Mike Sebring, Head of Inclusion and Diversity, Americas Division for SMBC and Alison Banks-Moore, Chief Diversity Officer at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield discussed their experience building Employee Resources Groups (ERGs) and strategies for growing, promoting and recognizing their value. The difference between an Affinity Group (AG) and an Employee or Business Resource Group (BRG) is the alignment to the business goals, vision, and values.  This evolution requires an organizational maturity. It begins by recognizing the value of a diverse workforce, and the power of inclusion, and evolves into measuring contribution.

Mike shared several examples of alignment of ERGs against the thee pillars, workforce, workplace and marketplace, and their role in revenue generation dubbing it “Return on Inclusion.”  Growing ERGs requires articulating the value from a senior executive’s perspective. In other words, “how to think like a CEO.” He developed the list below to explain how ERGs contribute to the bottom line.

  • A diverse workforce drives economic growth
  • A diverse workforce can capture a greater share of the consumer market.
  • Recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates means a more qualified workforce.
  • A diverse and inclusive workforce helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs.
  • Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce.
  • Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market.

To monetize the benefit, he discussed how an ERG can help revise old products or develop new client relationships. Linda Garza shared an example where the Hispanic ERG at AT&T volunteered to translate marketing material. There is a significant cost savings for hiring new employees when ERGs are used to attract and retain employees.  But the value goes farther, ERGs build employee engagement, provide cultural education, and support innovative ideas through diversity of thought.

Alison classified the program at Horizon as an Affinity Group (AG) evolving into a BRG. Their groups were more social, with a focus towards networking, raising awareness, enlightening colleagues about cultural differences and recognizing the skills of all employees. Their AGs are grassroots, employees need to request them, articulate their benefit to Horizon and explain how they differ from existing AGs. Each AG must complete a Charter with goals including 2 -3 community service projects, 1 – 2 projects in partnership with another AG and participate in the DiversityShowcase, and present at their executive sponsor’s town hall meetings.  AGs should promote collaboration and business goals supporting Horizon’s Healthcare strategy. Each BRG shares their accomplishments and their plan for the next year at an annual meeting with all Affinity Group leader and their executive sponsors which is led by the Chief Diversity Officer. Tracking accomplishments and sharing their successes is important. One example of this was the African American AG partnered with the company’s pharmacy group who developed an opioid awareness training kit and has been delivering the training to a number of local Newark schools. Another partnered with the sales and account management teams in their efforts in increasing enrollment in the Hispanic market.

AG can be formed around any common interest group that supports the business, for example Novartis has a pet owners group, which supports their animal health division. One challenge faced by AGs is how to keep the momentum going. Mike suggested limiting the number of activities scheduled to under 8 per year. Depending on the size of the organization, AGs can be organized locally, regionally and nationally with regular communication to share activities. Alison said that the employees need to strike the balance between work and their AG activities. For hourly employees and remote sites to participate Horizon schedules events at lunchtime, with Web-X options. ERGs are instrumental in shifting culture or the organization to reflect their customer base and create an environment each employee can bring their whole selves to work.

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