Employee Resource Groups Are a Must-Have to Drive Greater Diversity and Lasting Change

Employee resource groups are affinity groups aimed at creating a sense of community in the workplace, but they can be utilized for so much more—especially as strategic partners in advancing corporate social responsibility and deepening cultural competency.

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Amid the background of the pandemic, acts of violence in the U.S. against Black people brought renewed attention to racial inequities and injustice—and generated a wave of corporate response

At Workday, our leadership reached out to Black @ Workday, one of our company’s 10 employee belonging councils (commonly known as employee resource groups, or ERGs), to gain understanding of the impact on our Black community, and seek advice for communicating support to Black employees experiencing heightened anxiety related to racism-induced stress or trauma. 

From social activities to internal networking, ERGs are affinity groups aimed at creating a sense of community in the workplace. ERGs have a shared interest or common goal, or they center on identity characteristics, such as race, gender, orientation, and more. The first ERG in corporate America focused on Black employees, and since then, ERGs in corporate settings and at Workday include those for military veterans, members of the LGBTQ+ community, parents, and people of color; allies are welcome and encouraged to join, too.

But ERGs can be utilized for so much more, especially as strategic partners in advancing corporate social responsibility and driving innovation through greater belonging and diversity. “These groups are the voices of our communities right now, especially Black and Brown groups,” said Carin Taylor, chief diversity officer at Workday, in a panel discussion hosted by A Great Place to Work for All Now: A Forum on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “They are telling us how they’re feeling and what we need to address for them.”

Probably more than any other company resource, ERGs are in a unique position to deepen cultural competency of an organization, from organizing heritage celebrations to diversifying talent pipelines through community outreach and mentorship programs—all of which ladder up to driving company success and creating a great place to work for all. 

“If you treat these organizations as groups, they will function as groups. They'll be social entities,” said Rosie Cofre, Workday senior diversity and inclusion principal, during the Workday webinar "Supercharge Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy with Employee Resource Groups." “But once you realize they’re critical to the business and you allow them to operate as virtual organizations, they step up, and they deliver.”

That’s especially true in this unprecedented landscape. Companies need a partner to help navigate workforce challenges brought on by the pandemic—and what better partners than ERGs, which are already experts in the challenges experienced by their communities.

“ERGs play two significant roles: They're the voice of the organization to its members, and they're also the voice of their members to the organizations.” 

Liz Valadez Global Community Liaison for Latinx and Senior Program Manager, Strategic Initiatives Workday

Serving as a Thought Partner in Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility is taking on greater importance in our current climate, with many companies proactively stepping up to help their workforces and communities cope with the social and environmental challenges brought on by the pandemic—and ERGs are critical partners in those efforts. 

“Being consulted as a thought partner on a variety of topics is essential for any organization,” said Ashlee Shuler, the Black @ Workday global liaison and Workday senior program manager, belonging and diversity. “As ERG leaders and members, we live and breathe this space and want to make an impact. So it’s encouraging when we are given the opportunity to be asked, ‘What do you think?’ To me, that's critical for any business to tap into groups like ours.”

Take the pandemic’s impact on working parents and caregivers. Many must juggle work at home and online learning for kids and other caregiving and household responsibilities, or else consider a reduced schedule or possibly taking a break from the workforce. 

Families @ Workday, an ERG centered on parents and caregivers, recognized the challenge of tailoring policies to every family experience. The group gathered feedback from parents and caregivers, and those insights helped shape Workday’s new COVID-19 support programs. The contributions from Families @ Workday include a compilation of resources to help our Workmates cope with the impact of the pandemic, and share insights with managers who support team members juggling work and home responsibilities. 

“Given the many challenges we've seen caregivers experience around COVID-19, we really tried to get all perspectives of all family experiences and bring that back to the business,” said Sarah Johal, global liaison for Families @ Workday and senior brand campaign manager in our marketing organization at Workday. “We wanted to create a psychologically safe space to address anxieties, concerns, or questions that people had just to navigate the initial response to working from home, and also help them navigate the unknown.” 

“As ERG leaders and members, we live and breathe this space and want to make an impact. So it’s encouraging when we are given the opportunity to be asked ‘What do you think?’” 

Ashlee Shuler Global Liaision for Black @ Workday and Senior Program Manager, Belonging and Diversity Workday

Advancing Belonging and Diversity in the Organization

The value of ERGs to the business goes far beyond helping to navigate a crisis—they also help drive business change. 

For example, investors and politicians are beginning to hold companies accountable for increasing workplace diversity. ERGs are uniquely positioned to be partners in the efforts to cultivate a diverse executive pipeline. They’re attuned to the needs and experiences of underrepresented groups, and those insights help to develop a career development program that goes beyond traditional skills building and serves as a trusting, safe space. 

That’s the idea behind the mentorship programs DevelUP, created by Black @ Workday, and Elevar, created by the Workday ERG Latinx. Elevar, which means “elevate” in Spanish, is a development program for Latinx ERG members interested in moving into executive leadership. 

“Culturally, Latinx individuals come from a collectivistic culture, and they can struggle at times with how to stand out as individuals,” said Liz Valadez, global community liaison for Latinx and Workday senior program manager on strategic initiatives, during the Workday webinar on ERGs.

Also during the webinar, Cofre added that some Latinx members may not have had readily available guidance from family members and role models to help them maneuver the inner workings of corporate America. “And so the Latinx ERG is very instrumental in making sure not only that these individuals feel Workday is a safe and great place to be, but also that they are going to be successful from the very basic to the more strategic aspects of their career journey.”

As companies look to use data to gain insight and take action to further diversity in the workplace, ERGs can help make those data-driven efforts long lasting. For example, results from data from our Best Workday Survey, which is distributed to our global employees every Friday in Workday, showed the need to develop a career journey program for Asian women at the company. The career journey was created in partnership with our Asian employees, including our Asian ERGs at Workday—the East Asians ERG, KAMPI (Filipino and Pacific Islander), and Dosti (South Asian Friends at Workday)—that specifically address the unique challenges and professional obstacles encountered by Asian women in the workplace.

“We were happy to provide our perspective in ensuring the journey was uniquely focused on Asian culture,” said Mamta Suri, global liaison and Pleasanton chapter lead for Dosti and Workday senior manager, software development applications. “The content we shared was, first of all, to let them know that if our Workmates are having these specific cultural experiences, it's OK, and secondly, to help them actually embrace those differences and think of them as strengths.”

Added Valadez: “ERGs play two significant roles: They're the voice of the organization to its members, and they're also the voice of their members to the organizations. They can shed light on blind spots and create a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace.”

For more information about how to utilize employee resource groups as business partners, listen to our webinar, ”Supercharge Your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy with Employee Resource Groups.”

Photo: Members of Women @ Workday, a Workday employee belonging council, celebrating International Women’s Day in early March, 2020.  

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