SHRM CEO Calls for More-Inclusive Workplaces

Dori Meinert By Dori Meinert June 24, 2019
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LAS VEGAS—Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, on June 24 challenged HR professionals to create more-inclusive workplaces, specifically calling on them to hire people with disabilities, people with criminal histories, veterans and people over age 50.

"I'm not saying that everyone who applies for a job deserves that job. But everyone deserves the dignity of work," Taylor told the more than 18,000 HR professionals and others gathered here for the SHRM 2019 Annual Conference & Exposition.

"As stewards of workplaces, HR people play a role that is bigger than any one of us. Our focus should not be on keeping the 'wrong' people out but trying to find the 'right' people to bring in," he said.

Job candidates who are viewed as "wrong" or "unqualified" may just be "different."

"Finding the 'right' in someone who looks 'wrong' on paper forces us to consciously put our bias to the back and look at things, well, differently," he said.

Offering a real-life example, he introduced Alice Marie Johnson, who was sentenced to life in prison after she was convicted in 1996 for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. Johnson was granted clemency by President Donald Trump last year after celebrity Kim Kardashian petitioned him on her behalf. Johnson recently wrote a book about her experience, After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom (Harper, 2019), making a case for the need to give people a second chance.

Johnson said she considers herself fortunate that her case was taken up by influential people who believed her sentence was too harsh.

"But there are many more like me who are not so fortunate. After serving their debt to society, they are shut out—resentenced to joblessness and economic insecurity. Like me, they only want to find their purpose in the dignity of honest work," Johnson told the crowd, who applauded. "By hiring the formerly incarcerated, HR professionals like you can stop the cycle of poverty, unemployment and recidivism. When you give people second chances, you can change lives. You can create a better world."

Johnson is one of the 700,000 people who are released from prison each year only to find themselves locked out of the labor market, Taylor said. She is among the 1 in 3 Americans who have a criminal record.

Like individuals with criminal histories, people with disabilities aren't always given the opportunity to show what they can do, he said. "It's time we put our biases aside and put this untapped talent back to work," Taylor said. "By the way, they are not charity cases, grateful for our help. They are not costly to hire. They can become leaders, change-makers and innovators in your organization."


In videos broadcast from the main stage, people with disabilities told their personal stories and how much work meant to them. Taylor was joined on stage by two of them afterward: Kelly Mack, public affairs specialist for the Administration for Community Living at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and Kayla McKeon, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the National Down Syndrome Society.

Next, Taylor spotlighted the work done by the SHRM Foundation to educate employers on hiring veterans.

"Their resumes don't look like anyone else's and can be hard to translate into a civilian role. But they have skills that you can't find just anywhere, and they will ultimately enhance every profession. And, HR people, that goes for our profession, too," Taylor said.

Finally, Taylor urged HR professionals to "energetically recruit" older individuals who are sometimes turned away for being "overqualified" or "unable to adapt."

"More than one-quarter of stable, longtime employees sustain at least one damaging layoff after turning 50," he said. "When we exclude older workers, we are also excluding a goldmine of work and life experience. We miss out on the mentoring and idea exchange that only comes with a truly multigenerational workforce."

At the end of his speech, Taylor was joined on stage by Johnson, Mack, McKeon and older workers.

"We are asking you to do more than tap into underused talent pools," he said. "I am asking you, as HR professionals, to create the workplaces where everyone can thrive, where everyone is valued, where everyone learns, where problems get solved, differences are resolved, and individuals can evolve. Where everyone shares in economic opportunity; family security; safer, stronger communities; and the fruits of a better world."

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