Building community is important for everybody, which is one of the reasons that employee resource groups (ERGs) exist. Community is critical in fostering a sense of belonging, which brings us closer to achieving a true state of inclusion. Recently, I’ve realized that many ERG leaders lack a community themselves.
As a result of this realization, I decided to hold an event for ERG leaders alongside Catherine Brown, Associate Director of DE&I at Evolent Health. In this article, I’ll expand on why we decided to hold a networking event for ERG and affinity group leaders, how we made it happen, and what we have planned for the future.
Why we held this event
Catherine and I decided to host this event for slightly different but ultimately similar reasons – to create a sense of connection.
I was inspired by the history of ERGs and how they brought communities of leaders together across industries. Employee resource groups and affinity groups, which were created to be safe spaces for underrepresented minority groups and marginalized communities, are rooted in the civil rights movement in the United States.
In 1964, Joseph Wilson, former CEO of Xerox, along with the company’s Black employees, came up with the idea of workplace affinity groups in response to the race riots that occurred in Rochester, New York, where Xerox was headquartered. Xerox recognized that once hired, Black employees still faced discrimination.
Ultimately, this led to the creation of the National Black Employees Caucus and other groups led by companies such as HP and AT&T. Over time, ERGs gained traction outside the U.S. and began to be formed around causes such as women’s empowerment and disability inclusion. Today, we continue to see other marginalized communities organize and form ERGs and affinity groups.
Although we are seeing more companies support and organize ERGs at their companies, we have not seen much connection happening across ERGs at different companies. This is unfortunate because creating these connections can help amplify and enhance the impact of ERG leaders' work within their organizations.
When I asked Catherine about her reason for wanting to hold the event, she wrote back:
“For me, it was a community. Community acts as a pillar that supports a common cause, goal, or purpose. Personally, community in the DE&I space has helped me grow. I have been able to lean on peers for best practices, learn from the things that have both worked and didn’t work for them, and ultimately find ways to be better together.
Being in a network of people who are passionate and aligned around the same thing creates a bigger voice, which increases the chances of being heard and driving changes. While I also enjoy my work, I ultimately chose this line of work to help others, and am always looking to be better for the people I serve. Community has helped me achieve this which is why I wanted to offer a similarly safe and supportive space for ERG leaders.”
Ultimately, the two of us were inspired by the history of the National Caucus and the importance of creating community. We decided that an ERG/affinity group networking event would be the best avenue for us to start creating this shared space. Our goal is to break the silos so that we can change the employee experience and culture across industries on a greater scale, as well as to create a shared space to learn and grow together.
How we made it happen
The event was a fairly light lift since we ultimately wanted conversation amongst the group to be the larger piece of the event. Once we determined the day and identified Zoom as our platform, it was time to advertise.
We utilized Eventbrite to collect and manage registrations and shared the link in our own networks and on LinkedIn. With 30 participants from seven companies signed up, we were ready to host our event.
We held the event on August 10, 2022, and opened it up to employee resource group and affinity group leaders from across the industry. The event opened with a welcome and icebreaker and was followed by two breakout sessions. The first session was focused on Current State and Best Practices, and the second was on Looking Ahead.
During the event, participants shared a strong desire for community and opportunities to continue the conversation. Some of the feedback we received echoed these sentiments:
“This was an awesome session. Very energizing and inspiring. I would love to have more time to exchange ideas and strategize.”
“I loved hearing about how all of the people in our group had a similar mission of creating safe and inclusive spaces, but that we thought about it and approached it differently. It was exciting to hear different ideas that have worked and think through how they may translate to different companies/groups.”
An event satisfaction survey results captured a 4.8 satisfaction on a 5.0 scale with 100% interested in attending future sessions.
After the success of this first event, we decided to launch a bi-monthly series of networking sessions for ERG and affinity group leaders.
Our next session in the installment is planned for October 27th at 2 pm ET, and you can register on our Eventbrite page. While this idea was originally focused on creating a networking space, we hope to eventually evolve it into a shared learning space where participants will lead on topics that they are an expert on.
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