Affinity Groups, Psychological Safety, and Inclusion

Dig into project-based learning, self-directed learning, and voice and choice, and you’ll find psychological safety at the heart. Dig into privilege, and find psychological safety. Dig into creative teams, affinity groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Business Resource Groups (BRGs), and Employee Networks (ENs), and find psychological safety.

Psychological safety is necessary to building creative, collaborative teams. We’re learning that in the industries I inhabit, and I see that same learning happening in the self-directed learning space. Students and workers don’t want to leave their real lives at home. They want to design for their real lives–in psychological safety.

At Automattic, we have chat channels and blogs for and by employees belonging to various identity groups. I hang out in our neurodiversity, bluehackers, and over 40 channels, as well as our inclusion channel. I participate on our D&I blog where we talk about making our company more inclusive and compassionate, about designing for the real lives of our employees, our customers, and the full spectrum of humanity. These channels and blogs are distributed ERGs. They are affinity groups where we can share in psychological safety amongst those who understand–and influence our companies and industries.

Kids at school need the same thing. They need identity, tribe, and voice. Kids should be treated at least as well as adults on creative teams. They should have the psychological safety afforded creatives. Kids are nucleation sites of creation when we provide them psychological safety and welcoming tribes who understand their lived experience—and then get out of the way.

Communication is oxygen. Provide the atmosphere, connect tribes, let affinity groups and self-organizing teams develop, and watch students thrive and create.

Cultural competence is a business imperative that can no longer be ignored and employee resource groups must serve as the engine to make us all smarter about the future that awaits.

Source: 7 Ways to Enable Your Employee Resource Groups into a Powerful Advancement Platform

At AT&T, having “a true culture of inclusion where every voice matters” is one of the reasons the company has been so successful in its diversity and inclusion initiatives, says Cynthia Marshall, senior vice president, human resources and chief diversity officer. Over the past decade, the company has created a dozen employee resource groups (ERGs) and employee networks (ENs). ERGs are nonprofit groups that provide support, advocacy, education, mentoring, and more to groups such as women, generations, military veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBT community. ENs are more informal, typically focus on business or professional development issues, and are developed with cross-functional diversity as a priority.

These employee groups provide forums for people with common interests to connect, but that’s not all. “We have people that come in and want to know more about different cultures, so they’ll join that particular ERG and expand their knowledge,” Marshall says.

They help people feel comfortable and heard, and also give other employees the opportunity to learn more about people who are different than they are. In addition, leadership involvement in these groups helps employees find role models and mentors. Marshall says that leadership involvement and behavior modeling is an essential component of an inclusive culture.

Source: How These Top Companies Are Getting Inclusion Right | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

As a result, more companies are leveraging their workforces to reach diverse customers and communities. One way they are doing this is through the innovative use of employee resource groups (ERGs)—voluntary, employee-led groups made up of individuals who join together based on common interests, backgrounds or demographic factors such as gender, race or ethnicity.

That experience motivated me to conduct my own research. I discovered that more than half of the companies with fully developed diversity strategies use their ERGs to improve the business in three ways:

  • First, they make sure employees have an opportunity to be heard, valued and engaged.
  • Second, they gain a better understanding of who their customers are.
  • Last but not least, they get insight on business performance, because smart companies understand that if they don’t grow, they won’t be around very long.

More than 70 percent of the organizations I studied relied on their ERGs to build a workforce that reflected the demographics of their customer base; the thinking was that customers would be more loyal and would feel more comfortable if they did business with people who understand them. Almost 30 percent got assistance from their employee resource groups to increase the organization’s spend with diverse suppliers.

At 90 percent of the companies I examined, ERG members helped new employees to get comfortable during the onboarding process. Studies show that the first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves the organization before the year is out. ERGs can be leveraged to acclimate employees and engender a sense of loyalty and belonging to their new company.

These groups can also be great partners for identifying gaps in an organization’s talent development process. Sixty-three percent of the companies I surveyed have an employee resource group focused on young professionals. Given how fickle Millennial employees can be when it comes to staying at a job, giving them a forum to network and grow is a great way to reduce turnover rates.

Many companies also successfully use their ERGs to improve the organization’s leadership development process, to drive results, to forge relationships, and to ensure alignment between their business and diversity strategies.

The data clearly suggest that employee resource groups are not only good for business—they are essential!

Source: Are Employee Resource Groups Good for Business?

Increasingly, the roles and responsibilities of employee resource groups (ERGs) in organizations must transition from social networks to think-tank type groups that directly impact the business.  The changing face of America’s workforce demands it.  It is an opportunity that will allow the voices of employees to be heard and the power of diverse thinking to influence the new ground-rules that will define the workplace of the future; its workforce, clients and consumers.    Employee resource groups that serve only as social networks will do little to strengthen the voices and identities of those who must represent the leadership of America’s future.

For ERGs to transition into think-tank type groups requires consistent participation, with active members that remain engaged to advance its mission to impact the business.  In many companies, ERGs are being forced to redefine their “engagement model” in order to recruit and retain long-term volunteer participation that is purposeful and that rewards employees for their efforts – by helping them advance their careers, develop their leadership skills, and gain greater visibility with and access to senior executives so that they can get discovered.

ERGs must become smarter about defining what they are ultimately trying to accomplish for themselves and the business, and then create a metric to enforce accountability to assure their objectives are being measured and attained.   ERGs are only as effective as the overall commitment of their members and the incremental benefits they receive for their participation.   ERGs must view themselves as a formidable advancement platform for talent and business development activity.  They must be focused on defining a value proposition that is more strategically aligned to seeing and seizing business innovation and growth opportunities that are directly related to one’s cultural, gender, sexual-orientation and societal identity.  ERGs must become more deliberate in how to enable unique thinking into different points of view and perspectives that translate into solutions to meet corporate growth objectives and initiatives across channels, brands and business units.

Cultural competence is a business imperative that can no longer be ignored and employee resource groups must serve as the engine to make us all smarter about the future that awaits.

Source: 7 Ways to Enable Your Employee Resource Groups into a Powerful Advancement Platform

Many of our readers here know that leading an Employee Resource Group also means stretching beyond what’s comfortable, on multiple, frequent levels.

But I have seen firsthand the stories of people identifying as LGBT or working in support of LGBT equality at work – who have emerged in their companies as stronger leaders as a result of that work. I have seen this occur over and over; it has in fact happened to me, and transformed my leadership skills and style. I have come to embrace the challenges I’ve faced – both real and perceived – as a gift which shaped the uniqueness with which I show up in the world. Some of my inspiring colleagues took their own quantum leap by coming out in the workplace, while others began their transformation or connected the dots in one of our programs. As a result, many managers of these individuals are seeing their leadership show up differently. Our hope is more and more leaders are able to align their diversity story with their leadership journey. This would go a long way towards building more inclusive workplaces.

In our keynotes and workshops, we provide tools, techniques, and a trusting environment in which LGBTA employees can find their individual voice in ERGs at work and, as they do, in their role as leaders in those ERGs and in the company at large.

ERGs are workplace teams, and leading them means being able to feel confident, the way Scott did, or communicate the way Benjamin did. Openness about one’s diversity story empowers others, provides role models and is a universal leveler in which the common denominator is not only one’s humanity but also one’s strength and ability to guide others and act in an informed, constructive way.

Source: Aligning With Our Own Diversity Story Makes Us Better Leaders | Diversity Best Practices

Tolanda Tolbert, PhD, Director of the Inclusive Leadership Initiative of the Catalyst Group, responded with a fascinating idea. She points to Employee Resource Groups, (ERGs) the voluntary, employee-led organizations that typically work to smooth the way for their members, but which have been increasingly tackling the thornier issues of race, inclusion and justice in their companies and communities.

“We would suggest that the work that most ERGs do could be leveraged to create a space where the targeted communities and the authorities could meet and have a dialog,” she says, referring to the police and aggrieved activists in Charlotte. “We could also see ERGs functioning as advisors to either side of this conversation-working as a bridge to communication,” she says.

Tolbert, who studies and consults with ERGs as part of her job, thinks they can grow into a management force for change. “For example, imagine that situation with Arizona passing discriminatory laws,” she says. “We could see an ERG telling their leadership not to have their annual conference in a location, or to stop sponsorship of an event.”

Source: Charlotte Violence: How Employees Can Make A Difference | Fortune.com

Our employees are a bridge to our customers. So it’s important that they feel encouraged to contribute their unique insight and skills to help solve some of the most complex technology challenges. We support seven major employee groups and over 40 employee networks that help us build a supportive community across Microsoft.

Source: Global Diversity and Inclusion Home

Enrichment occurs when our workplace participation leaves us energized instead of exhausted, enhances our personal identity rather than diminishes it, and provides us with skills and tools that will help us not only survive but thrive in our lives outside of work.

So how can organizations help support work-life enrichment for their employees? I reflect on that question often as I work with the organizations in our Boston College Workforce Roundtable and consider how they can enhance their employees’ work experience. In a presentation at our recent Roundtable Spring Meeting, we heard from Jennifer Brown, Founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, a thought leader on Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). She discussed the progression of these employee networks from their origins as “affinity groups” for diverse employees, helping people connect with like others. She then highlighted the on-going transformation of these networks to Business Resource Groups (BRGs). BRGs are the new trend in employee networks, and are highly connected to organizational strategy and defined business goals. ERGs or BRGs can assist with recruiting new employees of diverse backgrounds, developing and marketing products and services to an increasingly diverse marketplace, and providing opportunities for professional growth and advancement for participants.

The evolution of these employee networks offer meaningful opportunities for employees to network, grow, learn and be energized by their experiences. In short, they can promote work-life enrichment.

While the benefits of participating in an ERG transcend the relationships formed, the message that resonated with me most was employers affording employees an opportunity to connect with others, not necessarily of similar backgrounds, but with similar interests. I realized how important making those personal and professional connections has been to me and my own job satisfaction, and recalled the research from Gallup and others on the importance of having “friends” and close colleagues at work.

Participating in an ERG can be one way to enhance the employee experience. By connecting with others, developing relationships and leadership skills, and contributing back to the community, employees may be energized and feel a greater sense of alliance with the organization. Beyond their original intent to catalyze organizational diversity, today ERGs have the potential to foster work-life enrichment and therefore become a worthwhile investment for the company as a whole.

Source: Employee Resource Groups and Work-Life Enrichment | Jennifer Sabatini Fraone | Pulse | LinkedIn

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have existed in organizations for more than 40 years. In the past 5 years, however, ERGs have evolved from networking groups that promote diversity and inclusion to become key contributors to business strategy and operations. In our current global economy, multicultural competency and understanding is critical for business success. ERGs can utilize employee knowledge and expertise for talent management (recruitment/retention of diverse employees); to create culturally sensitive product development, marketing, and customer service as well as supplier diversity; and for building an inclusive and engaged workforce. ERGs are known by various names including affinity groups, employee networks and diversity councils. DiversityInc found that organizations often use the word “resource” to reflect the benefits of ERGs to the business mission, approach and outcomes. Welbourne, Rolf & Schlachter (2015) suggest that the term “business resource group” will be used more in the future to emphasize the benefits of ERGs to both employees and organizations.

The ERGs with the most traction and interest tend to be those ERGs that are closely linked to business strategy. When employees perceive their efforts to as directly impacting business outcomes, they are more likely to get involved (Mercer, 2011).

Employee Resource Groups have evolved from employee support networks created to achieve diversity and inclusion to a strategic resources that enhances business outcomes in the following areas:

  1. Involve employees in recruitment and talent management efforts
  2. Offer leadership development and mentoring opportunities
  3. Capitalize on the knowledge of diverse employees to create consumer sensitive branding and product development
  4. Create an engaged and inclusive work environment
  5. Promote your organization as an employer of choice and community partner

Source: Employee Resource Groups: A Strategic Business Resource for Today’s Workplace

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