Collaborating for Inclusion: the Influence of Employee Resource Groups

BY Mimi Hayes | June 08, 2020

The three crises that America is undergoing simultaneously–health, economic, and social–have a major element in common: they’ve exposed the painful consequences of inequality and bias. The COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and massive layoffs have disproportionately affected people of color, women, and other marginalized groups. While the debate over cause-and-effect is highly politicized, in Corporate America the response has been an unprecedented amount of earnest public statements about striving to be part of the solution.

How is that translating into action? For one thing, companies have tried for years to emphasize diversity and inclusion (D&I), deploying a variety of programs. For a recent webinar, From Day One gathered four advocates of D&I with hands-on experience in promoting one of those tools: employee-resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups. These groups–for women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and more–can reinforce a company's leadership in D&I as well as providing mutual support for ERG members. Among the highlights of the discussion:

Opening up the Conversation

Among seasoned advocates of diversity, the current recession has ominous echoes of 2007-09, when years of progress toward corporate diversity suffered a setback because of layoffs and hiring freezes. “You look at the Great Recession, you look at the impact on the legal industry,” said attorney D.L. Morriss, the D&I partner at the Chicago-based law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson. “Hardest hit African-Americans saw a 13% reduction, Asians and Hispanic Latinos saw about a 9% reduction, even though historically, they only represent about 5% to 8% of the industry.” In an economic crisis, ERGs can be influential voices in helping management navigate the situation in an equitable way.

D&I advocacy groups can take different forms. Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare employs a program called a “diversity council,” in which all the employees who might ordinarily join an affinity group instead mix together with the same mission, said Jo Anne Hill, Piedmont’s executive director of D&I. Council members work together to develop programs around such occasions as LGBTQ Pride Month.

“We all should support Pride, because these are our patients. These are our providers,” said Hill. “So even people who were not a part of that group came together in the diversity-council model because you can be more than one thing. You can be an African-American, male or female, veteran, someone with a special disability, LGBTQ, so many things.”

Intentionality and Accountability

For David Alfini, partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson and co-chair of the firm’s LGBTQ Affinity Group and Mentoring Committee, the transition to remote work this spring provided an opportunity to step up communication with his ERG, launching bi-weekly meetings.

“They're able to ask us questions about what's going on, what's going to happen when we go back to work, when are we going back to work. I actually think that in a strange way, it's really strengthened our ties,” he added.

Our panelists were asked: How do you make sure you have strong leaders moderating these conversations? And who is held accountable for progress being made?

The speakers at our webinar on affinity groups, clockwise from top left: Kerri-Lyn Kelly, Jo Anne Hill, D.L. Morriss, David Alfini and moderator Lydia Dishman (Image by From Day One)

Morriss offered a personal example of leaders committing themselves emotionally and physically being allies: “You have to learn how to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Our chairman, he kind of raised me up at the firm. And we've been able to exchange in some very candid conversations where he's able to say, ‘Well, I don't understand exactly [what] I'm supposed to say.’ And we can talk through that. But I think accountability is something that you exemplify that you show physically, so having a leader in charge who is present is certainly important.” (Here is the firm’s latest D&I report.)

Hinshaw & Culbertson celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month last year on the firm’s rooftop in Chicago, inviting all colleagues, including several prior chairmen, to the festivities. Alfini remembers the event fondly. “It really showed how far the firm has come,” he said.

Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

Hill observed that company-wide evolution in the realm of D&I can be uncomfortable, like a tricky yoga pose. “If you ever do yoga, and I do yoga every single morning, some of the positions are uncomfortable, but I see growth and [us] being more agile, and I think that's where diversity and inclusion really is,” she said.

Part of the process involves opening up about personal experience. “I shared this internal memo with the firm a few weeks ago, titled: ‘When Is It OK to Run?’,” said Morriss, whose memo was subtitled, “A Cultural Reflection on Raising a Black Son.” He continued: “It was based on my experience and feeling in response to the Ahmaud Arbery death. My son asked me, can he walk to Walgreens to get some index cards, because he likes to make these little sports cards. And that's his hobby. And my immediate reaction out of fear was, well, no, not right now. It's not a good time,” he said.

Alfini talked about his personal journey to becoming a leader in the LGBTQ community. “I never thought there would be a time when anyone could be openly gay at work,” he said. “I never thought that would happen. And about five years into my time at the firm, the affinity groups were formed, but I wasn't openly gay at work. I didn't join our affinity groups. And it wasn't until younger associates came that I saw that this was a real benefit. I thought that I would lose more by being openly gay than I would gain and I realized I was wrong and I joined the affinity group. And over the years, I've become a leader in it.”

The affinity groups provide another benefit: creating a space to talk about social upheaval like the widespread protests over racial injustice and how they’re affecting one’s coworkers. Our panelists affirmed that the more open and vulnerable they are in these efforts to broaden cultural awareness, the more understood and heard everyone begins to feel.

At Piedmont Healthcare, employees can join its diversity councils by filling out a one-page interest form. People from all levels of the company are encouraged to take part, including younger employees like Kerri-Lyn Kelly, a talent development and learning specialist at Piedmont. “I immediately was drawn to it knowing that I wanted to be a part of something bigger,” Kelly said. “I'm still relatively new to my career. I wanted to be a part of a council and have that opportunity to share my story and to learn from others as well. I believe it's all about education. I know I don't know all the answers, but I want to learn. And I want a safe space to be able to have those discussions, learn from others, and bring my perspective and experience to the table as well.”

Hearing those life stories and experiences offer a good way to get past superficial assumptions about coworkers, the place where unconscious bias lurks. Said Hill: “When we talk about diversity and inclusion, what I often like to say when I speak is: ‘If you stop at what you see, you're going to miss out on the best part of me.’”

We invite you to watch the full video of this webinar here and consult our schedule of future webinars and conferences here.

Mimi Hayes is a New York-based author, comedian, and assistant director of content at From Day One. You can read her work at, check out her podcast "Mimi and The Brain," or find her first book, a comedic memoir about her traumatic brain injury on Amazon.



Making All Paths to Parenthood More Inclusive For Your Employees

At experiential outdoor sports company Woodward, the VP of talent and culture, Dan Kwong, is just getting started with family support benefits. Starting with the basics: nailing down an employer value proposition to guide the choices he will make, and underscoring current benefits, like paid parental leave. Perhaps most importantly, Kwong is taking his time to figure out what the workforce needs with two questions. First, “What are the key demographics of the talent pools that we currently attract, and that we want to attract? It’s not just the talent you currently have, but also the talent you want to grow in future years,” he said. Second, “What are the needs of each talent pool? We assume we know what people want and need. Sometimes we’re wrong.”Kwong was a part of a panel of talent and benefits professionals for a From Day One webinar titled “Making All Paths to Parenthood More Inclusive For Your Employees.” The group discussed strategies for identifying workforce needs and how to design a package that is as inclusive as possible.Kwong is careful to not make assumptions about what family structures look like or even who qualifies as family. Woodward employs a relatively young workforce, many are aged 18–24, often living far away from their biological families. Their needs outside of work aren’t necessarily typical or predictable. “This one’s pretty personal to me,” Kwong said. “Most of my family is abroad in Hong Kong; I’m a single guy in Utah. My family structure may be non-traditional or different, and my family may not be genetically or blood-related.”Woodward isn’t the only employer taking note of the diversity of needs. “Everybody’s family looks different,” said Corrinne Hobbs, the general manager and vice president of employer market at family health platform Ovia Health. “[Employers] are recognizing those differences by making sure there are solutions that support people where they are. For women’s health and family-building, it’s having a solution that’s inclusive of preconception maternity, parenting, menopause, and then general health in between. Wherever and whatever journey people end up on–and it could be two or more journeys at once.”Hobbs sees the appetite from companies for kinds of new family-building benefits, ones that encompass more employee experiences and needs. Inclusion of all workforce demographics is top of mind for employers, and for some, it’s become a differentiator.The panel included Dan Kwong of Woodward, Corrinne Hobbs of Ovia Health, journalist and moderator Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, and Shawna Oliver of Manulife (photo by From Day One)A particular point of interest for employers, says Hobbs, is finding healthcare support for workers who live outside of major metropolitan areas, often in “care deserts,” where healthcare isn’t easily accessible. And much of the care that’s needed is for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and women, especially black women, and their family-building needs.Identifying the Diverse Needs in Your WorkforceTo design inclusively, HR teams have to know who’s working there, how they identify, and what they need. But that’s not necessarily easy. “People don’t always feel comfortable speaking up,” Hobbs said. “There’s also the element of loneliness, and that feeling limits a person’s ability to speak up.” To remedy this, tap the knowledge of your employee resource groups, says Hobbs.Kristy Lucksinger, head of global benefits and commercial real estate firm JLL, does this. She proactively asks the firm’s ERGs about their needs, and the resource groups approach her too.“We also do employee surveys to find out directly from our employees what they’re looking for and what they’re interested in,” Lucksinger said. “We’re in the process of considering, evaluating, and moving forward with a conjoint survey across the world to find out exactly where our employees’ wants and desires are.”Still, employers should allow for some margin of error when surveying workers, says Shawna Oliver, the head of global benefits and wellness at investment management firm Manulife. “As much as we put a big effort into gathering identity and demographic data about our employees, the truth is, we don’t always get 100%. Some people aren’t comfortable [sharing] vulnerable and personal information. We have to assume that there are pockets of people within every population that need every sort of benefit that’s out there.”Promoting Family-Building BenefitsBenefits teams can put together the most rock-solid communication plan and the slickest guides, but it doesn’t mean people will read them, or use those benefits.A few times a year, outside of annual enrollment at Manulife, Oliver and her team host informational sessions about benefits, beyond the basics of copays and deductibles. They could be about anything: family-forming benefits, mental health, retirement, or financial resources. Then they open up the floor for an Ask Me Anything. “It’s unfiltered,” she said. “We ask people to not share personal information, but we have a very candid conversation in those moments. It’s humbling, the amount of questions we get, from things as basic as ‘how do I find a provider?’ to ‘I used these benefits, and it didn’t work for me.’”Opening the door for employee feedback helps ensure every dollar invested in family-building benefits counts. “The total rewards pie is only so big,” said Lucksinger. “We really want to hear from our employees about where they feel the most value. So we reach out to our employees and say, ‘We understand there’s an interest here. What’s more important to you: This or that?’ It’s about offering a vast array of benefits, but investing the money where our employees see the value.”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Ovia Health, for sponsoring this webinar. Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | June 24, 2024

How to Improve the Recruiting Process for Technical Talent

“There’s a record number of candidates applying for roles. I think it takes a good, solid recruiting strategy to ensure inclusivity practices are followed,” said Cody Ledbetter, senior technical recruiter at O’Reilly Auto Parts, during a From Day One panel discussion on how to build an exceptional recruitment process.According to Amanda Richardson, CEO at technical interview platform CoderPad, this increase in application volume is forcing recruiters to make changes. She observes companies abandoning loosely planned, informal interviews for more conscientious decision-making. “It’s nice to see companies being a little more organized, disciplined, and clear in their hiring processes,” she said.Richardson is encouraged by candidate assessments designed to evaluate the skills most relevant to the job–rather than arbitrary pop quizzes, for instance–and happy with the return of the live interview checking both hard and soft skills.It is the confluence of mutually beneficial tech tools and human understanding, said panelists, that is changing the way employers are able to recruit and vet incoming tech talent.Using the Latest in HR Tech to Improve the Hiring ProcessArtificial intelligence has talent acquisition professionals excited for its possibilities and likewise trepidation about its power. And whether they’re prepared or not, AI has arrived in HR technology. So, what are the implications for the hiring process?The panelists spoke to the topic "Hiring Tech Developers: Building a Nearly Perfect Recruitment Process" (photo by From Day One)“I do think that [AI] will make the recruitment process significantly more efficient, in terms of elimination of manual tasks,” said Phil Yob, senior director of talent acquisition at insurance tech company Applied Systems. “I don’t think that at this point it’s solving for the personal interaction you get from working with TA or HR in the interview process. Despite all the good work they can do from automated messaging, face-to-face interaction and the human touch element are big pieces.”Further, panelists urged recruiting teams to be vigilant about the quality of the AI tools they’re using. Ultimately, the TA teams and hiring managers who use them will be responsible for whatever decisions are made. “It’s our job to understand what it’s doing and what it’s weeding out,” said Julia Stone, head of recruiting for eCommerce infrastructure services at Amazon.Assessing Great CandidatesFaced with mountains of applications, recruiters are figuring out the most efficient, effective, and scalable ways of evaluating the qualifications of those candidates. Ledbetter’s rule of thumb is that “the recruitment process should be commensurate with the level of technicality for the role.” Don’t exhaust candidates with overly complex or back-to-back assessments. By avoiding burdensome technical assessments–and limiting questions only to those most relevant to the role–employers can build trusting relationships with top developers.Given the tech industry’s reputation for being less than diverse, Richardson said she’s encouraged by new skills-based hiring practices. “I can assure you that [tech] is still lacking in diversity, but I credit people teams with doing everything they can to really fight against it. I do think the opportunities are around finding a way to assess candidates that’s different from just looking for logos or keywords.”Regarding the legitimacy and consistency of recommendations made by interviewers themselves, the panelists encouraged rigorous preparation. “It’s very important to establish what each person is assessing for,” Amazon’s Stone explained. “By putting more rigor in that structure before you’re going in, you can avoid some of that groupthink.”There may be room for more equity in the hiring process when it comes to hiring candidates from within or without the organization. Yob noted that Applied Systems makes a point of operating consistently, whether the candidate is internal or external. “We’ll give a little credence to their having been a part of the culture, but I think the best thing we can do is to motivate internally by treating them the same and continue to move them through that process to make sure we’re getting the best possible person.”Skills matter, but so does the mode of working. Employers that have called their workers back to the office are returning to the in-person interviews, the panelists said, but that won’t be necessary for everyone. The best way to evaluate a candidate is the context in which they’ll be working. “Some companies give a Slack interview–or on Teams, whatever your product is,” said Richardson. “If you can’t communicate effectively on that channel, you probably aren’t going to be successful in a remote world.” The interview format matters, she said. “Are they going to be proficient not only in the skills but in the environment, too?”Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, CoderPad, for sponsoring this webinar.Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | June 13, 2024

Developing Crucial Competencies Among Managers to Enhance Inclusion

To improve workplaces, leaders need to reevaluate how they are growing their managers and provide the proper support. In a From Day One webinar, Lydia Dishman, senior editor of growth and engagement at Fast Company, spoke with leaders about the strategies they’re taking to address skills gaps in their companies, especially those related to boosting workplace inclusion.Self-aware leaders display a higher level of confidence and empathy, resulting in stronger teams and effective leadership. Yet despite most leaders believing that they exhibit self-awareness, research shows only 10-15% of leaders are self-aware.The disparity comes from the challenge of displaying vulnerability, Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity, and engagement at Akamai Technologies, says.“​​We need to be given at least an opportunity to have some of that autonomy to say, “I think that I can be better here or here,” Smith said. “It’s not a bad thing to say, ‘I do struggle with giving difficult feedback and that's not something that’s going to hold me back.’ This is different from being externally assessed because it builds the self-awareness that we need,” Smith said.By showing empathy for others, leaders can cultivate a safe work environment for others to grow, which can be a win-win situation for companies and employees. Singleton Beato, global executive vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at media group, McCann Worldgroup, says empathetic leaders can reap the benefits of a stronger team.Amanda Grow of ETU, Singleton Beato of McCann Worldgroup, Diana Navas-Rosette of Microsoft, and Khalil Smith of Akamai Technologies spoke in a panel moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (photo by From Day One)“Being self-aware allows one to understand how to present constructive and corrective feedback in a way that isn’t demeaning to someone,” Beato said. “Doing so safely helps employees to feel that they have the support of the manager and helps them to be aware of not only whatever the correction needs to be but also to feel empowered to make that correction.”Leaning on Newer Learning MethodsWhen compared to traditional learning methods, researchers found immersive learning like VR training to yield better results and also positively impact employees’ performance. Amanda Grow, director of customer success at learning company, ETU, says learning simulations can also provide opportunities for employees to learn skills that may be difficult to learn in traditional settings.“One of the key elements in learning simulations is teaching people how to work through situations that they don't feel comfortable in,” Grow said. “Simulations have the ability to bring some of that emotion to life and make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel anxious.”During these simulations, employees dealing with challenging emotions have an opportunity to self-reflect on their emotions in a safe space, Grow says. “We want to teach people how to reflect and understand their internal processes,” Grow said. “That's going to be valuable if we want employees to improve their self-awareness.”Research found employees who have personal development opportunities are more engaged and have higher retention rates, showing how learning can play a large role in how employees perceive their work and growth.Whether it’s through traditional learning modules or providing a safe environment for employees to learn, leaders play an instrumental role in bridging the gaps. Diana Navas-Rosette, general manager of global diversity and inclusion solutions, communities, and activation at Microsoft, says that Microsoft is leaning on newer technology to offer personalized learning opportunities.“Simulations stand out as probably one of the most innovative solutions that we have in our portfolio right now. They are immersive and allow learners to practice the skills realistically and safely,” Navas-Rosette said. “A learner navigates through a simulation and then gets a report at the end that tells them what they did well and where they have areas of opportunities for them to grow. Employees can always come back and practice if they want to, allowing it to be a continuous relationship with a solution for them to build that skill set.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | May 21, 2024