4 Industry Leaders Share Their Key Takeaways from Talent Connect 2019

October 17, 2019

There was lots to chew on at Talent Connect 2019 — tasty tidbits from the 47 breakout sessions, nuggets of wisdom from the stellar keynote speakers, and choice morsels from the inLounge and product demonstrations. It was a lot to digest.

So, we turned to a quartet of longtime Talent Connect participants to find out what the major takeaway of the conference was for each of them. Glen Cathey, Dawn Burke, Lars Schmidt, and Ed Nathanson are all leaders in the talent acquisition/HR space and all gave highly engaging breakout talks at the conference.

Here are their chief takeaways:

1. Employees need to embrace what makes them different, while companies need to make sure people feel safe being themselves

Sourcing and hiring guru Glen Cathey sees an important link between the keynote messages of Peabody Award–winning NBC correspondent Mariana Atencio and former First Lady Michelle Obama — together, he says, they made a forceful case that diversity and inclusion will take flight only when people have a sense of belonging.

“During Mariana’s talk,” Glen says, “she pointed out that ‘what makes you different can make you successful,’ and she encouraged people to push back against the pressure to conform to the norm.” Not fitting the norm — whatever that is — gives you a competitive edge, Mariana said.

“However,” Glen says, “when Michelle Obama powerfully observed that ‘authenticity starts with liking yourself,’ it made me think about how companies without truly inclusive cultures can leave employees feeling like they don’t belong, which will lead them to question the value of their differences.”

Glen notes that Mariana’s advice to embrace your differences can fall flat in places that make it difficult to like yourself. “On the one hand,” he says, “people need to embrace what makes them different from others and confidently push back against workplace pressures to conform. On the other hand, companies need to create environments in which employees can feel safe bringing their authentic selves to work. Ultimately, one without the other diminishes the benefits of workplace diversity.”

2. People with equal talent should have equal opportunity

Dawn Burke, the founder of Dawn Burke HR, speaks widely on workplace culture and new HR practices. “One theme,” Dawn says, “stood out to me the most: engaging the every(wo)man.”

Dawn links that notion to the keynote address of LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner: “As Jeff said, ‘People with equal talent should have equal access to opportunity.’”

For Dawn, that idea resonates strongly. “Everyone with similar talents,” she says, “regardless of education, professional pedigree, or socioeconomic class, should have an equal shot at landing great jobs. I love this. It’s just smart business.”  

Dawn was most excited about the Plus One Pledge initiative that Jeff introduced in his keynote, in which he noted that where a person grows up, where they go to school, and where they land their first job can give them profound advantages in building a network. The Plus One Pledge aims to offset those factors by giving people with weaker networks access to others with stronger networks.

“Along the lines of my ‘engage the every(wo)man’ theme,” Dawn says, “the Plus One Pledge is an effort to get all of us to connect with one person outside of our professional networks to help them create their own network. If this takes off, it could really prove that the power of individual influence is extraordinary.”

3. HR decisions need to be rooted in what’s right for employees while making sense for the business

Lars Schmidt is the founder of Amplify and the host of the 21st Century HR podcast. And it’s pretty clear who he’s going to be trying to wrangle for an upcoming show.

“For me,” Lars says, “the big takeaway was the talk by Patagonia CHRO Dean Carter — I’m still thinking about it two weeks later. Dean’s an incredible leader whose passion for his job, team, and Patagonia is palpable. He shared stories that married values, data, and impact.”

In his keynote, Dean touched upon some of the ways that Patagonia lives its mission (“We’re in business to save our home planet”) and its values — from having an employee handbook entitled “Let My People Go Surfing” to a bail-paying policy that covers employees arrested for protesting on behalf of the environment, from donating 1% of global sales to grassroots environmental groups to providing onsite childcare (“children are Patagonia’s best product,” Dean told the audience).

“His thinking and priorities,” Lars says, “were rooted in doing what’s right by your employees, while also making sense for the business. By the end of Dean’s session, I really wanted to go surfing with him and buy some new Patagonia gear just to support a business that truly lives its values.”

4. Attitudes and perspectives matter

The ever-exuberant Ed Nathanson, founder of the TA consultancy Red Pill Talent, is a veteran of nine Talent Connects. So, maybe it’s natural that his biggest takeaway is something he already knew “but needed to be reminded of,” and that is that “attitudes and perspectives matter.”

Ed applauds Talent Connect keynoter Cynthia Marshall, the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise, as an incredible example of someone whose attitude and perspective have not only invigorated her organization but galvanized her Talent Connect audience as well. In her talk, Cynthia outlined the steps she and the Mavericks took after she was brought in to clean up a toxic workplace culture.

Ed also cited Dean Carter as someone who drove home the importance of perspective (if we give childcare to our teams, we can close the gender pay gap) and attitude  (“Let My People Go Surfing”).

“I had already been thinking,” Ed says, “about getting away from machines and tools and data (god help anyone who makes decisions on my career based off numbers from a survey or a spreadsheet). Seeing examples like these and many more, really made me appreciate something I already knew but needed to be told again.”

To watch — or rewatch — some of the best keynotes, breakout sessions, and studio interviews from Talent Connect 2019, click here. If you like what you see, make plans to join us in Boston next October 14 to 16 at Talent Connect 2020.

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.