Blog Post

How FINRA and Its Employee Resource Groups are Stepping Up to Support Employees During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Lisa Fraser
May 26, 2020
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Denise Fields, Associate Director, Inclusion & Workforce Compliance at FINRA
FINRA

From hosting webinars, weekly meditation sessions and panel discussions to offering a wealth of wellness resources and sharing opportunities for virtual volunteering, FINRA’s 10 Employee Resource Groups are creating an impact through their programming, constant communication and ramped up mission to make employees feel supported during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The ERGs are an invaluable asset. They help us to be a more resilient organization and provide a wider offering of support to our employees around the country,” said Denise Fields, Associate Director, Inclusion & Workforce Compliance at FINRA, noting the important role affinity groups have played throughout America’s history in helping to raise awareness and visibility within the workplace on social challenges, equity, and inclusion.

“During society’s most challenging times that spill into the workforce, ERGs were there to provide feedback, education and recommendations. Now, being faced with the current COVID-19 challenge our ERGs have stepped up – helping to model our values and strengthen our internal support for one another,” she said.

Here, Denise Fields gives us an in-depth look at how FINRA’s ERGs are creating a sense of community:


FINRA Disability and Wellness ERG (DAWN) provides wellness resources

FINRA’s DAWN ERG was the first to step up and provide resources and the first one to put together a strategy on how to support the organization once COVID-19 hit.

Since the work from home measures have been enforced, DAWN has provided, and continues to provide wellness resources and opportunities to help employees come together in this new normal.

Their newest program, “Wellness in Stressful Times – Whatcha Doin,” offers virtual sessions with topics like, “staying motivated and active while working from home” and “How are you handling distractions in your daily life, especially now when work and home life are overlapping?” “.

The program also includes additional resources that the group hopes can bring some comfort and support in this difficult time. Topics related to mental health, physical health, family activities, work from home tips and even cooking tips are shared with members. They also encourage members to share articles, tips or resources.

DAWN’s [email protected] FINRA is a monthly 30-minute guided meditation series that allows employees to manage stress and maintain mindfulness. When COVID-19 hit, DAWN added Mindful Mondays, 15-20-minute meditation sessions geared specifically toward managing through COVID-19 with the aim to help staff reduce stress and anxiety, and increase focus, creativity and overall wellbeing, among other benefits.

DAWN is also launching their sixth annual Spring into Wellness Challenge. Now through July 5, FINRA employees are encouraged to take steps to be healthier and happier. The Wellness Challenge is for everyone—beginners and wellness gurus alike—and will include exercise challenges and more that employees can do right from their homes in this virtual new normal.


FINRA Parents Network (FPN) offers resources for parents working remotely

The FINRA Parents Network was very concerned with employees’ concerns such as feeling guilty about taking calls with children, not knowing how to manage working from home with their partners if they’re on a confidential phone call, and overall how parents can bring a sense of balance back to their family lives in this new normal.

They send out tips, ideas and resources on a weekly basis that are all about working from home.

To help bring some normalcy and fun back to employees’ lives, the ERG also regularly shares resources to keep kids occupied as well as tips for discussing COVID-19 and social distancing, and tips on how to talk to children about bias, especially as reports of an uptick in bias against Asian Americans have surfaced during COVID-19.

Additionally, they share online educational opportunities, science and arts and crafts activities and ideas including virtual meetings to “group wish” family and friends on special occasions or hosting “Coffee Break Time” or “Take Your Pets to Zoom Day” to connect with colleagues on a regular basis without talking about work.


FINRA Women’s Network (FWN) extends group sessions and support

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased vulnerability and reduced options for support, especially for women. The FINRA Women’s Network took a proactive approach to deliver research and resources to its members, including resources like the following:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline:1-800-656-4672
  • Staying Safe During COVID-19 from the National Domestic Violence Hotline

FWN is also offering Women’s Circle events that allow for informal mentoring, networking, sharing experiences and receiving tips for success. Most recently, local Women’s Circles offered small group sessions based on topics including working remotely at home alone, working remotely as a single parent, and working remotely with school age children, teens or family members who may have special needs.

ERG members meet virtually based on their topic of interest to share recommendations and strategies for success.


FINRA Pride Alliance offers virtual volunteer opportunities

FINRA’s Pride Alliance ERG offers a weekly virtual Thursday programming series for all of Pride Alliance members called, “Meeting the Members.”

It’s designed to serve not only as a way to connect Management Committee Members with Pride Alliance members, but also as a way for the group to just “talk” and lift the spirits of others virtually.

The series began in early April and the ERG is currently discussing topics including virtual “Show Your Pride” events since many in-person Pride parades are now cancelled.

The group is also planning to offer ways to virtually volunteer especially as the LGBTQ population has been affected by the lockdown. Some LGBTQ college students who have been sent home due to campus closures, as well as other individuals can’t be themselves in their home environment while others are homeless. The group will leverage opportunities through sites like volunteermatch.org and other organizations to identify virtual volunteer opportunities.

Additionally, FINRA’s Pride Alliance ERG is currently gearing up for June Pride Month and focusing on togetherness in light of the many emotions associated with social distancing and canceling of outdoor gatherings. Pride Alliance plans to begin the month with hosting a virtual Pride Month celebratory kick-off event via Zoom, a virtual Pride parade, movie night, game night, external speaker event, and a charitable giving campaign to raise funds to support a local community partner.


FINRA Interfaith ERG (BRIDGES) promotes meaningful, open discussion

BRIDGES stands for Building Relationships across Inclusive Diverse Groups for Everyone’s Success and it is FINRA’s religious diversity-focused ERG. BRIDGES is hosting a “Bring Your Faith to Work” session where members can share their faith, encouragement, and/or inspiration during COVID-19 as many employees find faith as a way to manage stress, anxiety and uneasiness around the pandemic. The event helps to promote open discussion in a meaningful and respectful manner.


FINRA’s African American Network (FAAN), FINRA Asian Professionals Association (FAPA), and FINRA Latino Affinity Network (FLAN) joined forces

FINRA’s African American, Asian and Latino-focused ERG’s collaborated together on a joint event to bring awareness to financial literacy and provided participants with tips, tools and strategies for financial literacy improvement during this time.

Fields noted that many of FINRA’s ERG events were already broadcast over Zoom.
“We had a very seamless transition without the need to cancel any events,” she said. “We are engaging just on additional topics due to social distancing and stay at home orders across the country.”

“The engagement is very intentional and authentic and feedback has been positive from employees,” she added.


FINRA’s swift ability to adapt virtually

Before the COVID-19 stay at home orders took effect, FINRA was already prepared to handle such a challenge.

“We already include remote work in our inclusion strategy,” Fields said. “Our leaders support it.”

Prior to the pandemic, majority of FINRA staff worked on average two days a week from home. The company was also already internally sharing best practices and tips for successful WFH.

“In the space of a week, we moved from many people being in office to 97 percent of the organization working remotely, and we’ve been preparing for a while and have the tech to support that and run smoothly,” Fields said.

They have a one-stop resource site, FINRAnet (FINRA’s intranet), where employees and managers can get tips on best practices for working remotely. An online 20-minute module teaches people how to be most productive and effective when working from home.

In addition, FINRA had already launched a 90-minute in-person and remote option training for people managers to further increase their expertise with managing virtual teams and remote workers. The sessions focus on performance outcomes versus presence as well as bias. Forty-two percent of the FINRA manager population attended a session facilitated by Fields. The training was part of their 2019 inclusion and education strategy, which was extremely timely with the unforeseen pandemic that hit the nation.


In light of COVID-19, FINRA’s Corporate Communications team created a new bi-weekly series called “Coping with COVID-19” that brings together employees from across the organization for a candidate, authentic panel conversation around challenges, resources and tips. Fields moderates each panel discussion and shared that the response has been overwhelmingly positive and well received.

The events almost reach Zoom capacity each segment and Fields highly encourages other organizations to seek opportunities that allow for authentic moments to show your organization’s culture of support and inclusion.
“It sends a message that we hear you, we want to support you and we are here to get this right as an organization,” she said.

Topics include things like challenges around caregiving during COVID-19, managing remote teams, and isolation.


FINRA’s senior leadership, including President and CEO Robert Cook, has also taken an active approach to making employees feel supported whether it’s via email updates or town halls and live Q&A sessions, making it clear to all staff that they are supported and that FINRA’s leaders are understanding and flexible.

“Employees are responding very positively and our senior leadership really appreciates and provides 100 percent support as well,” Fields said. “In fact, I, along with two ERG leaders joined our CEO during his most recent town hall to highlight the many programs and resources available to employees to further show the organization’s commitment to supporting staff with flexibility, resources and support that’s needed right now.”

The organization also offers a dedicated COVID-19 resource page on their intranet which offers a carousel of news articles and pieces around wellness. The site also includes workplace flexibility resources, wellness resources and a wealth of other information to help manage the many emotions employees are managing right now in this new environment.

Health Advocate, FINRA’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resource, is ready to help if employees are feeling overwhelmed. This cost-free benefit is available 24/7. FINRA’s healthcare provider is also offering employees virtual doctor’s visits. And FINRA has always partnered with Bright Horizons prior to COVID-19 to help employees with emergency backup childcare and eldercare needs.

“We try to create moments for people to feel sane while working triple time,” Fields said. “We’re trying to send a message that it’s okay, we understand, we get it if you need moments throughout the day to manage a competing priority or to simply recharge to bring your best self to work.”


Top Tips for D&I Leaders in the Wake of COVID-19 from FINRA’s Efforts

  • Visible and vocal support from C-suite leadership is critical

As with prior to COVID-19, senior leadership support and partnering is critical to the success of your D&I strategy. More than ever, having your topmost senior leadership conveying a message of support, empathy, and flexibility is critical during this time, followed by creating ways for a consistent message from middle managers down to all employees.

  • Include flexibility in your inclusive leadership education strategy

Worklife integration was already important to job seekers and current employees and we will see this theme even more in light of COVID-19. D&I leaders should continue to include topics around managing dispersed teams, remote workers and being cognizant of bias and blind spots in their D&I education strategy. It is more important than ever for organizations to cultivate inclusive leadership.

  • Check on your employees

We are all working differently and in new ways like never before and things impact people differently. Let’s not assume that we know all the support everyone may need to be successful. D&I leaders should frequently pulse their organizations through focus groups, the ERG platform, and formal pulse surveys to gain feedback from employees to make more informed decisions, obtain recommendations and increase engagement and inclusion.

  • Think outside the box and continue to innovate!

What got us here won’t get us there! D&I leaders are in a very unique position and play a critical role to support the organization in the response and management of the pandemic. D&I leaders should continue to assess and re-evaluate practices and policies and stay abreast of legal updates and changes as well. COVID-19 will force us to do so sooner rather than later. D&I leaders should be prepared to address new stigmas, think outside the box, and execute programs differently without decreasing value.


Denise Fields Biography

Denise Fields is an Associate Director in People Solutions at FINRA where she oversees and manages FINRA’s Inclusion and Workforce Compliance Programs, including Employee Resource Group strategy and Worklife Programs.

Denise also travels across the country to conduct in-person Inclusive Leadership education on topics including unconscious bias and remote work.

Prior to joining FINRA, Denise worked in several human resources capacities with Lockheed Martin, other federal contractors, and a niche creative and marketing placement firm. Outside of work, Denise enjoys volunteering her time with her alma mater’s alumni association.

She is a graduate of Virginia State University, where she had the honor of serving as Miss Virginia State University. Denise graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration.


About the Authors

Lisa Fraser