Employee resource groups at two large Cincinnati area companies are finding ways to promote inclusion and keep employees connected, even as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to keep most workers stuck at home.
The resource groups or ERGs are company-sponsored, volunteer-led organizations that form around a common interest, identity or profession and provide members with a personal and professional support network.
“When you think about diversity, it has to represent the communities and environments that you’re part of,” said Joe Allen, chief diversity officer at GE Aviation, the Evendale-based subsidiary of General Electric Co.
“We’re continuously focused on making sure that we have representation of our community, that we actually continue to improve upon that representation every year,” Allen said, adding the company’s resource groups are a key piece of that focus.
Originally dubbed affinity groups, experts say workers began forming these groups in the 1960s in an effort to address issues of discrimination within the workplace, at a time when racial tensions were exploding across the country.
While ERGs largely began as race-based organizations, the groups have expanded in recent decades to include gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Allen was hired by GE just over 30 years ago and over that time he’s witnessed firsthand and played an active role in the expansion of its interest groups.
GE has seven companywide employee resource groups with plans to add more. The oldest is the African American Forum, which Allen helped found shortly after graduating from the company’s financial management program.
“There weren’t very many African American professionals in the finance space at GE at that time,” he said, adding he’s been an active member and ally to all of the company’s ERGs, helping to coach those organizations.
Allen said the real benefit that resource groups bring to the workplace is a sense of belonging.
“You have an opportunity to come in and feel confident about knowing you have a network,” he said. “That sense of belonging means so much.”
Since the pandemic began, the company’s ERGs have had to find new ways to stay engaged with their members, according to Allen.
“It’s hard, because not only are folks feeling that they may be on an island, so to speak, but now their whole life is upside down,” Allen said referring to compounding issues in their personal life. “So, we just want to be there as a resource to help folks along the way.”
Cincinnati Bell Inc.’s employee resource group program is fairly new but it’s grown quickly, according to Christi Cornette, the company’s chief culture officer.
Cornette said there was an explosion of groups created during the program’s inception in 2017 and the number of resource group has grown steadily since. Cincinnati Bell now has a total of 13 ERGs, with groups centered around parents and caregivers, veterans, disability awareness, fitness and environmentalism.
“We believe it is absolutely essential that employees are empowered to bring their whole selves to work,” Cornette said. “We know these invisible barriers negatively impact employee engagement and prevent talented individuals from full engaging with their team.”
Cincinnati Bell’s resource groups have been involved in numerous community outreach initiatives, according to Cornette.
The company’s Pride ERG, which seeks to foster a welcoming environment for LGBTQ employees, partners with the nonprofit Lighthouse Youth & Family Services in working with homeless LGBTQ youth.
“So, they reached out to us about working with us a couple of years ago … wanting to know how they could help our young people in any way possible,” Isaiah Febus, a life skills specialist with Lighthouse, said.
LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the homeless population, with as many as 20% to 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ.
A few times a year, the group will drop off supplies such as personal care kits, which include deodorant, shampoo and other hygiene items, at Lighthouse’s homeless shelter in Walnut Hills, Febus said. Over the summer, the resource group also took a dozen teens to a Cincinnati Reds game.
“Just to be able to see other people that are represented in different organizations, I think is meaningful for some of our young people, because they might not have seen that growing up,” Febus said. “So, it’s important to be able to have that sense of being able to connect with everyone across all levels.”
Read More:Employee resource groups help connect workers, community