel good thing. It’s now a business imperative,” Taylor said.

Tackling unconscious bias

Uncovering unconscious bias in our interactions is an essential part of having meaningful conversation and listening to each other, inside and outside the workplace, said Marlin Smith, founding partner of Mandrake HR Consulting, who led a session on, “Unconscious Bias: When What You See Is NOT What You Get.” While many organizations are doing a good job addressing overt discrimination and unfairness in the workplace, they aren’t effectively delving into the unconscious bias that remains at the root of it, Smith said. As a result, well-intentioned employees make bad decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions.

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    Part of the solution, Smith said, is deciding on what systems to put in place so unconscious bias doesn’t creep into decisions employees make, such as who gets hired and promoted. And while everyone has biases – it’s a reflection of where you’ve come from – the key is not to let those biases frame the decisions that you make and hinder diversity and inclusion.  

    Focusing on inclusion

    Diversity alone is not enough. Organizations need to focus on inclusion and creating an enduring culture that makes people feel they belong. SHRM President Taylor said that while it’s obvious that everyone is different, to develop true inclusion, organizations need to “focus on those things we have in common, and then embrace our differences.” Educating employees on how to develop inclusive thinking and decisions can result in a more productive, healthy workplace for everyone.  

    Encouraging bystander intervention

    Former HR professional and attorney Cindy-Ann Thomas spoke at the conference about the need for organizations to send a clear message that everyone has a role in bystander intervention and stopping workplace harassment. Bystander intervention is one of the most effective ways to stop inappropriate behavior before it becomes illegal harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has called bystander intervention training a potential game changer in the workplace. With the support of leadership, bystander intervention training can have a positive influence on culture and create a sense of collective responsibility, empowering employees to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment.

    Valuing veterans in the workforce

    By the end of 2020, four million veterans will have joined the civilian workforce. However 90% of veterans say they have faced challenges when seeking employment, according to a panel of veterans at #SHRMDiv. In sharing best practices to attract, hire and retain veterans, the panelists reminded attendees that veterans are a diverse population, and employers should be mindful not to impose stereotypes. Among the skills that veterans can bring to the workforce are cross-functional and international experience, a strong sense of teamwork, resourcefulness and an understanding of cutting-edge technology. Recognizing these skills and experiences can help HR make the case for hiring veterans as part of their organization’s efforts to build an inclusive workplace.

    Traliant Insight

    SHRM’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Conference addressed critical D&I issues and cultural shifts in the wake of #MeToo and other recent incidents that have brought topics like Bystander Intervention and unconscious bias into the mainstream. An overall takeaway is that effectively addressing D&I in the workplace doesn’t happen quickly and involves many interrelated steps and processes. Diversity Training is one of those important steps. Training that is interactive and engaging can promote positive behaviors and attitudes, raise awareness of unconscious bias in hiring and other business decisions, help reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment and reinforce shared values.