ERGs can provide input to the leadership team about unique return-to-work implications for specific employee groups, can help with messaging, and can tap into their employee networks to better understand concerns and fears around COVID-19.
Here are a few ways ERGs can help during COVID-19 and examples of how ERGs have responded to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Communities of color and other underrepresented employee groups have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
• According to the AMP Research Lab, the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times higher than the rate for White Americans.
• In New York City, one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots, more than a third of people who have died from the disease are from the Hispanic community. Hispanic unemployment as a result of the pandemic is higher
than any other demographic group.
• According to Indian Health Services, per capita, the Navajo Nation leads the country in COVID-19 related deaths.
• For employees with caregiving (eldercare, disability or childcare) responsibilities, stress levels will likely continue to increase as they struggle with balancing new challenges, such as lack of daycare options or fear of exposing the more vulnerable.
• Stress and anxiety are high and may also disproportionately impact LGBTQ, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and generation Z who are already more vulnerable to factors of isolation and mental health issues.
Below are just a handful of the questions business leaders will need to address as we return to work post COVID-19. Many have diversity, equity, and inclusion implications related to ensuring safety, fostering health and well being, mitigating bias, and ensuring a sensitive response to address the needs of employee groups most at risk.
• How are you ensuring equity in who is brought back to work? Are you measuring the demographic make-up of ‘reopening’ staff to ensure equity? What can you do to mitigate inequities?
• Will there be long-term implications on diverse talent as a result of both the new work environment or the decisions you are making? For example, will women and people of color suffer disproportionate setbacks in career advancement?
• What are the concerns and needs of your employees? Do they vary among different populations?
• Do some employees require special support or accommodations? Is mental health or isolation a factor? What can your organization do to address these issues?
• What supports are necessary to accommodate employees who may no longer have access to childcare, eldercare or disability care when they return to work?
• With a reduced/staggered staff, what skills are required? Can you train and educate to enable proper coverage and ensure populations are not disparately impacted by lack of experience or skills?
• Is there an opportunity to restructure or create new roles and responsibilities to meet business needs while creating new opportunities that did not exist before?
ERGs will be an important asset as these decisions are being planned. They can provide input to the leadership team about unique return-to-work implications for specific employee groups, can help with messaging, and can tap into their employee networks to better understand concerns and fears.
ERGs can provide input to the leadership team about unique return-to-work implications for specific employee groups, can help with messaging, and can tap into their employee networks to better understand concerns and fears.
Here are a few ways ERGs can help during COVID-19:
• Provide a forum and safe space for identifying needs and raising concerns
• Convene COVID-19 conversations around intersectional identities in order to spark dialogue about differences in impact. Address root causes (privilege, bias, etc.) in order to tackle equity issues.
• Help to monitor the engagement and well-being of their membership and the workforce overall
• Assist in crafting company communications and response messaging
• Ensure key information is disseminated in a culturally sensitive and relevant manner
• Connect with local communities to identify needs and ways the company can assist
• Serve as a hub for translating information and connecting employees and communities with resources
• Reach out to local chambers of commerce to see if local small businesses need assistance
• Sponsor/conduct virtual focus groups (Employee Voice Sessions SM) to understand what challenges and anxieties communities are facing and to understand how organizations can help
• Mobilize and reach out to partner with other ERGs within your company or with other companies to pool resources
• Serve as social media ambassadors (e.g. share their experiences and speak directly to customers and communities through social media and other community-based forums)
• Develop videos and testimonials to share what the company is doing to support employees and communities during this time
There are also many ways ERGs can foster employee engagement and retention during COVID-19.
• Create virtual peer mentoring circles
• Establish reverse mentorships between ERG leaders/members virtually mentoring executives to give leaders insight to what’s happening boots-on-the-ground or upskill leaders in virtual technology
• Charge ERG leaders as communication ambassadors to help share your messages, creating a more personal touch to the message
• Utilize your ERGs to work with their members to establish career plans. Where do they see themselves next, what are actionable steps to help them get there?
• Offer virtual career development sessions, especially on upcoming and future skill sets such as data analytics and AI that will likely grow in demand in the emerging virtual workforce.
• Create space for fun! It is important to provide opportunities for your employees to connect with each other beyond their normal day to day work tasks, especially in challenging times. ERGs can organize virtual social meet ups whether it be a virtual book club or something less formal like “meeting” for coffee for 15-30 minutes in the morning to check in with each other.
ERGs that focus on mental health promote diversity and inclusion and provide support for employees managing symptoms of mental health conditions. In fact, the most effective are well-poised to address the
three top methods of reducing the stigma around mental health: social connection, education, and peer support.
Despite the significant need for mental health supports in the workplace, these programs are not yet widespread in the United States. Consider that nearly 60% of U.S. employees experienced mental health symptoms last year, and yet eight in 10 workers did not seek treatment due to shame.
Unaddressed mental health conditions cost U.S. companies nearly $17 billion per year in productivity loss.
In terms of hiring and retention, younger employees in particular are demanding change: 50% of millennials and 75% of Gen Z employees have left a prior role for mental health reasons—compared to 34% overall. These numbers will likely rise in during and post COVID-19.
In a recent survey of 1,200 U.S. employees, almost 70% of workers said that the pandemic has been the most stressful time of their careers. In a study of global employees, more than 40% said their mental health has
declined since the outbreak.
Mental health ERGs are just emerging at leading companies. Supporting mental health at work has been shown to translate $4 in benefits to the
company for every $1 invested.
Mental health ERGs can be a catalyst for organization- wide change and advocacy. They help employees feel less alone, connect at risk employees with a community who shares a common experience.
Among the most powerful tools that an ERG has is the ability to create a forum for storytelling.
Storytelling reduces isolation, creates community, and reduces the stigma of mental health. For employees who aren’t seeking help because they feel
ashamed, it tells them “you’re not alone.” For those who don’t know where to get help, it gives them a path forward.
Faith-and-Belief-oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have a lot to offer in a time of crisis. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s (RFBF’s) online conferences promote freedom of expression about faith and core values in the workplace. RFBF engages companies that do this well to share their stories through the online forum, especially those that encourage employees to bring their full authentic selves to work, including
In the first of the series last month, representatives from various faith ERGs at American Express described their groups and their activities, and how they’ve helped address the new world we’re living in under COVID 19. Each Amex ERG representative shared from their respective spiritual traditions a thought, scripture or prayer they have found helpful in navigating the challenges we are facing during the pandemic.
This second forum in the series featured insights from Intel. The June 2 call will feature insights from American Airlines.
The workplace isn’t the only environment that has changed drastically as a result of COVID-19. Employers and employees have also had to adjust to a new kind of lifestyle at home.
From helping their children with virtual learning to working remotely alongside their spouses and pets, employees are facing significant changes within their households. How can you support the parents and caregivers at your company throughout this difficult time?
By starting an ERG for parents and caregivers, your employees who have children can provide resources, share experiences, and serve as a unified voice at your company. This ERG can meet virtually on a weekly basis and
create a Slack channel, where they can share insights and even bounce ideas off of each other for things to do with children during this quarantine.
Disability IN recommends expanding employee groups focused on COVID-19 employee support needs.
• Online kids’ classes or videos
• Family schedules in quarantine
• How to talk to kids about Covid-19
• Resources for families with special needs children
• Links to art and science projects
Employees that are providing caregiving for family members
Physical wellness and stay fit groups
Mental Health and wellness groups
Square Communities, more commonly known as ERGs, are a central part of our workplace culture. Square Communities have grown over the years to include 14 global groups with 79 Chairs and a robust calendar of programming.
Since the switch to working from home, teams and managers across the company have been working to identify ways to maintain our sense of community and connect employees virtually. Our Internal Communications team rolled out new formats to keep us informed and connected, including regular COVID-19 email updates and a weekly virtual all-hands.
Learning & Programs team developed a range of resources for managers on leading distributed teams and through times of crisis; and our team leads surveyed their teams (and continue to) to keep a pulse on how
they’re navigating the adjustment.
Since a number of our in-person Community events shifted to lower-cost virtual formats, our Communities saw an opportunity to reallocate a portion of the funds originally dedicated toward in-person events to come together and give back. Our Community Chairs were excited to partner, so we teamed up with our in-house creative team to develop a swag item (comfy socks—perfect for WFH life) with all sales going towards nonprofits supporting COVID-19 relief.
Though our Communities are generally inclusive and intersectional in their approach, this effort marked one of the first-ever all Communities initiatives—a heartening nod to the fact that, at the end of the day, we are all in this together.
In keeping an eye on our Community Slack channels and staying in close touch with our Chairs, it became clear that some of our Communities could benefit from additional resources on navigating new challenges. In partnership with our Chairs, we identified a few opportunities to provide information and support—and hopefully help Community members feel less alone in the challenges they were facing.
Resources for Parents—In partnership with our Parents Community Chairs and our Benefits team, we developed a resource document including tips & tricks on working from home with children, ideas to entertain K-12 children, parental benefits to be aware of, and CDC guidance for parents related to COVID-19. The document was developed to be collaborative in nature, with space for parents to share resources and wisdom, and it continues to grow.
Mental Health Resource Doc—The burden of navigating the mental health challenges associated with social distancing, disrupted routines, economic stresses, and health anxiety is sizable. To help prevent employees
from feeling further isolated by these challenges and connect employees with resources, information, and one another, we partnered with our Neurodiversity Community to develop a collaborative document including
information about our mental health offerings and other resources on caring for our mental health during the time of COVID-19.
API-Squares Safe Space—In partnership with our Asian Pacific Islander (API) Community, our Inclusion and Diversity lead and API-Squares executive sponsor hosted a safe space conversation to acknowledge the rising incidents of hate and discrimination targeting the API community. Employees, including allies, came together to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences, as well as to simply listen. Following the discussion, we shared resources focused on educating yourself on the API experience and expressing empathy and allyship.
Virtual Watercoolers—For the more extroverted among us, Communities have set up ongoing “always open” Google Hangouts where folks can join whenever they feel in need of a bit of connection. The Community Slack channels serve as a nice complement, where Community members can pop in to let folks know they are headed to the “watercooler” if anyone
would like to join. These Hangouts serve as a great way to allow for casual, unstructured conversations about whatever.
Hosting Events Virtually—Rather than cancel or postpone in-person events, we have worked with our Communities to host external speakers, movie watch parties, meditations, and more via Google Hangouts. This has allowed Community members to connect in real-time and has had the additional benefit of supporting speakers, artists, and teachers at a time when business, for many, is being negatively affected.
Ask Me Anythings—Playing off of the Ask Me Anything (AMA) format from Reddit, we’ve hosted AMAs in our Community Slack channels featuring executive sponsors, members of our leadership team, and members of other teams of interest, such as Internal Mobility and Benefits. These AMAs provide a fresh way for Community members to engage. Pro tip: Be sure to send out communications about the AMA and get it on the calendar ahead of time. This will give folks the chance to consider questions and be sure to attend.
Photo Contests—For more asynchronous Slack fun, a number of Communities have been hosting photo contents, inviting members to share pictures of favorite meals, work from home set-ups, children, or pets. The photo with the most reactions sometimes receives a small prize ranging from a donation to the nonprofit of their choosing to a gift certificate to a local small business.
Slack Profile Images—To help elevate holidays such as International Women’s Day (which normally we would do through physical installations in our office spaces), as well as to demonstrate solidarity, we’ve been experimenting with sharing digital assets for employees to swap in temporarily for their Slack profile image. So far we’ve only seen these assets used within pockets of the company—we’d recommend clear communications and participation from leadership for it to really take off.
At Cruise, ERGs have been instrumental in multiple ways during the current health crisis.
Families at Cruise is a group for working parents and others with familial responsibilities. Active before the pandemic with an internal communications channel where members interacted, the group mobilized to spread word of local school and daycare closings. Group leaders escalated issues to the CEO and his direct reports, driving helpful communication from the CHRO about policies and support for employees with parents. An HR business partner also spoke to the group about topics of interest to parents. At the end of one call, group members took turns unmuting and introducing their children, reinforcing inclusion and authenticity.
Bring Work to Your Family Day puts a virtual spin on a workplace tradition. Business professionals are familiar with Bring Your Son/Daughter to Work days, but Cruise adapted the idea for a work world relegated to home
offices. Bring Work to Your Family Day saw Families at Cruise members posting pictures of their “coworkers” (employees’ kids at home with them) and sharing family experiences. The event enhanced appreciation for
colleagues and their situations, again reinforcing authenticity.
Employee groups are helping bridge the intersections in workers’ lives. At Cruise, the company’s Asian Pacific Islander Group commemorated National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by sponsoring an Origami
Night for Cruise employees and invited their children. The group had materials shipped to participants’ homes. The event explored the history of origami and enabled individuals to create and show the items they made
while also celebrating culture and emphasizing the intersection of the group with parenting.
Cruise is creating a Harvey Milk and Cookies event, profiling historical figures in LGBTQ history over cookies and is shipping cookies to participants’ homes in a show of virtual PRIDE support.
During this time of uncertainty, the role business resource groups serve in a company’s culture has been underscored. The 10 BRGs at ADP are a support system that helps shape the company’s culture of inclusion,
and are instrumental in allowing everyone to feel welcome and included. They provide the workforce with professional and personal support and help bring people together around shared causes.
ADP provides BRG leaders with guidance “on leading during challenging times,” which includes exercises to help promote team dialogue and resources to help families navigate the blending of work and life.
It’s critical BRGs have resources and virtual communication tools to continue fostering meaningful engagement. In order to perform that task remotely, ADP has provided BRGs with educational information and
resources to use across their virtual communication channels.
BRGs at ADP participate in volunteering as well, even through times of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders throughout the country. The BRGs have compiled lists of volunteer opportunities employees can participate across the nation.
At Astellas, ERGs are known as EIGs – Employee Impact Groups. The company’s Diversity and Inclusion Governance Council, composed of senior leaders across global Astellas, drove rebranding of ERG as EIGs. As an evidence-based institution employing many physicians and engineers, the pharmaceutical firm focused its groups on creating impactful and measurable outcomes. The name change for its groups reflects that element of organizational culture. In a similar vein, a call attendee noted that their organization uses the title Associate Impact Group.
Astellas’ Abilities EIG took a leadership role by partnering with Aetna to provide 4 and 8-hour training (in-person prior to the pandemic and virtual now) designed to elevate visibility of mental health issues, such as depression and how it shows up at work. The sessions aren’t meant to be
diagnostic in nature, but rather provide instruction on recognizing symptoms of emotional issues. They empower employees and leaders with tools, scripts, and resources, teaching them how to take action and provide constructive help when needed.
Every month at Best Buy’s campus headquarters, members of its employee resource group (ERG) used to meet to share their stories. In February, the group discussed the black community and mental health. In November, they focused their talk on veterans. In other meetings, the group has examined the relationship between mental health and sexual assault, how members manage OCD, and how mental health impacts women. Recently, the group has been meeting virtually to discuss their mental health during the pandemic. Coming out of a meeting, one employee said, “This is the most impactful thing I have done here.” At Best Buy, the forum is private with “Vegas rules,” meaning information discussed during meetings is confidential.
Organizations looking to ramp up their virtual resources during this time can follow in the steps of companies like RetailMeNot. Their mental health ERG, RMN caRe, educates employees via a dedicated Slack channel, ongoing remote events with outside speakers, and written guidance on
mental health benefits and policies.
Capgemini’s Millennial Innovation Council (MIC) has built a strong reputation for its use of hackathons to ideate and crowdsource innovative ideas. The hackathons bring together Capgemini employees, partners, clients, students, and business professionals from different companies, industries and regions of the world, to generate ideas and solutions around a problem or opportunity. To date, MIC has hosted twelve hackathons, several in partnership with Capgemini clients. The hackathons provide a forum for building stronger relationships with clients, who participate
in the events as mentors, judges and/or hackers, or provide their technology environments for participants to use as a platform for the event.
The hackathons have also proven to be an impactful way to showcase Capgemini’s innovation ecosystem and capabilities to clients, and provide a downstream revenue source when ideas generated are developed into fullscale applications. For example, a Capgemini team from the Millennial Disrupt hackathon was tasked with building out their solution from the challenge. The team is currently working to develop a new go-to-market solution for clients.
The hackathons have had a significant impact on Capgemini’s business. As a direct result of the events, the firm leveraged six global alliance partnerships (IBM, Microsoft, AWS, Salesforce, Stibo Systems, and Intel), sold two global client hackathons, and actively engaged with a wide range of industries and sectors. In addition, MIC leaders have commercialized a model approach to deliver hackathons as a managed service for clients. Hackathon as a Service is now an innovation offering for sector leaders and Capgemini’s innovation labs around the world.
J&J’s Hispanic-Latino Organization for Leadership Advancement (HOLA) exposes the company’s brands to more than 7,000,000 people every year, by giving away sample product and coupons at events and providing input into marketing campaigns through the HOLA Advisory Panel.
The HOLA Advisory Panel is a formal body within HOLA that reviews and provides culturally- appropriate and Spanish language input to marketing campaigns, and ensures marketing messages aimed at Hispanic consumers/patients resonate positively and effectively. The input from this panel has contributed to an increase in Hispanic market penetration for company brands.
The coupons handed out by HOLA, in collaboration with other internal ERGs, have generated incremental revenue for the company and contributed to nearly $1,000,000 in donations to advocacy groups for anti-bullying initiatives.
In addition, more than 3,000 people benefit annually from HOLA-supported health screenings at various events, resulting in the timely identification of health issues and appropriate referrals for treatment.
With 34 chapters across the nation and more than 13,000 members, Bank of America’s Hispanic-Latino Organization for Leadership & Advancement (HOLA) has a proven track record driving sustainable business growth while strengthening the company brand through community engagement. The ERG draws on the insights of its members with cultural ties to the Hispanic-Latino market to help inform the company’s marketing, customer relations and sales personnel connect with customers and business partners in those markets.
With 30 percent of new checking account clients identifying as Hispanic/Latino, HOLA has advocated for more resources to be available in Spanish. As a result, the Bank of America mobile banking app is now available in Spanish with more than 1.3M active users. HOLA members have engaged clients and promoted the benefits of the mobile app among clients, resulting in a 33 percent year-over-year increase in 2017 alone. Additionally, the bank’s financial literacy site, bettermoneyhabits.com is now available in Spanish. HOLA members are helping to improve financial
literacy both with clients and during community events. These efforts have resulted in clients spending 2.5 more minutes on the site and viewing more pages per session as compared to the English site.
In an effort to increase access to its customers with family members with autism, American Airlines’ Abilities employee business resource group (EBRG) partners with local autism organizations in the It’s Cool to Fly American (ICTFA) program, designed to help acclimate children with autism to the world of air travel.
The initiative centers around providing a full mock airport experience, where participants check in, maneuver through security, board an actual plane, and taxi around the airport, all without ever leaving the ground. The EBRG works closely with airport personnel to ensure a realistic experience that includes all the sights, sounds and sensations a child with autism might encounter in flight. The ICTFA events are staffed by EBRG members and volunteer airport crews.
In 2018, the Airline hosted 17 events involving 2,576 participants and 1,232 families, with 25 percent of those families reporting they traveled by air following the experience. During that year alone, employees contributed
2,200 hours as volunteers to the ICTFA program.
Following their launch as a employee resource group (ERG) in 2016, Macy’s La Voz was looking for a positive way to impact the business and drive new sales based on the groups knowledge of Macy’s business and their insight to the shopping needs of the Latina community.
The ERG reached out to the company’s site merchandising partners with idea of establishing a Quinceañerara Registry to promote items the company was already carrying in a way that targeted the Latina consumer. The Registry went live in October of 2017. Less than four months later, 158 units were sold with confirmed sales of $55,850.
The project established the start of a potentially much larger business at Macy’s. The company is expanding upon the concept to promote existing product lines around under cultural celebratory events, such as Sweet Sixteen, Cotillion, and Bat Mitzvah.