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Diversity in the Workplace: Rethinking ERGs

What’s working and what’s not with diversity in the workplace. Do ERGs offer the kind of visibility that leads to career success? A must read.

In a recent conversation at an iconic Miami bookstore, the head of diversity at a large financial organization complained of the low level of attendance at the events put together by her Women’s Network. “It doesn’t matter what time or day of the week we do it, we can’t get over twenty five people. The largest attendance we’ve had recently was about forty people who showed up for a Yoga class,” she reported.

Diversity in the workplace and Career Success

Diversity in the workplace and Career Success

Unfortunately, it’s a complaint I’ve been hearing all too often. It begs the question: Have the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), also known as Business Resource Groups (BRGs), Affinity Groups, Employee Networks, Diversity Councils, and so on, outlived their purpose?  Or is it that their members can’t see the value proposition so clearly anymore because some of these groups have been slow to adjust to the new needs of diversity in the workplace?

Diversity in the workplace: What’s working and what’s not

Here’s what I think is happening. Many of the ERGs were started to provide a platform for people with diverse backgrounds to share their experience in corporations where they were in the minority. They offered a space to network and gain a certain amount of visibility within the organization.  In companies where the groups afford opportunities to get noticed and potentially land sought-after positions, the ERGs are doing well. But in organizations that offer limited occasions for members to gain the kind of visibility that leads to career success, members quickly lose interest. In addition, when a specific demographic—such as women— reaches a large percentage of a company’s employee roster yet the percentage at the highest-ranking levels remains unchanged, frustration sets in and engagement and participation drop substantially.

In the last few years there’s been a shift towards Business Resource Groups (BRGs) as a way to refocus ERGs into bringing measurable value to their organizations and their membership. They were repurposed to help marketing identify potential consumer segments where various BRGs might have specific insights, to help develop products, and to participate more actively in increasing diversity in the workplace whether that entails helping recruit diverse talent or expand supplier diversity. Many BRGs currently make a major impact in their companies while at the same time offering a seat at the table to their most active members. (Needless to say that these groups have no problem driving attendance to their events.)  On the other hand, those ERGs whose goals haven’t yet aligned with the career success of their members and the bottom line of their companies have seen their membership interest wane and their budgets cut.

What can you do to bring the groove back to your ERGs? Diversity in the workplace at its best

There’s no magic formula to increase engagement in your ERGs or attendance at the events they organize, but there are a few things that seem to work well for many organizations

  1. Get senior executives to sponsor the group and to show up and STAY at the events. It sends a poor signal when executives give the opening remarks and then leave. If you have to schedule your events around your sponsor, so be it.
  2. Invite executives from various areas of the company to your events so your members can network with them. It makes your occasion that much more attractive when members know they’ll be able to mingle with higher ups.

    Diversity in the workplace and its relationship to career success

    Diversity in the workplace and its relationship to career success

  3. If your ERGs haven’t yet set goals beyond networking, guide them through the process. What other value can they offer to their members in terms of career success? How can the ERG open doors to diverse talent? How can they impact the company’s bottom line? How will they measure their achievements?
  4. Seek partnerships with ERGs of other companies in your industry or in complimentary ones. In recent years, cities like Chicago and New York have seen the emergence of strong coalitions of ERGs (such as the Latino Networks Coalition) that work together to achieve common goals such as increasing the number of students in STEM or improving partnerships between financial corporations and the education system. In addition, these coalitions leverage each other’s distribution list to drive higher attendance to their events.
  5. Link the goals and outcomes of your ERGs to the overall goals of your company to make them more attractive (and indispensable) for all stakeholders.

So if you’re seeking to increase the career success of your diverse talent you might want to rethink the value that your BRGs are offering to its members. Answering these questions might help you pinpoint trouble areas: Do the BRGs offer enough visibility opportunities for its most active members? Are they really valued within the organization at large? Are they working as isolated silos or are they cooperating with other BRGs within your organization and outside of it? Are they ROI driven?

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended?

How does discrimination in the workplace manifest itself and what can you do to change any subconscious discrimination that may be at play?

Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

By Mariela Dabbah

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended? Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

Discrimination in the Workplace: Deliberate or unintended?

The latest flurry of women being named to high positions is welcome news.

In the last few months we’ve seen Janet Yellen become chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, Mary Barra take the helm as the first female CEO of GM, and Melissa Mark-Viverito step in as Speaker of the New York City Council. Unfortunately, this great news has a seldom-discussed downside. It creates the illusion that there’s no longer need for companies and organizations to make an effort to address discrimination in the workplace. That opportunities to rise to the top jobs are available to everyone regardless of gender or background. That you only need to want the job badly enough to get it.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable?

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play? Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play?

A recent study by Catalyst confirmed that feeling like the “other” at work eventually impacts an individual’s behavior. It begins with a real lack of access for people who feel racially/ethnically different. For example, people who feel different than others at work are assigned less senior-level mentors than those who don’t feel different. (58% of women who felt racially/ethnically different had mentors who were CEO’s or senior executives, as compared to 71% of women and 77% of men who didn’t feel different.) Chances to get plum assignments diminish when someone lacks senior-level mentors who can offer opportunities, and the likelihood of career advancement decreases as well.  Over time, people who feel different than their work colleagues start downsizing their career aspirations. In general, women are more likely than men to downsize their aspirations (35% compared to 21%), but this difference is even larger for women who feel racially/ethnically different (46%) and even more pronounced for those with multiple dimensions of “otherness,” (for example, a Hispanic woman.) In addition, being a mother resulted in the downsizing of career aspirations being even more pronounced.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable? Read all about it!! Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

Is discrimination in the workplace unavoidable?

So what might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead (seek senior-level mentors who can become sponsors, for example) is in reality something different. Catalyst’s report concludes that fewer opportunities for those with multiple dimensions of “otherness” may be what’s harming their aspirations. In other words, an organization’s lack of mechanisms and strategies to guarantee that every high potential has equal access to a successful career track is what’s failing, not the lack of employees’ aspirations.

Not surprisingly, the report showed that women who felt racially/ethnically different were least likely to be at senior executive or CEO level in their organizations (10%, compared with 16% of women who didn’t feel different.)

What can you do to change any subconscious discrimination in the workplace that may be at play?

As someone looking for change, whether an HR practitioner or a professional woman feeling the impact of this reality, there are several things you can do.

1. Start by asking questions:

How are mentors matched with high potentials?

How can your company ensure access to high-level sponsors for all high potentials?

Are your ERGs leveling the playing field for people who feel as “others” or are they unknowingly  perpetuating discrimination in the workplace?

Are there effective metrics in place to track the progress of all high potentials, including those with multiple dimensions of diversity?

2. Print Catalyst’s report and bring it to work. Compare your numbers with those in the study. Organize rounds of candid conversations with all stakeholders to review and change any policies that negatively impact the career opportunities of your talent.

What might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead is in reality something different. Don't miss out. Revealing new research from Catalyst and insightful analysis by our very own, Mariela Dabbah.

What might be interpreted as self-discrimination in the workplace due to a lack of knowledge of what’s needed to move ahead is in reality something different.

3. Implement an experiential program where those in the majority get to feel “other” for a little while. Nothing like a personal experience to change people. For example, if you’re in a white male dominant company, send groups of two or three men to different multicultural women’s conferences. Or if the majority speaks English only, sit them in front of a Spanish comedy for an hour surrounded by Spanish speakers without the chance to change the channel.

These findings are not new. We’ve been discussing for decades the fact that people with diverse backgrounds (women more than men) have a harder time moving up the career ladder than their Anglo Saxon counterparts. This report gives us all reason to do our part to shake things up right now. Let’s not stay on the sidelines. Let’s take center stage and get it done.