By Steve Humerickhouse
Studio portrait of Steve Humerickhouse
With the mission of engaging people, advancing ideas and igniting change,The Forum on Workplace Inclusion — a program of the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas — convened in Minneapolis for the 26th year. The more than 1,000 participants — equally split between human resource and diversity and inclusion practitioners and leaders, along with managers from all line functions — spent their time divided between 65 highly interactive concurrent sessions and four stimulating general sessions, as they were challenged to create the future of diversity and inclusion. With lead sponsorship from the Travelers Cos., the event created an environment that allowed those present to fashion their own experience through networking, learning and contemplation, and provide instantaneous feedback through interactive electronic polling.

The 2014 theme, “Breaking New Ground,” stressed the need to put a stake in the ground and plan a new way for inclusion to occur, challenging participants to take active responsibility for making a difference. That central concept was particularly advanced during the conference’s third general session by the four presenters and moderator of the forum’s Fast Forward segment — short, provocative presentations by thought leaders chosen for their unique point of view. Each presenter represented a different perspective, and all emphasized the need for everyone to own up to what they themselves could do to make a difference. Following the speakers, participants were asked what one action they would take to fuel change.Their responses were delivered as a call to action at the end of the closing general session by an improvisational theater group, Breaking Ice, who — in less than an hour — created a series of vignettes to illustrate the key responses expressed by forum participants:
• Overcome fear, limitations and the status quo.
• Practice inclusive leadership and behaviors.
• Start new conversations, cultivate a boundary-free mindset and do the tough work.
• Act with fearless accountability and believe it can happen.

The participants’ call to action aligns with the 2015 forum’s conference theme “Making Waves,” which will elaborate on breaking new ground and provide next year’s attendees the strategy and skills needed to overcome fear,limitations and the status quo. The 2015 conversation will also address global inclusion issues and intersections between diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility and social justice or the foundational links between organizational development and inclusion. One consistent forum theme is LGBT issues in the workplace. The 2014 forum was no different, with five sessions covering such topics as LGBT and religious employee resource groups, coming out globally, transgender health benefits and the reality of being openly LGBT at work.

Presenters were from the Human Rights Campaign, Google Inc., KPMG LLP, Texas Instruments Inc., United States Agency for International Development, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, Jamison Green & Associates and Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. Other features of the forum were a full-day career fair for professionals in business, engineering and IT — including a career services center to help candidates build their resumes and interview skills — and a Resource Expo for vendors with a variety of diversity and inclusion products and services. The Winds
of Change Awards honored individuals and organizations leading the way in inclusion and multiple networking and alternative learning events. There was also a full day set aside for chief diversity officers to work alongside their peers on some of their most pressing problem areas.