“You Went to Naples…for a Conference?” Yes. We. Did.
How do you revive your enthusiasm for work? For some, it’s taking a much-needed vacation to reset and relax. Others refresh and reboot by traveling to conferences, learning trends, and interacting with their peers. What happens when vacation, relaxation, education, and connecting with your peers wrap into one two-and-a-half-day conference? I call that kismet. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I can say that our 2019 Annual Meeting & Conference was just what the doctor ordered for over 300 HR professionals from across the country. From our first-ever DE Talk, to the many breakout sessions featuring Member initiatives and case studies, I can honestly say our attendees worked hard and played even harder, following up each evening with networking events and even a ‘Beach Party in Parrot-ise.’ Let’s “dive” in!
— PEAT (@PEATWorks) May 15, 2019
The conference kicked off with a variety of association updates, one of which being the passing of the board of directors’ president position from Paul White of Mohawk Industries to Rebel Johnson of System Studies & Simulation, Inc. To help commemorate his dedication to the Association, our team surprised Paul by presenting him with this year’s WOW Award. The WOW Award is given in honor of our company’s founder, William O. Warren, and Paul was utterly in shock to have received this award. Next on stage, we welcomed OFCCP Director Craig Leen to discuss his vision for the newer, friendlier, and more transparent OFCCP. He elaborated to say how the agency is committed to expanding equal employment opportunities and eliminating discrimination in the workplace.
We then had a special addition to the DEAM19 agenda, our first DE Talk. This light, yet truly engaging, conversation took place between Director Leen and Haley Moss, Florida’s first practicing lawyer with autism. With deep ties to the disability community, this conversation was candid and truly hit home for so many in the audience. Not only did Haley share insight into her life growing up nonverbal, she and Director Leen connected as he shared his experience as a parent of an autistic child. While their heartwarming conversation had the audience laughing at moments, attendees also learned that meeting one person with autism only represents that one person, not the entire community. During the conversation, Haley stated that:
“Autism has the highest unemployment rate of all disabilities…People tend to generalize about autistic people, without realizing they’re just individuals with different challenges.” She later explained that using terms like “high functioning or low functioning” are not preferred, and suggested that attendees discuss the support needs as they vary per person. Attendees were so engrossed in the conversation that her later concurrent session became a packed house as people came to learn more about the support needs of individuals with disabilities and how to best connect with these talented individuals.
After the initial general sessions, attendees parted ways to attend a variety of breakout sessions for the duration of the day and reconvened in the afternoon for a full-scale course designed for a deep dive into disability inclusion practices facilitated by partners from C5 Consulting, the National Organization on Disability (NOD), and the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). Our disability experts took to the stage to demystify common myths about individuals with disabilities and share situation language and etiquette basics. A quick break later and attendees packed the general session once more to recognize the recipients of this year’s Jennifer Seda, Breakthrough, and Diversity & Inclusion awards, as well as recognize the Ambassadors and Member Mentors who go above and beyond to support their peers throughout the year. Next up, attendees had a brief glimpse into the DE Spotlight series, and what Member, TAD PGS, thought of the experience and how it illustrated their membership journey and successes. Hypnotist, Jack Hirsh, then concluded the day with an interactive presentation, complete with audience participation, hypnosis, laughs, and more, as he encouraged attendees that the time was now for personal change and improvement, if only you set your mind to it.
The first day of the conference culminated with a ‘Beach Party in Parrot-ise’ where attendees dropped the education hat for the day, let loose, and danced the night away dressed to the nines in beach party gear that would make Jimmy Buffett proud. Check out our photos from the event, and I’m sure you’ll agree, it was a good time had by all. With a “lights out” regulation in place due to sea turtle hatching season, 9:00pm marked the end of the beach party, and attendees traveled inside to the DE Serves After Party for pay-to-play games, dancing, and more networking.
Let’s just say 8:00am came quickly, and first up on the stage was one of our favorite DE advocates, Mike Bazinet of Grifols. A huge veteran supporter and brilliant HR strategist, Mike shared a story of how Grifols took a forward look at career site branding after their efforts had grown a little stagnant, and knew that good things were around the corner if they could gain buy-in from senior leaders. Enter Recruit Rooster. With feathers flying, this team developed completely custom recruitment videos and images that represented the Grifols U.S. team and remained true to their European roots, resulting in one phenomenally branded career site. Mike stated that Recruit Rooster brought them, “True partnership and professionalism, an understanding of recruitment and compliance, the ability to listen, effective execution, and a dedication to work with our needs NOT theirs.” Quite the testimony to our amazing team! See their full career site for yourself: https://careers.grifolsplasma.com.
After a discussion on apprenticeships and removing cultural barriers instructed by former EEOC Chair and OFCCP Director, Cari Dominguez, attendees parted ways to attend concurrent sessions focused on OFCCP compliance, recruitment, diversity, and leadership and reconvened for a lively lunch with representatives from a variety of partner organizations and the presentation of the Partner Recognition Award. After two more rounds of concurrent sessions, attendees reunited to hear from Member company, Camping World, on how they built corporate social responsibility programs from the ground up. To conclude the day, J.R. Martinez–actor, bestselling author, motivational speaker, advocate, wounded U.S. Army veteran and winner of Dancing with the Stars Season 13 (wow, that’s quite a reputation!)–took the stage to share his story and how he faced adversity with optimism and resilience. He nailed his impactful keynote, so much so that our attendees lined up to snap a photo and share their connection to his story. I was charged as cell phone photog and it amazed me to see him taking so much time to talk to each attendee, and he did it all with a genuine smile on his face. (Be sure to snag your professional meet & greet photos) A true, inspirational hero through and through!
Disability expert Corinne Weible from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) kicked off our final day and spoke on the important of creating accessible workplace technology and making sure that your “virtual doors” are open to all. This is not only a topic near and dear to our heart as our Recruit Rooster team amps up their accessibility service offering, but something that we strive to do with each of our products as well. The conference then ended with an hour and a half Question and Answer session with employment law experts Candee Chambers and John C. Fox. You read about the changing regulatory landscape in each week’s OFCCP Week In Review (and if you don’t, subscribe now to make sure it’s in your inbox each Monday at 3:00 PM), but this offered attendees the chance to dive in and really have their specific questions heard…all without that pesky billable hour. Each year this is one of our most highly attended sessions, and for good reason. It’s not often that you can create an open dialogue with brilliant compliance minds like these two have!
We’re still buzzing from the energy, sunny skies, and entire conference experience while in Naples. If you were unable to join us, you definitely missed out on a conference like none other, but there’s always next year (hint: register for Ft. Worth now and get it in this year’s budget to save!). Until then, be sure to check out the presentations you may have missed in DE Connect, and consider submitting a speaking proposal for next year’s conference lineup.
Jaime Costilow is the Director of Marketing for DirectEmployers Association.