Did you attend the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference & Exhibition? During the past ten years, there have been various controversies surrounding this event. This year was no exception.
First, there were complaints about unethical behavior and excessive spending by members of the SHRM board. Like the NRA controversy that’s been in the news, some members alleged that SHRM board members spent unreasonable amounts of money on perks with little to no transparency. There was a call for reform. Shockingly, the SHRM board fought back and made a case for lavish travel and executive compensation. Not much has changed since that battle.
Next, SHRM and HRCI got a divorce. It was a big deal because many individuals invested thousands of dollars in continuing education from HRCI at the behest of SHRM. But in the blink of an eye, HRCI credits were no longer significant, and SHRM’s continuing education programs became the gold standard of operational excellence. To this day, members feel caught up in a money grab. There is still confusion about which certification is valid. And some SHRM members want to know — where is HRCI now? Learn more here.
Finally, Johnny C. Taylor Jr. came to town as the new CEO of SHRM. As a former board member, he had a reputation for being combative. Right off the bat, he was appointed by Donald J. Trump to tackle education reform. When members complained about Betsy Devos’s leadership—especially in regards to Title IX rollbacks and sexual assault—SHRM mostly ignored those complaints. They argued political parties are irrelevant. SHRM is nonpartisan and neutral. You’ve got to be in the mix if you want to make a difference.
Mr. Taylor then showed up at a CEO roundtable and pledged SHRM’s support for creating jobs, which is weird because HR people don’t create many jobs. Also, he did one of those odd handshakes with Trump.
Why was this weird? SHRM often stays out of the political limelight. No CEO has ever been this brazen or public. And many members didn’t like what they saw on TV and wondered where you draw the line between HR advocacy and naked ambition.
When Mr. Taylor went a step further and posed for a selfie with Ivanka Trump and invited her to speak at SHRM’s employment law event while questions surfaced around how she and her husband received security clearances, many members had enough.
Thanks to the weird intersection of SHRM and Donald J. Trump, a new movement called #FixItSHRM was born. It’s an effort to do many things, including hold SHRM’s leadership accountable to its members.
So, that’s a lot. What breaks my heart is that people who once loved SHRM are canceling their memberships and fighting with people who have decided to support the board. It’s kind of sad.
You might think this is dumb, but there is a silver lining. I’m impressed by some of the discussions about politics and the future of work.
As it relates to SHRM, I love these questions:
Who is SHRM? Is it the board, or is it the members? Does SHRM represent HR? Does SHRM speak for the future of work? What’s the correct distribution of power in an association like SHRM? Does SHRM benefit from a CEO’s strong personal brand, or is SHRM a place where a CEO can leapfrog into a bigger job?
Then there are questions about the future of work itself:
When HR tasks become automated, what does HR become? How do HR leaders influence and shape the future of work if they are only experts in HR? If work is becoming democratized and distributed—and we’re moving to a flexible workforce—what’s the role of HR in the future?
But I also love these questions:
If you partner on policy creation with an administration that denies soap to immigrant children and is led by a man who denies raping a woman because she’s not his type, are you complicit? If you take a selfie with people who leak classified information to the Saudis and benefit from nepotism at work, can you be trusted to be an advocate for the truth? If you do a weird handshake with a guy whose hands have grabbed women, do you have good judgment?
Who says HR doesn’t sit at the middle of work, power, politics, and money?!
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past few years from SHRM, it’s this: you’ve got to be present to be a part of the discussion. While many of my colleagues aren’t renewing their SHRM memberships in protest, I feel compelled to follow Johnny C. Taylor Jr’s lead and get involved to find answers.
He’s right. You’ve gotta be in it to win it.
That’s why I’ve renewed my SHRM membership and plan on volunteering, becoming active on a national level, and being a voice for current and former members who have big ideas about the future of work and need a channel to express their concerns and formulate ideas. And just like Johnny C. Taylor and the SHRM board aren’t complicit in the Trump administration’s decisions to deny women access to healthcare or limit protections against members of the LGBT+ community, I am not complicit in SHRM’s behavior.
I am an advocate for HR’s role in fixing work. And as of this morning, I’m back at SHRM.
See you at SHRM 2020 in San Diego!