The concept of employee resource groups (ERGs) was first developed in the 1960s in response to the civil rights movement and racial segregation in the workplace, with the first official ERG being founded at Xerox in 1970. ERGs, also known as affinity groups, have since become a best practice for supporting underrepresented employees and promoting multiculturalism in the corporate world and beyond.
Typically led by employees, ERGs help foster a more inclusive workplace and can offer tremendous value by identifying challenges and developing solutions, providing feedback on new concepts, and helping employers learn more about their customers. The following are some examples of innovative corporate ERGs that have succeeded in each of these areas and more.
U.S. Disability ERG
Accenture is a multinational professional services company specializing in technology, strategy and consulting, and more across 40 industries. The Accenture U.S. Disability ERG drives the firm’s inclusion and diversity efforts by empowering and educating individuals with visible and invisible disabilities, as well as their caregivers, colleagues, and associates.
The ERG has launched a number of specialized initiatives and programs, including Walk in My Shoes, a monthly “lunch and learn” series where Accenture employees at all levels share insights and personal stories of colleagues or family members who have disabilities. Walk in My Shoes has increased awareness on disability inclusion, autism, autoimmune diseases, mental health, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, how to care for others and oneself, and more.
The ERG also created the Mental Health Allies program. Allies are Accenture employees who volunteer to serve as non-judgmental ambassadors and provide support and resources for colleagues on mental health. They are not psychologists or therapists but are trained in mental health topics and often have experienced a mental health condition themselves.
Another initiative is the Autism Empowerment & Support Group (AE&SG), which offers insights, resources, and support for parents and caretakers of children with autism. Members speak monthly about new innovations in therapies and engage in the “Pulling My Hair Out” series, where they can vent, share stories, and get support from one another.
South Asians in Leadership
Boston Scientific is an international medical technology manufacturer. Its South Asians in Leadership (SAIL) employee network improves access to healthcare for underprivileged communities in India, where the company has a strong base of operations. In 2016, the Massachusetts chapter of SAIL worked with VT Seva, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, to plan for and assist in the launch of two health camps in the communities surrounding the company’s operations in India. These camps allow those living in impoverished areas to gain access to basic health services previously unavailable to them.
Boston Scientific’s African American employee resource group, BRIDGE, provides members with opportunities to enhance their skills and expand their experiences by participating in a wide range of professional development activities, including taking on leadership roles, engaging in recruiting activities, and volunteering in local communities. Its annual signature event, The Global BRIDGE Leadership Conference, gives members high visibility and opportunities for interacting with and learning from company leaders. It also engages Human Resources (HR) leaders in the conference to provide members guidance in areas such as managing a career, leveraging resources, and taking advantage of available mentoring programs.
Millennial Innovation Council
Capgemini is a multinational corporation specializing in consulting, technology services, and digital transformation. Its Millennial Innovation Council (MIC) is the firm’s first ERG to operate with a startup-inspired structure. Roles are clearly established, but members take on evolving responsibilities as the enterprise grows. To incentivize engagement, the ERG offers a member loyalty program that rewards participation and leadership with items such as company swag or luncheons with senior executives.
Over the last two years, MIC has used hackathons to ideate and crowdsource innovative ideas. These events bring together Capgemini employees, partners, clients, students, and business professionals from different companies, industries, and regions of the world to generate ideas and solutions around a problem or opportunity.
The hackathons have had a significant impact on Capgemini’s business. As a direct result of the events, the firm leveraged six global alliance partnerships, sold two global client hackathons, actively engaged with a wide range of industries and sectors, and built stronger relationships with clients, who participate as mentors, judges, hackers, and more. The hackathons also provide an additional revenue source when generated ideas are developed into full-scale applications.
MIC’s unique organizational structure provides employees numerous routes to develop leadership skills and experience. Hackathons have included areas such as social good, “Millennial Disrupt,” and global open banking.
Employee Community Groups
GuideWell is a not-for-profit mutual holding company that is the parent to a family of forward-thinking companies focused on transforming healthcare. In 2016, GuideWell rolled out an initiative to focus on three core principles of their culture — Be Well, Work Well, Guide Well — in an effort to create a healthy, inclusive, respectful, and collaborative workplace. In 2017, some employees shared personal stories of racism in their cities, sparking GuideWell’s leadership to recognize the need for a safe space where employees could impart perspectives and talk openly. A series of discussion forums were planned to facilitate these courageous conversations around sensitive topics.
All GuideWell Communities lead the planning, organizing, and convening of the sessions, which are held about once per quarter. GuideWell’s executives, including the CEO, are very involved and serve as sponsors, facilitators, and panelists; however, the Communities themselves gather input from employees regarding topics, run the discussions, and act as panelists.
The first forum was co-led by GuideWell’s interfaith and South Asian Communities around religion and safety, opening with a message from the CEO, and followed by a panel of senior leaders and Community members facilitating the conversation and answering questions from attendees. Employee feedback was positive, reflecting that people felt heard and that their concerns were validated.
The Communities have since convened additional forums on politics and civility, gender identity and expression, stigma of mental health, lessons from the Holocaust, caregiving, opioid recovery, and more. Sessions are recorded and posted on the company intranet.
RWJBarnabas Health is the largest, most comprehensive health system in New Jersey and the state’s largest private employer. The PROUD (Promoting Respect, Outreach, Understanding and Dignity) business resource group chapters at RWJ University Hospital New Brunswick and RWJ University Hospital Somerset have been in operation five years, but have already had a significant impact on the business of the health system and scope of services and support available to the LGBTQ community in the state of New Jersey.
PROUD advocated for and helped launch the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center, the first and only program of its kind in New Jersey to offer specialized primary healthcare services for the LGBTQ community in a safe, supportive environment. This business resource group understood firsthand that the needs of LGBTQ individuals were not being met in the state, or at RWJBarnabas Health, and that a transgender patient, in particular, faced higher levels of discrimination and disparities in care.
The PROUD chapters were also instrumental in launching a Transgender Family Support Group at the Somerset campus; establishing PROUDLY Me!, a Transgender Support Group at the New Brunswick campus focused on learning, sharing resources, and peer support for transgender and non-binary conforming community members; and creating an LGBTQ Community Advisory Panel that partners with the community and PROUD members to provide input to the hospital and identify needed resources.●
Holly Mendelson is the co-publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article was published in out July/August 2020 issue.