At the SHRM Hawaii State Conference, Kakou Means All of Us

One thing that makes Hawaii special is that the islands are home to the nation’s most ethnically and culturally diverse population. However, while local employers easily embrace this diversity in the workforce, Hawaii still falls short on inclusive human resource practices that bring people together from all different walks of life.

It’s been my honor to serve on SHRM Hawaii’s 2018 committee on Global Diversity & Inclusion, where I’ve learned a lot about the value of inclusion. Our committee discovered our own unconscious bias using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) from a Harvard University research study. We shared the IAT test with SHRM members and collected anonymous #WeToo stories about our personal experiences with discrimination in the workplace, like this one:

“I work in human resources and training and have a hidden disability. Recently, when applying for jobs, if I disclose that I have a disability during the online employment application process, I am rejected even though I am well qualified for the position. When I do NOT disclose my disability on the job application, I am always called for an interview. This discovery of unconscious bias is disheartening.”

Stories like this illustrate how inclusion starts with awareness of the unconscious bias each of us brings to work every day.

One of my colleagues attended the ERE Conference in Orlando where she participated in a session on “Conscious and Unconscious Bias,” and another on “Hiring People with Disabilities.” Why is it that these issues resurface at just about every Human Resources conference in recent memory?

Such were my thoughts on this year’s State Conference theme of Leading Workplace Excellence.

Why are some workers more engaged and productive while others are not?

The 2018 SHRM Hawaii State Conference opened with commentary on how employees are constantly asked to do more with less, while scarce resources are dwindling, and burnout is becoming rampant. Keynote speaker Elise Foster spoke about the importance of “multipliers” and how to engage talent within our organizations fully.

The talent shortage was a hot topic, and it’s a problem of our own making.

“Great things often begin with problems.” This comment came from a morning session on Laws of Attraction: Authentic Pipeline Strategies. In a lively, interactive discussion led by Mercedes Lanza, Dawn Harlinger, and Nicole Smith of Liliuokalani Trust, emphasis was placed on developing a strategy to attract the most qualified candidates.

Over lunch, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion group led by Tamara Berger, Director of Human Resources at Kalihi-Palama Health Center. The conversation revolved around Hawaii’s 2% unemployment rate and the underlying problems. Hawaii employers are experiencing unprecedented difficulty finding qualified workers, from health care to the retail industry, and unfilled jobs are slowing the State’s economic growth. Meanwhile, as employers look for ways to reduce labor costs, hotel workers were on strike in Waikiki and expressing legitimate concern about being replaced by robots.

During the afternoon panel discussion on HR Conversations In The C Suite, I noted the persistence of ongoing challenges with recruitment, training & retention. The panelists commented on how current events such as the #MeToo movement and other social issues have changed the dynamic of the modern workplace.

Throughout the day, I couldn’t help think about our untapped talent pools. Hawaii needs more local employer-driven initiatives and commitment to workforce development built on strategies that increase inclusion.

The difference between Diversity and Inclusion and why it matters.

In 2016, long-time SHRM Hawaii leader Denise Tsukuyama, Equal Opportunity Officer/ADA Coordinator at the City and County of Honolulu, and I co-authored an article about the use of telework/work-from-home as a talent acquisition strategy option for recruiting highly skilled, mobility-challenged workers. Two years later, how many employers have embraced that idea?

Fast forward to the 2018 Conference, where Gwen Navarrete Klapperich, another member of the SHRM committee on Global Diversity & Inclusion, shared some shocking statistics on under-employment of people with disabilities, ex-incarcerated individuals who have committed non-violent offenses, veterans transitioning to civilian life, and the impoverished/homeless. Unemployment is as high as 60% or more in some of these groups because corporate recruiters and staffing firms aren’t interested in interviewing candidates who “check the wrong box” regardless of qualifications for the job and a strong incentive to work. There’s a surprising number of small businesses that have been started by people in this “unemployable” talent pool because they gave up looking for a job. Not to mention there are are highly qualified, separating military personnel who leave the islands, taking their skills with them down the “brain drain” to the mainland, because of local employers’ reluctance to hire them.

The morning after the SHRM Conference, I had breakfast at the Wailana Coffee House, where there was a long line to get in. I haven’t been to this iconic Waikiki diner in years, but I still recognized a few of the wait staff, many of whom have been there for decades. What inspires this kind of employee/employer loyalty, and customer/brand loyalty? It isn’t about the food; it’s about the people.

As today’s young people enter the job market, they are attracted to companies with cultures that align with their own set of values and vision. However, some of these job seekers may not tick the “right” boxes on an employment application. Future-minded employers who want to improve worker engagement and talent retention need to think outside of those checkboxes and invest in people with workforce development programs that include internal training, retraining and career mobility. The successful workforce of tomorrow will be built by organizations that create a more meaningful work environment and live up to the Hawaiian value of Kakou, which means inclusion for ALL of us.