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How SHRM Fosters Cultural Diversity in the Workplace: Q&A | HR Technologist

“Diversity can be improved by applying tech to talent acquisition. One notable example is how tech can minimize bias in candidate selection by relying on “blind” screenings.”

As a global leader in the space of the future of work, culture and leadership, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO, SHRM is a sought-after voice on all matters affecting work, workers, and the workplace. He discusses how HR technology can help create cultural diversity in the workplace that retains and nurtures talent.

In this edition of HR Talk, Taylor Jr., showcases the impact of workplace culture and best practices to follow for business leaders to achieve what he likes to call “work-life integration”. He also gives us a sneak-peek into upcoming projects at SHRM on workplace diversity and culture, and more.

Key takeaways from our interview on cultural diversity in the workplace:

Here’s the edited transcript from our exclusive interview with SHRM’s CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.:

Johnny, to set the stage, tell us about your career path so far and how you seek to drive excellence.

The recurring theme throughout my career has been people and their potential.  

I studied communications and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree how to activate hearts and minds. Then, I earned my J.D. and practiced employment law where I saw case after case, conflicts and problems that could have been preempted by better policies and people management. After that, I went in-house to work within large, multinational corporations as a lawyer, HR executive, and CEO before retiring. After about a year, I decided I was too young to retire and accepted a role as President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) where I really began focusing on the intersection of education, skills, and the workforce.

All that to say: When I was offered the opportunity to become CEO of SHRM, things clicked. I saw my career path was, in fact, an unplanned but perfect preparation.

I love being CEO of SHRM because HR is about maximizing human potential that is, driving excellence. That means putting people first because when you know what motivates your people, you can ignite them to become their very best and your organization will thrive.

What are the foundational elements necessary to create a workplace culture that retains and nurtures talent? How can technology help?

Values are foundational.

When you select values, you choose who you are and what you believe to be true and good. It’s the soil that your culture will grow up from, and if it’s truly embraced, the outcomes positivity, inclusiveness, productivity will attract people who believe what you’ve built is good and true, too. Retaining and nurturing talent boils down to that simple law of attraction. Like attracts like and, done right, the cycle feeds into and reinforces itself.

There is no technology that can accomplish what I’ve described. However, tech can enable or support at various points in that process. In the recruiting phase, you might require assessments that measure cultural fit or personal values. As for retention, you might adopt apps that collect anonymous feedback from employees.

In what ways can technology accelerate the objectives of improving gender diversity and inclusion (D&I) at the workplace?

Technology can certainly make workplaces more diverse and inclusive.

Diversity can be improved by applying tech to talent acquisition. One notable example is how tech can minimize bias in candidate selection by relying on “blind” screenings. Increasingly, we’re also seeing employers leveraging tech that enables them to source and select from talent pools they might often overlook such as the formerly incarcerated, veterans, and older workers.

But making workplaces more diverse is only half the battle. Perhaps more important, and certainly more challenging, is making workplaces inclusive. Again, technology can help by strengthening systems for reporting misconduct, harassment or discrimination in the workplace.

In this 24/7 world, what work-life balance best practices do you advocate for business leaders to prioritize? Which tools can form the basis of a work-life balance strategy?

I shy away from the term “work-life balance” because it implies that work and life are somehow in conflict.

Instead, I prefer thinking about “work-life integration” because technology for better or worse has changed the nature of work. The line between personal and professional life is very different now than what it was 20 years ago. Colleagues see each other on social media. And we receive emails on our phones which, for most, are never farther than an arm’s length away.

That heightened connectivity has pros and cons that can’t be erased. That’s the reality; so, I encourage employers to get creative and find ways to help employees, new and experienced alike, to integrate work and life in new ways.

The right workplace culture is a huge deal for most HR leaders. What led you to showcase this ad, “When Work Works Against You” to help HR address it? What was the impact of the ad?

We showcased this ad because, frankly, the workplace needs work. One in five American workers have left a job due to toxic workplace culture, and more than 25% say they dread going to work.

That’s a problem. And here’s why the groups highlighted in the commercial: veterans, older workers, people with disabilities, and the formerly incarcerated are the solution.

The toxic workplaces that drove 1 in 5 Americans to quit a job cost U.S. companies $223 billion. We also know great workplace cultures are diverse and inclusive, and that there are diverse pools of talent out there that are not being included. SHRM is highlighting these overlooked individuals who deserve the dignity of work because building workplace cultures that embrace promote inclusion is good for people and business.

The impact has been huge. The responses we’ve received are inspiring and make me thankful that I get to go to work every day to find ways to make work better for others.

Employees at all levels and age groups are increasingly considered digital natives. What are the typical challenges and roadblocks employers face in engaging such employees? What are the best ways to connect with the on-always on workforce of 2020?

That gets at a subject I think about often and wish was more widely discussed. For the first time in history, we have five generations in the workforce. What does that mean? We’re still finding out!

One thing that needs to be recognized, at a minimum, is that these different generations often have different values and approaches to life and work. One example: Communication. Some might prefer texting over talking. Some might think emojis are fun, but another might find them unprofessional.

That poses a challenge to employers searching for the “best ways” to connect with workers. The fact is there isn’t one approach that will work for every workplace, it depends on the details. What’s your culture? Who are your employees? What do they want?

What are your top 3 tips for HR leaders to gear up for the future of work?

Recruit for Competency, Hire for Fit: All too often, we focus on skills and qualifications without considering whether a candidate shares the same values and fits into the culture.

Look to Untapped Talent Pools: The war for talent is raging. But your organization doesn’t need to be defeated—look to undervalued and overlooked groups such as veterans, older workers, people with disabilities, and the formerly incarcerated.

Embrace Technology but Focus on People: Technology should absolutely be utilized. But don’t forget there’s no replacing people success depends on putting them first.   

How have you seen HR leadership’s attitude towards HR tech evolve? How can HR leaders build a successful business case for investing in more relevant HR tech?

I have and I would say it’s been for the better. HR is beginning to see change will be the only constant in this new world of work. So far, we’ve done well at adapting tech to better measure employee engagement and protect against discrimination. But there’s a long way to go, especially in raising awareness of how technological change has made HR more indispensable than ever before.

New tools and tech do present a learning curve to HR and employees. On-going reskilling and trainings for employees across the board on how to use new technologies and helping executives understand the value of this will help HR leaders build a successful case for investing and acquiring these new resources.

Can you give us a sneak-peek into the upcoming projects at SHRM on workplace diversity and culture that you are most excited about?

I think I’m most excited about SHRM’s soon-to-be-released People Manager Qualification (PMQ).

Our research into toxic workplaces revealed a lot. But a recurring theme was this: People quit managers, not jobs.

SHRM’s PMQ is an evidenced-based learning program to empower managers to drive positive workplace culture through better management practices. By skilling up managers, HR professionals get to spend less time fixing problems and more time focusing on strategy and delivering business results.

What trends are you tracking in the workplace diversity and culture space for 2020?

SHRM is tracking trends and gleaning insights across a number of issues in the diversity and culture space. But one that we identified late last year and that might be more relevant now during an election year is the alarming rise of politics at work.

We all know that conventional business wisdom has long held employees shouldn’t talk about politics at work. Right? Well, we found that not only are these conversations occurring, they’re increasing and causing conflicts. In fact, 42 percent of American workers report getting into a political argument at work. We also found that nearly a third report their workplace is not inclusive of differing perspectives, and more than 1 in 10 report experiencing bias based on their political beliefs.

In other words, politics is now a diversity and inclusion issue. And the time to address it is now.

Neha: Thank you, Johnny, for sharing your valuable insights on how HR leaders can accelerate diversity and inclusion goals in the workplace. We hope to talk to you again, soon.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is President and Chief Executive Officer of SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. With over 300,000 members in 165 countries, SHRM is the largest HR professional association in the world, impacting the lives of 115 million workers every day.

He is frequently asked to testify before Congress on critical workforce issues and authors a weekly column, “Ask HR,” in USA Today. He is a member of the White House American Workforce Policy Advisory Board and was appointed by President Donald Trump as Chairman of the President’s Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

About SHRM:

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, creates better workplaces where employers and employees thrive together. As the voice of all things work, workers and the workplace, SHRM is the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces.

HR Talk is an interview series that features top people and talent leaders from HR tech and Fortune 500 companies who are redefining the future of work. Join us as we talk to these people tech experts to get in-depth insights, and some pro-tips on how HR tech can best work for you and your people.

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