My first experience with a diversity affinity group was as an undergraduate with the Cornell University Black Students Association (CUBSA). CUBSA’s mission was to:
- Provide support for our membership through academic programming and extra-curricular activities
- Expose the greater Cornell community to Black culture with cultural programming
- Increase the Black presence within the Cornell community through leadership development and through involvement in outside student organizations
- Provide students an avenue where they might positively contribute to the Cornell and Ithaca, NY community through service and service based learning, and
- Support and promote the recognition of the significant contributions of different ethnic and cultural heritage
Membership in CUBSA provided me with; personal development experiences, academic study partners, community service contributions, and different cultural learnings. Most importantly I made a lot of new friends and many memorable fun times!
Workplace Affinity Groups (Employee Resource Groups)
The Women’s Interactive Network (WIN) at Kimberly–Clark Corporation (K-C) was my first corporate employee resource group. WIN champions female talents and leadership qualities so K-C can reach its full potential. WIN provides both women and men with opportunities for; networking, mentoring, personal and leadership development, and inspirational events. For example, WIN identifies and addresses the needs of professional women through activities such as:
- WIN Matters: Pipeline women are paired with a senior-level coach to undergo a year-long professional development training curriculum.
- Develop, Inspire, and Grow (DIG): This WIN Scholarship program prepares women for senior leadership by providing professional coaching, a stretch assignment, and targeted leadership training opportunities.
- Mentor Up Reverse Mentoring: The WIN leadership team nominates women who are typically active members of WIN and considered high-potential in their departments to serve as reverse mentors to senior leaders.
- Peer-to-Peer Mentoring: Six to eight women meet in monthly group sessions with facilitated discussion guides, to talk about professional, personal, and leadership development topics. Participants have diverse backgrounds, and differ in experience, business, and function.
- Advancement Through Leadership and Sponsorship (ATLAS): This formal sponsorship program accelerates the development of women to leadership roles through cross-function, cross-sector partnerships between high-potential women and senior leaders.
Optimizing Employee Resources Groups – Continuous Improvement
The New Employee Opportunity Network (NEON), at Kimberly-Clark Corp. is the largest ERG at K-C, and assists K-C with attracting, retaining and developing new employees. Its mission is to help members achieve their full potential and effectively drive growth for K-C by encouraging; teamwork, leadership and networking.
In my role as Human Resources Development Manager; one of my responsibilities was to support and provide leadership to NEON executive sponsor and members. This ERG was well established, it had already completed the initial stages of; (1) Building the ERG Business Case, (2) Gaining Executive Sponsorship, (3) Formation and Recruitment of Members, (4) Establishing Charter and Mission, (5) Execution of Programs & Events for over 5 years, and (6) Evaluation & Measurement.
ERG Life Cycle of Established ERGs
NEON was a fully established ERG, facing the stages of Addressing Challenges, and Maintaining Momentum.
ERG – Performance Gap Analysis – Step 1
During a consultation with NEON’s executive sponsor, a significant challenge was identified. The NEON member attendance at events and participation in programs had plateaued and began to decline. Motivation and engagement were problems. Finding a way to fix it was the challenge. Speculation by the sponsor settled upon; boring and uninspired programming as the reason for the slowing of momentum after a few years of success.
My first action was to consult and perform a Performance Gap Analysis and series of feedback session(s). This model describes the objective of the analysis:
20 Performance Gap Questions
I selected a list of 20 out of 50 questions I regularly ask in other; change management and organizational development projects involving groups or teams. In this case, the questions were asked in an interview with the executive sponsor, and a survey to the NEON members:
ERG – Factors Affecting Member Performance – Step 2
I’ve found the Six Boxes® Model helpful when adapted to identify and coordinate all the factors that affect a change in ERG behaviors.
I diagnosed the ERG members lacked:
- Skill and knowledge to develop innovative new programs and experiences to engage participants and
- Motivation as they felt their efforts were not fully recognized or appreciated
Based on the findings, an action plan was created and prioritized to increase:
- Capabilities by training members on the innovation process and idea generation techniques
- Motivation by establishing a formal communication process and recognition strategy that celebrates and promotes the ERG’s accomplishments for all employees to see and
- Opportunities to affiliate more with community outreach, talent development as well as recruitment strategies
Common Challenges for Established ERGs
In 2016, The Center for Women and Business (CWB) at Bentley University compiled a report based on a literature review and synthesis of current practical research and media coverage on Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They outlined several common challenges ERGs that are launched and underway face:
- Inconsistent Support – Some organizations provide strong support at some locations and not others; some provide steady support over time, while others vacillate from one year to the next; and in others, D&I managers support ERG goals but business leaders don’t.
- No (or outdated) Measurement of ERG success
- Losing Momentum
- Membership Qualification – not open to all
- Lack of Frontline Managers in ERGs
- Engage Introverted Members
- Communicate ERG Value – Communicating the support of senior leadership for ERG contributions to business objectives (including ERG activity in employee performance evaluations), and providing non-financial rewards and recognition for ERG contributions.
Visit the Bentley University study for more information on ERG trends (pg.6) and challenges (pg.8).
My greatest concern is when the ERG’s objectives are misaligned with the D&I strategic plan and overall business goals. Often the alignment exists at the onset, but a few years later the business goals have changed, or D&I strategy has evolved, yet the ERG mission and annual plan remains relatively unchanged. Reviewing ERG strategic alignment on at least an annual basis is necessary.
Finally, try this approach I’ve shared to optimizing your ERGs. Please let me know how you find it works for you!