HRO Today Forum

Hitting the Highlights

The three-day HRO Today Forum had something for everyone. Whether collaborating with peers on how to close existing talent gaps, or gaining insight into becoming a more equitable organization, leaders left fulfilled and informed. 


HR Townhall – Elliot Clark and Dr. Peter Cappelli

HRO Today CEO Elliot Clark and Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School put a unique spin on the HR trends requiring the most attention. The discussion began with the ongoing topic of remote work to which Dr. Cappelli gave a statistic that came as a surprise to much of the audience: According to the Census, 73% of organizations have no remote workforce. In fact, remote work is rapidly dwindling, hybrid workforces are few and far between, and the U.S. and the U.K. are the two countries with the most remote workers, he said.

Clark then pushed the conversation along to cover the talent economy. He made some key observations.

  • The unemployment rate is lower than in 2020.
  • Labor force participation has seen a recent uptick, but real wages have declined.

With the looming recession possibly reducing workforce demand, Clark asked Dr. Cappelli the things HR should prepare for. Dr. Cappelli said that every company is trying to hire candidates with the “right” experience, but the average American isn’t properly trained and doesn’t get paid much. Further, many organizations encountered a worker shortage after the pandemic due to talent management issues. He said, if employers knew pandemic-driven restrictions would be lifted, why did they wait for this to happen before rebuilding their recruitment strategies? This resulted in many companies trying to hire the same talent at the same time.

He then gave key talent data.

  • White men have had the most trouble coming back to the workforce. This is due in part to a shortened life expectancy, accelerated by drugs and suicide.
  • Women and African American labor force participation is higher than before the pandemic.
  • Hourly, frontline worker quit rates have doubled since pandemic.
  • Just 7% of employers have vacancies extending more than one month, meaning 93% are quickly filling vacancies.

The duo’s next segment addressed recent layoffs. Clark first told the story of McDonalds sending their workers home and later notifying them if they were going to be terminated—or not. The questions addressed included: Was this the wrong move? Is such an approach the aftermath of remote work?

Dr. Cappelli made the argument that this wasn’t an off-the-wall idea and today, some of the support and outplacement assistance that was once present is missing. He thought positively about this tactic eliminating the “walk of shame” for those terminated.

The audience was very involved with the discussion, as several members stood and offered their views. One attendee was appalled by the execution of the layoffs and didn’t think this method ensured people were treated with dignity and respect.

Dr. Cappelli thought that the tech companies behind many recent layoffs are being led by first time leaders who don’t know much about HR. In fact, 32% of today’s CEOS are engineers, he said, who have never undergone management development training and view people as liabilities rather than assets.

Clark concluded this portion with a quote by Jack Welch, “Treat them better on the way out than on the way in,” to which he insisted leaders keep the human in human resources.


Pay Transparency – Gianna Driver

Gianna Driver, chief human resources officer at Exabeam, led a discussion on pay transparency with a list of approaches that both worked—and didn’t—for her company on its journey to eliminating pay disparities, mainly among Black and Latino women.

Driver said that her company first completed a comprehensive study to scope how their existing efforts stacked up against their pay equity goals and from there, created five steps that would ensure compliance while also managing employee inquiries and concerns. These steps included the following.

  1. Establishing compensation philosophy.
  2. Ensuring employees were leveled.
  3. Benchmarking all employees.
  4. Creating pay bands for all roles, job families, and geographics.
  5. Performing a pay equity audit and reporting results.

The company also realized that their human resources information system (HRIS) was crippling, and they didn’t have a great compensation tool. So, they then invested in technology and manager education.

She further asserted that pay equity conversations are almost always about learning and development and encouraged attendees to lead with transparency to build trust, loyalty, and engagement. She also urged leaders to lean into difficult conversations and adopt a growth mindset.

Driver closed with a very important note that the audience overwhelmingly agreed with—never issue a pay deduction when addressing pay disparities!


Employee Volunteerism and ESG – Camye Mackey

Camye Mackey, executive vice president and chief people, diversity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks, hosted a popular Think Tank and shared that 53% of employees want their organization to take action on issues that they care about. But traditionally, she said, HR stayed out of social and political issues. However, in recent years the department’s silence was no longer golden.

At her company, she saw that economic empowerment and food insecurity were two topics that employees cared most about, in addition to education and healthcare. Because of this, Mackey carved out areas that seamlessly aligned with company values and decided to provide resources to said areas. She also changed policies to give team members the opportunity to provide personal support by volunteering and allotted PTO hours for them to do so.

This inspired the company’s internal brand, “True to You,” with the purpose of fostering growth, development, involvement, and celebration.

These are some of the initiatives that the HR team created to make the company a fixture in the Atlanta community.

  • Transformed the State Farm Arena into a voting precinct to help with economic empowerment.
  • Became the first zero-waste arena.
  • Partnered with State Farm sponsors to provide free meals to the community.
  • Built 27 youth basketball courts.
  • Aligned the DEI and HR departments to build talent pipelines through historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).


Wage Inflation and Current Talent Economy – Angela Montemarano 

Angela Montemarano started the Think Tank with a two-part question: Why is the workforce experiencing wage inflation and why can’t companies find the right talent? In answering this, she said leaders should consider the important factors when looking both internally and externally for candidates and then answer these questions.

  • Internally: Am I looking at current employees? Can they fill talent gaps?
  • Externally: Why is talent leaving? Why do they want to go elsewhere?

Internal Hiring 

Montemarano held internal hiring as most important and urged leaders to take a strong look at their internal structure. Talent doesn’t leave if an organization is doing things right, she said. So, leaders must provide employees with a great all-around package that includes a good salary, medical benefits, pension, work-life balance, and more.

At her own company, a few key positions needed to be filled and once company data was run, she found current employees who qualified for those roles. The internal candidates were then upskilled through training and were supported by leaders in obtaining necessary credentials.

External Hiring 

After noticing heightened attrition, Montemarano found that managers were not onboarding properly or making new hires feel comfortable. This left employees confused and she encouraged attendees to learn how to engage candidates to feel part of an organization and to be excited to work for the company.

Though internal mobility is extremely important, she noted that one of the best things her company ever did was bring in interns. After advertising to schools and building a successful talent pipeline, 85% of interns became full-time employees.


CHRO Panel – Charmelle Jackson and Betzy Estrada

Charmelle Jackson, vice president of human resources for the Pittsburgh Foundation, and Betzy Estrada, chief human resources officer and executive vice president for Urovant, shared a day in the life of leading companies with remote capabilities.

For Estrada, whose workforce is 60% customer-facing and the remainder being remote, her primary focus has been redefining the workplace, connecting employees, and driving results by implementing the three Cs—communication, celebration, and collaboration. With this mindset, she’s been able to reach a broader pool of candidates, allow for greater flexibility, and launch resources to better support employees.

Jackson instituted quarterly DEI trainings for staff surrounding worldly issues like racial injustice and used office time to facilitate these collaborative efforts. Her intention was to hold herself and her team responsible for equitable decision-making, she said, which went on to reduce retention.

Estrada added that one of the biggest benefits to having a remote working model is the ability to hire people with mobility-prohibiting disabilities, giving them the opportunity to start a career and support themselves. She attributed this to being one of the key reasons for Urovant growing six times its size during the pandemic.

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