Search Diversity And Inclusion

Why employee resource groups still matter

July 31, 2017

This article is written by Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg LP.

A few weeks ago, employee resource groups took center stage in the diversity and inclusion conversation, characterized as passé and irrelevant.

I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more.

Employee networks, employee resource groups, business resource groups or communities (as we refer to them at Bloomberg) — I don’t care what they are called; I believe these groups are an important part of any holistic, global diversity and inclusion strategy. Despite any flaws in names and naming conventions, the objectives and functions they fulfill should be a priority for all employees who care about talent, culture and business performance.

Depending on the industry — and the company — the grass roots elements of ERGs often lay the groundwork for global diversity and inclusion strategies. Many formed organically out of the need for people of difference to feel a sense of belonging and create relationships with people of similar backgrounds. These forums offered support, understanding, information and resource sharing that would hopefully ensure participants’ collective success. At their most basic, these organizations provided necessary “safe spaces” at a crucial time, when people of difference weren’t comfortable being seen together and supporting each other within office walls. Sanctioned or not, these “safe spaces” and support systems made all the difference in the world — and since then, they have evolved into much, much more.

Many companies have created frameworks that enable employee resource groups to thrive and fulfill objectives fundamental to the organization’s success. At Bloomberg, our Communities add significant value by focusing on five key pillars: commercial impact, recruiting, leadership development, marketing and communications, and community engagement. Each of these pillars aligns with key initiatives at our company that are being driven from the top down by the business, Human Resources, External Relations, or Global Corporate Philanthropy and Engagement. Community-driven client events have resulted in deeper client relationships, as well as Bloomberg terminal and product sales. Our Communities have also been instrumental in our recruitment efforts, spearheading and volunteering initiatives focused on recent graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, veterans and women and LGBT individuals in technology. Nearly every one of our Communities leads an educational series to develop and support talent from around the company. And the corporate marketing campaigns developed in consultation with our Communities enables us to effectively brand our company as an employer of choice for all people around the globe!

ERGs also provide employees the opportunity to problem-solve, innovate, develop and showcase their leadership skills, regardless of seniority or managerial status in their “day job.” And at many companies, including Bloomberg, survey data indicates that employees involved in ERGs have higher engagement scores than those who are not. In turn, research continues to demonstrate the positive correlation between employee engagement and productivity. With turn-over costs calculated up to two times annual compensation, the benefits are especially compelling.

Most people, especially millennials, seek some sense of belonging, engagement, development and access, so why wouldn’t we invest in creating the proper forums and acknowledge intersectionality through collaboration and inclusion? The alternative is likely the emergence of informal or “rogue” groups formed to serve the same purpose with outcomes that may not align with company goals and values.

With so many demonstrated benefits, the only ERGs I might consider irrelevant are those that have failed to be inclusive. ERGs that limit their membership and participation to individuals representing a single, specific dimension of diversity are simply “preaching to the choir.” Diversity cuts across all dimensions, and the experience of being the only straight woman in a group of LGBT individuals, or the only Caucasian in a room of Black people is an opportunity for individuals to enhance their knowledge or challenge their concepts of diversity and inclusion, and reach a better understanding of what their diverse colleagues experience on a daily basis. Mature, successful ERGs recognize the power of that engagement and experience, and many have worked hard to secure active membership from straight, white and able male allies.

Dismantling ERGs and replacing them with diversity and inclusion councils for the purpose of driving more straight, white and able male engagement completely disregards those efforts. I also worry that it caters to the status quo and comfort of senior leaders instead of the individuals these groups are meant to develop and support. At Bloomberg, our ERGs work closely with our global and regional diversity and inclusion councils, and the impact and agency of one never supersedes that of the other. Both offer different approaches and perspectives in pursuit of the same goal, leaving our organization better equipped to address a tremendously important and difficult effort.

Today there is growing discourse around the globe regarding people of difference and their rights and privileges. Brexit, walls, travel bans, transgender individuals serving in the military, universal healthcare: all center around the repeal and redaction of what all humans deserve. ERGs for diverse employees are more important than ever, and should be maintained and empowered, not dismantled. They — and the colleagues who lead and shape them — are our most important resources in the drive to develop and maintain an increasingly inclusive corporate culture in an increasingly exclusive world.

This article is written by Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg LP.