Former President Bill Clinton to headline SHRM conference

Clinton was tapped for his work on the FMLA and job growth during his administration, SHRM says.
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Former President Clinton is set to speak at the Society of Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual conference next month, drawing criticism from some HR pros on social media.

SHRM spokesperson Eddie Burke told HR Brew that Clinton’s appearance was aligned with the purpose of the conference.

“President Clinton was invited as a speaker because his experience as a two-term president, global philanthropist, and humanitarian gives him a unique perspective that is highly relevant to our conference attendees,” Burke wrote in an email. “Specifically, the country experienced job growth under his administration and he signed into law the FMLA 30 years ago, an especially significant piece of workplace legislation.”

Some 18.6 million jobs were created during Clinton’s two terms, according to a Statista analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

In 1993, Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act into law, allowing workers for companies with more than 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a new child, address a serious health condition, or care for an ailing relative, without the risk of job loss. Washington earlier this year celebrated the legislation’s 30th anniversary.

But the decision has elicited some ire on social media, where some people are objecting to his appearance at the annual conference because of the scandal involving then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s.

“What he did while he was in office…the imbalance of power, and she was a young intern, and how it was handled. From an HR standpoint…it just makes me cringe,” Jamie Jackson, an HR social media creator who runs the popular Humorous Resources and Horrendous HR accounts, told HR Brew.

Jackson posted on the Horrendous HR Instagram account that Clinton’s involvement in a relationship with Lewinsky—who worked for him—made him an odd choice to speak at a conference of professionals whose work might be directly related to navigating manager-subordinate romantic relationships in the workplace.

“I know it’s years and years later, but you just can’t forget something like that,” Jackson said. “I think it’s kind of gross, to be honest. I think it’s very tone deaf of SHRM.”

Jackson said there are other HR leaders—women, but also men “who’ve gotten it right”—who would be more appropriate to keynote a conference like this.

“Our invitation for President Clinton to speak at our conference is not an endorsement of all of his past actions or policies while in office, and we recognize that some attendees may not agree with our decision,” Burke told us.

Former President George W. Bush was the conference's keynote speaker last year. And in 2021, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson made an appearance, which drew some criticism for her previous anti-trans comments.

The 2023 SHRM Annual Conference is set for June 11–14 in Las Vegas.

Representatives for President Clinton did not reply to our requests for comment.

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