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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencers: Local SHRM Chapters Are Fighting Racism in the Workplace

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou

When I started my “Street Level Influencer” series, it was meant to showcase the power of HR professionals at the ground level. People on the frontline doing the work, making a meaningful impact, and not asking for much in return, other than the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference.

I was trying to encapsulate the spirit of those who liked to do the work outside of the spotlight. At the end of the day, the lesson is, those who do the work at the street level, set the narrative. They write the story.

Those higher up on the food chain may think they are writing the book, and in many respects they may be writing a chapter or so, but their power pales compared to the power of the individuals at the street levels writing the bulk of the magnum opus.

Recently, I noticed being a Street Level influencer isn’t specified only to individual contributors. Organizations can also be Street Level Influencers.

Over the last several weeks, there has been a plethora of discontent being voiced by members of the HR community towards the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

And really the discontent has been building for years. The #FixItSHRM hashtag is proof. More recently, the dissatisfaction stems from SHRM’s silence and inaction on racial injustice in the workplace – let alone America at large – especially revolving around the Black Lives Matter and LGTBQ+ movements.

The criticism is mostly fair. Some of it is incendiary and over the top. However, the fair criticism far outweighs the unfair. A small sampling includes the powerful articles:

The Problem With SHRM: Why HR Professionals Feel Disappointed, Disillusioned, and Deserted #Diversity #HRNews — – HR and Work News, Trends, and Research (@TLNT_com) June 25, 2020

Thank you @cescobar78 for sharing this message, along with several suggested action steps to affect change at the local, state and national levels. We Need Courage and Change at SHRM — Jennifer McClure (@JenniferMcClure) June 22, 2020

For whatever their reasons, as they refuse to clarify, SHRM has not openly and directly commented on the issues I stated above. They did, however, recently release a statement…. Over a month after the murder of George Floyd. And what’s worse, when I Googled the title of the statement “ Create better workplaces by eliminating racism,” I couldn’t find it on social media or the SHRM site. I hope I’m wrong, and just overlooked it…

Rightfully so, there was criticism of the weakness of the statement:

So, to me, SHRM's response remains disappointing at best, a dereliction of responsibility to the #HRCommunity at worst. SHRM represents all of us in #HR & that means it is giving us all a black eye. If you think so too, please join us: — Kate Bischoff 👩🏻‍💻🙋🏻‍♀️🥾 (@k8bisch) July 2, 2020

So, how does an organization respond to a petition of over 3700 people asking for said organization say #BlackLivesMatter & support the #LGBTQ community? A "Blue Ribbon Commission" A @SHRM THREAD #HR #HRCommunity — Kate Bischoff 👩🏻‍💻🙋🏻‍♀️🥾 (@k8bisch) July 2, 2020

At first, I actually was happy to see the statement. FINALLY! SHRM is speaking up!

However, the more I thought about it and analyzed it, I became disappointing because the statement is rather toothless, not to mention over a month late, like I mentioned. It shouldn’t take a month to formulate a plan, let alone formulate your thoughts on a generation defining moment that affects our society – including the workplace – like systemic racism contributing to the murder of George Floyd, and thousands (yes, thousands) of other Black people throughout American history.

Making real change takes leadership and courage. It takes more than doing the bare minimum. I feel the statement SHRM put out is the bare minimum, if not less than.

However, back to the local theme of my article.

National SHRM continues to lag; however, local chapters are doing so much more. I am INSPIRED by what local SHRM chapters have been doing over the past months while National SHRM touts its tote bag.

Take my local SHRM Chapter for instance, Chicago SHRM. They have a five-part series (FIVE PARTS) on racism in our country and its affects in the workplace. I have been so inspired as I attended these sessions.

I have registered for and attended all of them so far, and I can tell you, these sessions have been POWERFUL. I have learned, thought deeply, discovered, and grown. This is leadership on fighting for racial justice in the workplace (and society).

The work our #HRcommunity has done will shape the change that is needed in Chicago workplaces and beyond. — Jeanette Johnson (@HRPenny) July 3, 2020

The HRA of Oak Brook is a local chapter in DuPage County, IL. They lead several open forum sessions on discussing how HR can be advocates for dismantling systemic racism.

All of these events have (or will) featured prominent Black professionals as the speakers and moderators. Many of them are in HR, or have a lot of influence in the realm. They have been candidate. They have not held back. All the attendees have been open minded, engaged, and thoughtful.

I could go on and on. The local SHRM Chapters (at least in the Chicagloand area) are KILLING it on this issue! I am so proud to know many of these folks and having the privilege of being able to attend these sessions to learn from Black leaders.

I applaud EVERY leader at Chicago SHRM, HRA of Oak Brook, and the ILFVSHRM for leading where National SHRM has not.

As my friend Carlos Escobar stated, I, too, “am committed to working with any SHRM leader, whether they be at the national, state, or local level. I still believe that SHRM and its chapters are a source for good in our profession and I still believe SHRM members and HR professionals at large want to be actively involved in the solutions to the crisis we are facing.”

I did not envision writing about HR's role in dismantling systemic inequity and leading antiracism efforts in my book (note: I am). Perhaps that's part of the problem? We need to have these uncomfortable looks at our own role in building these systems to change them. — Lars Schmidt – #BLM (@Lars) June 23, 2020

I think what I find so disheartening is that SHRM has been excellent to me and my career. I care deeply about the organization. Yet, I disagree with the direction it has taken. It can be doing so much more than what it has to this point. I will not abandon it, however. I want to see it get better. Much like America, SHRM is flawed – because it is ran by flawed human beings. However, we can ALWAYS learn from our flaws, our mistakes. We can get better. SHRM can get better. I believe it can.

SHRM can begin by taking the example of their local affiliates. It can look to emulate their bravery, their vulnerability, their power. Local affiliates are giving voice to Black HR professionals in a way that National should be.

SHRM can look to emulate the Street Level SHRM groups and revive itself in a positive direction. It just needs to look to emulate the right models.

HR MUST do our part to continue the conversation and do the work to dismantle systemic racism in the workplace with or without SHRM. I hope it is with SHRM.

Consider signing the following petition:

First, the petition continues to grow. With very little sharing, it has grown to over 4,500 signatures. Again, the signatories are @SHRM bloggers, authors, speakers & more importantly, #HR professionals from around the globe. — Kate Bischoff 👩🏻‍💻🙋🏻‍♀️🥾 (@k8bisch) July 8, 2020
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