The Forum on Workplace Inclusion™ began in 1988 as a two-hour video conference for African-American workplace managers. Twenty-six years later it is one of the nation’s largest diversity and inclusion (D&I) conferences with fully half of its 900+ participants being line leaders and managers, not just in HR, but also operations, finance and marketing among others. These leaders participate in Forum discussions because it is the place to learn how to be an inclusive leader; the place to learn how an engaged workforce is a more productive workforce; and the place to learn how to impact the bottom line in a global world through cultural competence.
The Forum staff and committees continually strategize ways of improving the conference experience for participants, speakers and sponsors. It is part of our commitment to continuous improvement and one reason why The Forum isn’t your average conference.
As a convener of leaders, a curator of forward thinking content and an incubator for what’s new and what’s next, The Forum is always looking for what will challenge participants to see and prepare for a different future. For us, if they have their heads buried in the trenches, it’s not enough to help them build a better trench. They need to see the bulldozer coming—in light of bulldozers, trenches are a thing of the past and certainly not where you want to be.
We believe that our participants are the keepers of great knowledge, skill and experience. Their expertise is both broad and deep. It’s why in both concurrent and general sessions we encourage a co-creation process. In the general sessions we set up an environment of openness and allow the participants through the wisdom of the crowd to create answers to some of diversity and inclusion’s toughest questions. In concurrent sessions we embolden our presenters to be facilitators of learning, pulling everyone into the conversation and employing the best adult learning principles to make sure that what is taught sticks with them. This is one more reason why The Forum isn’t an average conference.
Much of diversity and inclusion as it is thought about and practiced in the U.S. is a function of our history and experience, of our unique racial and immigrant past. Most parts of the world have no history or experience like ours and find the things we struggle with incomprehensible. Yet, they do struggle with their own diversity and inclusion issues. That’s why at The Forum we try to bring as many of these non-U.S. voices to the table so our participants can get a global perspective. We believe that other cultures have found answers to their diversity and inclusion issues that might be useful for us in solving ours. Looking through a different lens, from another perspective, we might see ourselves in a unique way we hadn’t before and gain insight into what troubles us and how to bring those troubles to a satisfactory conclusion. The Forum strives to find a global perspective, another reason why it isn’t the average conference.
We live by our commitment to our mission that The Forum inspires and activates a new era of thinking, practice and impact in the diversity and inclusion field by engaging people, advancing ideas, igniting change. We’re a different type of conference and being average just isn’t good enough.
Steve Humerickhouse is executive director of The Forum on Workplace Inclusion™. The 2014 Forum, Breaking New Ground, will take place March 18-20, 2014 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.