SHRM’s annual conference is typically a high-profile showcase for the industry, drawing thousands of attendees from across the U.S. and internationally. When SHRM20 faced cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization decided to replace the event with “a distributed model of content,” publishing much of that content online and offering some exclusively to those who were registered to attend. SHRM was also one of several HR organizations that expanded online certification options last year.

The option for virtual attendance follows the path taken by other HR industry events. ERE held its October 2020 ERE Digital 2.0 event virtually, similar to WorkHuman, which is holding its Workhuman Live Online conference May 4-May 6, 2021. SHRM21 is also one of several events scheduled to be held in-person at the Las Vegas Convention Center later this year.

SHRM is implementing its health and safety plan for the event “in lockstep” with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Bosley said, and the organizations are “keeping a close eye on trends in cases and vaccine availability.”

It’s the same location used for SHRM’s most recent annual conference, SHRM19, but the societal moment surrounding the two events could not be more different. At SHRM19, SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor noted that HR faced “a perfect storm” of conditions, including a competitive talent market and thriving U.S. economy that was encouraging employers to expand their talent pools to include more diverse applicants demographics.

Months later, the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and a widespread reckoning with systemic racism in the U.S. upended the lives of workers and the operations of employers alike. SHRM itself became part of the discourse last year when HR leaders, some of whom had once been part of the organization, criticized its response to George Floyd’s killing. More than 8,000 stakeholders signed a petition requesting SHRM support the Black Lives Matter movement as well as protections for LGBTQ employees.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts will be included in the list of topics addressed by SHRM21’s workshops and educational sessions, Jeaneen Andrews-Feldman, chief marketing and experience officer at SHRM, said in the statement; “With a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial inequity, HR professionals have worked tirelessly to help their organizations navigate these overlapping crises.”