SHRM Isn’t Dead, But It’s in Need of Major Change

Adam Rosenfield Bad HR, Good HR, HR, SHRM

The earth-shattering events always expose the problems under the hood.

It’s what you do when those problems are exposed that matters.

COVID-19 and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Ahmaud Aubrey flipped the United States and the world on its head. 

It’s a difficult time for HR professionals, many who have entered into this new world faster than they wanted. It’s an ESPECIALLY difficult time for Black and Brown HR professionals, who are balancing the needs of their organization, with their own emotional turmoil as they try to cope with yet more senseless murders, while also teaching their white colleagues about 400 years of racism.

The world of HR is changing every day. The type of HR leaders getting into the profession and moving up the ladder are not your HR professionals of old. They are rapidly changing the stereotype of HR, and are culturally conscious and competent individuals who are true change-makers set about to remake the workplace. 

These HR pros are desperate for guidance, resources and support. And that’s where the largest HR organization in the world should come in.

Unfortunately, it’s also where the largest HR organization in the world has failed. 

I do not need to rehash the points that many of my other HR colleagues have already made. It’s not even that SHRM botched the handling of Black Lives Matter worse than Jerry Krause did with the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls. SHRM didn’t even try, rendering many HR professionals irate.

When SHRM did finally release a statement, it rang hollow, as it was released six weeks after George Floyd’s death… on July 4th nonetheless. The organization also established a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to convene on issues of diversity, inclusion and safety of their members.

The term “Blue Ribbon Commission” is just weird. It sounds like what you would call the local FFA livestock show in high school, or what teachers comprised the science fair judging in your elementary school. It doesn’t sound like the name of a committee who will take issues like social justice and racial equity seriously.

Even worse, SHRM’s COVID resources that should have been free to all HR professionals (it is a global pandemic after all) were locked down harder than a maximum security prison. 

But When it comes to Brass Tacks…

There is also a reason SHRM made over $50 million last year: many people still swear by the organization. SHRM also has visibility politically, which is why a major speaker at the SHRM conference last year was, for better or worse, Ivanka Trump. To add, many companies still require SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP certifications for HR job applicants. 

Even if those in the workforce are generally unfamiliar with HR, they know SHRM, which gives the organization that affinity clout that many others are working for. However, that clout is slowly decreasing, due to a myriad of reasons magnified during the last few months. 

Many believe that SHRM is slowly becoming the Blockbuster of HR as other, more agile and culturally conscious alternatives pop up (NOTE: the author is involved in a few of the organizations). I might be in the minority here, but I think with some major changes, SHRM can actually be a force for good for both the HR profession and the world at large. 

Here are three things SHRM could do to both create goodwill among the HR community and position itself well for the future. 

Remove The Financial Barriers

For many, the HR profession is not one of financial gain. Companies have also used the pandemic to cut their L&D budgets, leaving their employees on the hook for their own professional development. 

Now imagine you’re a couple of years out of school, and still paying off debt. You find out you have to pay a $300 testing fee (more if you aren’t in SHRM), $600 for books, $900 for a “system” that you don’t need after your test, and other study material. You’re paying almost $2,500 for a certification. For many, the pay increase isn’t even there after a pass. 

Not to mention, you’re still paying $250 for a membership fee and thousands of dollars for a conference. (Note: despite getting 25 letters in the mail, 15 emails a day with the title “BREAKING NEWS” and texts from random SHRM employees, the author did not renew his SHRM membership)

You have many HR professionals saddled with debt and low salaries who cannot pay these costs or extra fees for more practice. With that, you essentially exclude an ENTIRE group of people from actively participating in the HR community, denying them an opportunity for development and networking. If SHRM can find a way to lower the cost for HR professionals, while also giving the test more of a relevance to present day issues that HR is facing is one way to make the organization more inclusive.

I also think membership fees should be eliminated if you have to take the test that year.

Don’t Hide Behind the Politics

The literal meaning of HR is human resources. We are and should be people advocates in our organizations first and foremost. not cops. We have an administration that’s making life difficult for many of our workers, both through rhetoric and policies that separate and divide. Our Black employees have to go through the trauma of seeing one of their own die brutal deaths by our militarized and undertrained law enforcement professionals. 

That is a statement. That is an encapsulation of much of the issues that are going on socially in the United States. This is how many HR professionals from underrepresented groups are feeling.

This is how SHRM needs to approach its politics. By advocating for corporations over people, and attaching to the current administration, SHRM is putting its own membership at risk. The organization has in the past been accused of supporting several anti-employee measures, which can absolutely not stand in this day and age.

If SHRM’s vision is to build a world of work that works for all, then the leadership must understand that it starts with equity initiatives. It starts with a livable minimum wage, fair labor laws, paid sick leave, and other employee centric initiatives. It might not be popular for corporate, but you can only “maximize human potential” when you truly break the barriers that bear down on employees. 

SHRM’s Unique Position in the World of Work

Let’s start this section with this: In a time where Black CEO’s make up 1% of Fortune 500 leaders and Black professionals make up only 3.2% of executive jobs, the President of SHRM, Johnny C. Taylor, is Black. His predecessor, His predecessor, Henry “Hank” G. Jackson, is also black.

There are times when the organization is in front of issues. The “Getting Talent Back to Work” pledge unveiled last year to get the workforce to employ 650,000 formerly incarcerated individuals was a step in the right direction in terms of creating an inclusive hiring environment. It was a sorely needed initiative at a time when the War for Talent was at its fiercest.

The fact that they did this in partnership with the Koch Foundation (and prominently featured the organization), whose political activities include funding climate change opposition, alleged voter suppression, and alleged attempts at re-segregation in North Carolina, the exact antithesis of inclusive, evaporates much of the goodwill.

I will also give SHRM another piece of credit here. The organization was talking about DEI and strategic diversity management plans as early as 2012, far before many DEI consultants starting hitting the market. Once again, the show of intent was there.

SHRM cannot “all lives matter” on political matters. The HR profession is majority female, and increasingly populated by Black and Brown professionals. The way to elevate HR is to take a stand. Black Lives and LGBTQA+ lives matter and SHRM needs to be out in front saying that.

Be Collaborative

I will not lie. I have not renewed my SHRM membership.

I didn’t find it as necessary as I did when I started. Why do it when I’m in free Slack groups and Twitter chats that provide me with other, qualified HR professionals to talk to instantaneously and have incredible resources at my fingertips?

The future of HR is collaboration and open source. We saw it during COVID, with plenty of open source documents flying around the interwebs. We’re seeing it with anti-racism resources and tools created for the masses, ensuring the maximum amount of people can see it and utilize it.

If SHRM is to stay relevant, it has to think about modernizing its approach to some of its tools, paperwork, and many of its resources. It has to be willing to share resources in times of crisis, and even just in general. The world moves quickly- HR professionals cannot wait 3-5 days for an answer. Heck, our insurance companies respond quicker than that.

SHRM dug itself a huge hole. Its leadership has been questioned by some. But if the organization does some deep self-reflection and changes course on several policies, it can truly be a force for good for the HR community in years to come.