By Genny Hom-Franzen
More than 1,000 human resources and supplier diversity professionals, line leaders and managers are expected to gather at The 2015 Forum on Workplace Inclusion, the largest conference in the country devoted solely to the topic of workplace inclusion. With the theme “Making Waves,” the event will be held March 17-19 at the Minneapolis Convention Center and the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minn.
Steve Humerickhouse, executive director, said the conference began 27 years ago when a small group of approximately 75 people in the Black
Managers Association, a subgroup of the American Management Association®, gathered in the Twin Cities to watch a telecast. “They kept doing it and kept meeting year after year, and we grew from that,” he said. “Diversity and inclusion has become mainstream. In the late 1980s, it started with equal opportunity, affirmative action and compliance. Now, companies really get it. They realize it’s a business and bottom-line imperative that touches on all aspects of what a company does.”
Conference sessions this year include critical and emerging issues, diversity and inclusion strategy, diversity leadership, employment practices and global diversity and inclusion. Special sessions are planned for health care, government and legal/human resource industries. The event also features a marketplace, awards presentation and career fair.
Humerickhouse is especially excited about two general session presenters. Journalist, anchor and executive producer of National Public Radio’s Latino USA, Maria Hinojosa, will share her newest documentary, “America by the Numbers.” The video highlights dramatic changes in the country’s demographics and their impact on mainstream U.S.A.
Eddie Obeng, a British organizational theorist, author and educator, will share his thoughts on future trends and project management. Obeng is a popular speaker on Technology, Entertainment, Design or TED Talks, where experts from throughout the globe spread ideas on the Internet in the form of short, powerful talks. Conference organizers have made arrangements for Obeng to have a fully interactive session, despite the fact that he will be in South Africa and speaking virtually at the conference thanks to digital technology.
Interaction is a key aspect of the conference — interaction between speakers and participants, as well as the time and thought put into every aspect of the conference program. Humerickhouse said he has a group of staff members and consultants who are experts in designing experiences and have thought about every detail of what the conference experience looks like — from the moment an attendee first walks into the door to the closing session.
“We also have a lot of speakers who are experts, but I tell them that there are experts in the audience too,” he said.
Humerickhouse prefers to call attendees participants because they will be active in every session. “The participants don’t just sit in a seat,” he said. “The sessions are highly interactive, and I tell the speakers that they are facilitators of learning. This [session] is a group effort.”
In addition, every session topic is thoroughly scrutinized, according to Humerickhouse. He spends four months researching possible topics, while a dedicated program committee dutifully goes over every single speaker proposal. Before being added to the conference agenda, all topics must pass a filter of 132 topic areas to test their relevance.
Humerickhouse is already working on the 2016 conference, with the goal of building a sense of community, so attendees not only come back each year, but keep in touch with one another between conferences.
A word from the sponsors
Lead sponsor Prudential Financial Inc. and champion sponsor Target Corp., two of the top patrons of The Forum on Workplace Inclusion, explained that their participation in the event is motivated by their belief that diversity and equality lead to better business.
“Prudential is proud to be the title sponsor of this year’s Forum on Workplace Inclusion,” said Michele C. Green, vice president and chief diversity officer. “The Forum’s mission to inspire and activate people, ideas and change is well aligned with our own aspirations to be a company known for its top talent. We recognize that achieving our business goals depends on the collective capabilities and diverse perspectives of our people. In fact, we see our people as our key competitive advantage, and we work hard to identify, nurture and grow top diverse talent.
“We believe that excellence in diversity and inclusion is fundamental to being a top company,” she said. “And, for us, that success is measured by becoming a magnet for top diverse talent, a preferred brand among customers and investors and a trusted community partner.”
Target is also committed to workplace inclusion.
“At Target, we are committed to creating an environment where team members and guests feel welcome, valued and respected,” said Kim Strong, vice president of diversity and inclusion. “These same principals apply to our supply chain. In 1998, Target launched our supplier diversity initiative, which today is integrated into the way we do business enterprise-wide. Our mission is to connect internal sourcing teams with qualified diverse-owned businesses that are positioned to deliver strategic business solutions, create competition and drive innovation.”