7 Questions for #SHRM19 Mega Session Presenter Emily M. Dickens, J.D. – SHRM Corporate Secretary and Chief of Staff


As a longtime SHRM Advocacy A-Team Captain, I always look forward to pubic policy updates from SHRM Government Affairs. With that said, one of the first sessions that I added to my #SHRM19 schedule was the Mega Session: Elevate Your Voice & HR: Engaging with Policymakers on Today’s Critical Workplace Issues presented by SHRM Corporate Secretary and Chief of Staff, Emily M. Dickens. With a divided federal government, new legislation from many statehouses, and a number of policy issues in flux (immigration, FLSA, etc.) public policy is one area that human resources professionals must remain engaged to be aware of and address issues as they impact our workplaces.

I can’t think of a better first session to attend on the first day at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition and I am fortunate to have Ms. Dickens answer seven questions about her upcoming mega session.

Tell us a little about yourself, your role with SHRM, and what attendees can expect by attending your presentation at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, “ Elevate Your Voice & HR: Engaging with Policymakers on Today’s Critical Workplace Issues.”

I’m a Queens, New York native. I attended college in North Carolina, met my husband there and we still have a home there so I’m often in the state. Previously I served as a member of the leadership team at the University of North Carolina system, the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. 

I’ve had the opportunity to work in government affairs and public policy for many years and this has provided me valuable insight as SHRM takes on the challenge of making a monumental impact in the workplace. We need to elevate the voice of HR at every level of government and in every type of workplace.

At SHRM, I am responsible for coordinating our staff to implement our CEO’s vision, serving as corporate secretary for the SHRM Board and subsidiary boards, as well as managing external partnerships and providing executive oversight for the Government Affairs division.

I’m excited for our conversation at annual conference, “Elevate Your Voice & HR: Engaging with Policymakers on Today’s Critical Workplace Issues”. Our 300,000 members have the unique ability to speak on behalf of the 115 million employees they impact each day. We want to make sure our members feel empowered to make their voice heard and to elevate HR. We’ll be providing an overview of top issues and initiatives involving the workplace and best practices on how to make a meaningful impact with policy leaders.

We understand that public policy discussions need to be timely based upon current developments at the federal and state levels of government. Can you give us any insights regarding any policy leaders that may be joining you for your presentation? Any specific topics to be discussed?

We are honored to have Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as a guest for my session. I’m so excited to have Vicki join our conversation because she is dealing with many issues impacting America’s workplaces. Specifically, the EEOC is committed to preventing hiring discrimination when it comes to older workers, persons with disabilities and many other groups that can help close the skills gap facing our nation.

I’m also interested in talking to Vicki about issues impacting the workplace like sexual harassment and promoting diversity and inclusion.

We are also targeting officials from the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor to take part in our session to discuss important issues like the skills gap. 

With public policy being such a dynamic and ever-changing topic, how does SHRM determine which public policies to focus on and support which are in the best interest for the human resources profession?

We cannot be everything to everybody. There is an organization for just about every policy issue. Additionally, there are tons of issues our members care about, however, SHRM is uniquely qualified to advocate on workplace public policy issues given the expertise and impact of its members. We continually communicate with our experts -SHRM members, state councils and chapters - around the country about the issues that impact their workforces every day. However, we are laser-focused on four policy pillars that address significant challenges to our workplaces and the American economy. These include:

Workforce Development- preparing our workplace for the 21st century by closing the skills gap and improving individual prosperity through employer-provided educational assistance, work-based learning and reaching non-traditional talent pools.

Workplace Equity- which includes healthy workplace cultures that support harassment-free workplaces, flexibility to incentivize and reward employees, while compensating workers equitably. 

Workplace Flexibility and Leave- Supporting a voluntary federal framework for leave rather than a patchwork of state and local laws and promoting flexible work options to attract and retain a productive workforce. This includes issues involving sick leave mandates, paid family leave and overtime.

Workplace Immigration- advocating for a modern workplace immigration system that allows employers to access top global talent and creates efficiencies while protecting workers.

You can learn more about SHRM’s public policy priorities at shrm.org/policy.

“Getting Talent Back to Work” is a major initiative led by SHRM in partnership with Koch Industries. As this was just rolled out earlier this year, could you describe the initiative and why it is important for SHRM to lead the way?

70 million Americans have a criminal record. That’s 1 in 3 people. At the same time 83 percent of HR professionals saying they had difficulty recruiting suitable candidates in the past 12 months. We believe everyone deserves the dignity of work and that hiring the formerly incarcerated can help address the skills shortage facing employers.

The Getting Talent Back to Work initiative calls for HR professionals, hiring managers, executives and their organizations to pledge that they will consider job seekers with criminal backgrounds and use the training materials provided by SHRM. The pledge is open to all organizations and individuals. As of today, we have 220 corporate partners and 1,329 individuals signed on to the pledge. SHRM’s tool-kit for employers contains best practices to hire employees with criminal histories and other helpful information.

To learn more, visit the Getting Talent Back to Work website and please consider taking the pledge and encourage your colleagues to do so as well!

The SHRM Advocacy Team -“A-Team”- is one way that SHRM has helped HR professionals to have their voices heard both in Washington, D.C. as well as in statehouses across the U.S. on public policy issues that impact our workplaces. Why should HR professionals get involved with the SHRM “A-Team”? What can we expect from the SHRM “A-Team” this year and beyond?

SHRM’s A-Team is a grassroots advocacy network of nearly 11,000 SHRM members disperse throughout the 50 states and representing all 435 congressional districts. A-Team members advocate for issues important to them and their region at the state or federal level.

From my experience, I know that lawmakers truly appreciate the voices of our members who are dealing with workplace issues and policies every day. A-Team members have the unique ability to speak on behalf of their employer and employees. Facts and figures and data do carry weight with lawmakers, but what really moves a member of Congress on an issue are personal testimonials about how an issue directly impacts HR, local businesses and communities. 

The A-Team is going to continue having an impact on issues involving our policy pillars like education assistance, workplace immigration and so much more. A-Team members have attended Small Businesses Administration listening sessions on the Department of Labor’s proposed overtime rule and will continue to influence the rule as it is finalized in the coming months. 

How does SHRM respond to some critics that feel that the organization has become either “too political” or “too partisan?” Given the changes to party control that occur regularly at both the federal and state levels, how does SHRM adapt to maintain a non-partisan stance?

Three words: policy, not politics.

To be an active participant on workplace issues, SHRM must be present in forums where important workplace laws and policies are being debated, including at the executive and legislative levels of our government. That is how we continue to have influence and help create strong, inclusive, people-focused workplaces. Since we are entrusted with the mission of advancing work, the workers and the workplace, we believe that maintaining a non-partisan stance is essential.

SHRM does not have a PAC – we don’t support or affiliate with specific political parties, their members or elected officials. We align around policies. We have worked with both Republicans and Democratic administrations and both parties in Congress to develop effective solutions that positively impact workplaces.

Besides speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference, what will you be looking forward to doing/seeing/hearing at the conference in Las Vegas? 

Overall, I’m looking forward to meeting more of our SHRM members who are making an impact in their workplaces. I’ve been in my position for more than a year now and I continue to be amazed by HR professionals who are leaders in their organizations and making a difference. I look forward to hearing from them on how we can continue to elevate their voice and HR when it comes to SHRM’s public policy efforts.

I want to personally thank Emily for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions for us. I encourage all #SHRM19 attendees to take time to attend this important session on Sunday, June 23 at 1:00 p.m., Westgate Pavilion 1-3. As Emily mentioned, in addition to EEOC Commissioner Lipnic, we expect some additional officials to join the panel to provide attendees with public policy updates.


Originally posted on HR Sushi Bar Blog.



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