Employee Resource Groups at Two Large Cincinnati-Area Companies Find Ways to Promote Inclusion and Keep Employees Connected, Even During Novel Coronavirus Pandemic continues to keep most workers stuck at home.
Resource groups or ERGs are business-sponsored, volunteer-led organizations that form around a common interest, identity or profession and provide members with a network of personal and professional support.
“When you think of diversity, it should represent the communities and environments that you are a part of,” said Joe Allen, director of diversity at GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric Co.
“We continually strive to make sure that we have representation from our community, that we continue to improve that representation every year,” Allen said, adding that corporate resource groups are a key part of that goal. .
Originally called affinity groups, experts say workers began to form these groups in the 1960s in an attempt to address issues of discrimination in the workplace, at a time when racial tensions were exploding across the country.
While ERGs began largely as race-based organizations, groups have expanded in recent decades to include gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Allen was hired by GE just over 30 years ago and during that time he has witnessed firsthand and been active in expanding his interest groups.
GE has seven enterprise-wide employee resource groups with the intention of adding 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 many African American professionals in the financial field at GE at that time,” he said, adding that he was an active member and ally of all ERGs around the world. company, helping to coach these organizations.
Allen said the real benefit resource groups bring to the workplace is a sense of belonging.
“You have the opportunity to come in and feel confident knowing that you have a network,” he said. “This sense of belonging means so much.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the company’s ERGs have had to find new ways to stay engaged with their members, Allen said.
“It’s difficult because not only do people feel like they might be on an island, so to speak, but now their whole life is turned upside down,” Allen said, referring to aggravating problems in their personal life. “So we just want to be there as a resource to help people along the way.”
Cincinnati Bell Inc.’s employee resource group program is relatively new, but it has grown rapidly, according to Christi Cornette, director of corporate culture.
Cornette said there was an explosion of groups created when the program was created in 2017 and the number of resource groups has grown steadily since. Cincinnati Bell now has 13 ERGs in total, with groups focused on parents and caregivers, veterans, disability awareness, fitness and the environment.
“We believe it is absolutely essential that employees are empowered to be fully dedicated to work,” said Cornette. “We know that these invisible barriers negatively impact employee engagement and prevent talented people from fully engaging with their team.”
Cincinnati Bell resource groups have been involved in many community outreach initiatives, according to Cornette.
Of the society ERG Pride, which seeks to foster a welcoming environment for LGBTQ employees, is partnering with the non-profit Lighthouse Youth & Family Services to work with homeless LGBTQ youth.
“So they reached out to us to work with us a few years ago… wanting to know how they could help our young people in any way they could,” said Isaiah Febus, Life Skills Specialist at Lighthouse.
LGBTQ youth are over-represented in the homeless population, with up to 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 the Lighthouse homeless shelter in Walnut Hills, Febus said. Over the summer, the resource group also took a dozen teens to a Cincinnati Reds game.
“Just being able to see other people represented in different organizations, I think it’s significant for some of our young people because they maybe haven’t seen it grow,” Febus said. “So it’s important to be able to have that feeling of being able to connect with everyone at all levels.”