5 Things I Learned at SHRM 2018

June 21, 2018 Sarah Mulcahy


If I had to choose one recurring theme from SHRM’s Annual Conference & Exposition in Chicago, it would be safety. What is HR’s role in creating safer, more fair and equitable work cultures? How do we ensure our people feel comfortable being themselves or challenging the status quo?

Here are my top five takeaways from the conference:

  1. Make it safer to talk about gender bias. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook and author of “Lean In,” spoke about her work exposing and challenging gender bias. “Men still run the world and I’m not sure it’s going that well,” she said as the audience erupted. In the #MeToo era, one could argue that we’re getting better at exposing these issues, but Sheryl insists more needs to be done. “We need to make it safe for men and others to talk about some of the challenges and biases in the workplace related to women. If we won’t let them speak, or put them down for doing so, then the only people talking about it will be women.”
  2. Stop putting a premium on homogeneity. Keynote speaker Adam Grant cautioned against the idea of hiring for culture fit, a trap many organizations fall into. Culture fit is a vague concept and it often weeds out diversity – in terms of gender, race, or even thought. He suggested companies build an “upward challenge network.” Make it safe for anyone in your organization to raise an issue. Remove the phrase, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions,” because, as Adam argues, “some of our biggest problems are too complicated for one person to figure out on their own.”
  3. Be vigilant about pay equity. Michele Hester, senior manager, Client Services, at Berkshire Associates led a fascinating session on pay equity compliance – including a brief overview of federal, state, and local legislation. What began with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 – which focused on gender-based pay disparities – has grown into a much broader movement in favor of pay equity. The big theme of 2018? Do not ask about candidates’ salary history. HR now has a huge responsibility when it comes to self-monitoring. Michele suggested many HR organizations may even have to put specific teams in place to continuously mine and analyze compensation data for pay disparities.
  4. The ROI of organizational trust is real. On Monday, Greg Stevens, Ph.D. from Globoforce, and Sheri Feinzig from IBM Talent Management Solutions, presented findings from the Employee Experience Index, which reinforce the importance of organizational trust in driving a positive employee experience. When employees agree their organization consistently acts with integrity, 83% report a more positive employee experience. That positive experience is then correlated with financial impacts for the organization, including nearly 3x the return on assets and 2x the return on sales.
  5. Minimize the fight or flight response. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, emphasized the importance of psychological safety at work. When people feel threatened, they can experience an amygdala hijack – an immediate and overwhelming emotional response. The most common causes of amygdala hijack to look out for in the workplace are lack of respect, feeling unappreciated, and not feeling heard.

What were your takeaways from the conference? Are you also tackling issues of psychological safety and equity in your organization? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Sarah Mulcahy

Sarah is senior content marketing manager at Workhuman. When not writing and reading about all things culture, leadership, recognition, and appreciation, she enjoys iced coffee, running, and spending time with her daughters, Mabel and Eva.

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