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How ERGs Increase Engagement

How do you make your employee-resource groups effective across all cultural groups and issues? More than 150 chief diversity officers and senior executives from more than 75 companies attended our November 2010 event in Washington, D.C., discussing this and other questions on diversity management. Thoughtful and focused discussions facilitated by professors from The PhD Project led to idea sharing and recommendations for action plans.

Read the specific actions that these executives are taking.

You can also read Increasing Participation in Employee-Resource GroupsClick here for the full stories, videos and PowerPoint presentations for this event.

What are the best ways to measure engagement across all cultural issues? How have you used your employee-resource groups to increase employee engagement?

Jim Norman, vice president of diversity, Kraft Foods (No. 9 in The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity): Hold employee-resource groups accountable for organizational initiatives. So, for instance, if the issue is advancement of people of color, if I have that as a charge, then the African-American, Latino and Asian-American council can work on development issues jointly. There’s a recognition that there is some assimilation required and that there are business objectives to be achieved and that there is an aspect of diversity that is of value to the organization and there are some that, very frankly, are not.

We make sure they’re aligned to our diversity strategy. We meet with them four to six times a year to make sure they’re following the strategies and keeping committed. We focus on three things: assist with recruitment, support employee development, and community inside and outside the organization. This year, we put together what we called the Employee Council Leadership Academy. We brought the national leaders together and had a two-day facilitated meeting, followed by a half-day team meeting, so they worked on people, process and results. They exit that meeting making sure that they’re aligned to the diversity strategies and focused on what they’re doing to benefit those strategies. They have assignments and we have joint initiatives, three areas this year. One is a program called Jump Start, which is navigating the unwritten rules of the organization. They help new hires as they come into the organization—how does this place really work? What will get you in trouble? The second one is the peer-coaching project. We’ve actually had them improve the development plan and then engage their manager effectively in that development plan. The last one is mentoring: We had them review all of the mentoring programs and tell us what they’re missing.

Ron Glover, vice president, global diversity and workforce programs, IBM Corp. (No. 7): We’ve had the resource groups coming together for three years now to have a joint professional-development conference. It’s what diversity in action looks like. If you want to force people to learn to work together, which is the theory behind breaking stereotypes, you organize the business situation and force them to do it.

Billie Williamson, Americas inclusiveness officer, Ernst & Young (No. 5): We have some metrics that we use in our global people survey that include an engagement survey. While it’s anonymous, we do get demographic information that’s male and female, different ethnic group, gay or straight, abled or differently able, and we can cut the data by those different groups so that we can see if the answers are different. It also has a set of inclusiveness questions.

We also look at all of our promotions to see if we are making progress. We also look at what people are assigned to. My business is an accounting company and a consulting company, so we advise. There are certain accounts that are premier accounts that enable people to get the experience they need to progress to the partner level within our firm, so we look at the composition of those teams. What percent is women? What percent is people of color? And if that differs from what’s in the representation of our population, then we ask the business unit to explain that.

Donald Fan, senior director, Office of Diversity, Walmart (No. 41 on The 2007 DiversityInc Top 50): The most direct measure would be what we call the associate opinion survey. It’s on an annual basis. It’s really focused on the engagement rate. The other piece that we’re looking at is on a quarterly basis, we provide the report to our business unit. And the report is the representations, what the different demographics are. We also look at who gets promoted related to demographics and who gets demoted and who exited the company. We also look at performance evaluations—who was rated as exceeding expectations, who was rated as below expectations. If you put all of this data together, you can paint a picture of the reality of what’s going on.

Tara Amaral, chief diversity officer and vice president of talent acquisition, ADP (No. 38 on The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50): We’re looking at how good we are at hiring a reflective labor pool in a specific city. One of the things we’ve found is that our numbers look great across the board, but there are clearly anomalies. We’re now taking some of our national business data and overlaying it in a geographic sense. We found, for example, in Denver that there’s a huge employable Hispanic population, but we’re not good at it yet. We’ve bought a few companies in Denver, and now we have to say, “OK, what can we do to change the culture of those new associates?” They’re not feeling it where they live and where they work as well.

Williamson: We publish the results. We have them go out in our normal communications, which is an electronic newsletter, which goes out once a week, and then we do the same things on business units. Everybody has the results. And the business leader is required to hold a meeting to discuss results. And then they work out an action plan.

Why is it relevant to link employee engagement to specific underrepresented groups?

Norman: If I cut [our employee survey] data by race and gender or age or years of service, I can get an indication if there is a different perception that might translate into a difference experience, which might translate into some specific actions for that group. Differences in perception foster differences in experience, which relate to differences in strategy and action. The actions you take in closing the gap for the general population may not work for underrepresented groups. What it does is allow you to take your data and look at it through the responses of the underrepresented groups. So, for instance, if I were looking through the engagement survey data and, for example, I saw that women of color responded very differently and were less favorable than people of color in general, and I saw that African-American women felt rated the lowest across all dimensions, I could then correlate across all dimensions and retrace my turnover rates and promotion rates and representation rates for women of color, specifically African Americans. It adds texture to the data as I’m trying to build a story for strategy and action. They don’t have to be present; I can use their collective voices.

Emilio Egea, chief diversity officer, Prudential Financial (No. 16): You look at underrepresented populations in the organization and connect with these individuals who have their fingers on the pulse of what is taking place in that company. To whatever extent that experiences they have enables them to serve as a voice of consciousness for the organization, a voice to their experience is able to be captured and that story told is very relevant. That’s a great environment of safety, comfort and trust.

Jim Sinocchi, director, workforce communications, IBM Corp.: What we’ve found over the years—and we’ve tracked it since 1995—is that our women have made the most progress. They are the benchmark for all the other groups. We’re trying to figure out where there are gaps, and every country has to do it differently. If we don’t see women represented in what we call our five-minute drills among the senior leadership, the discussion stops and they go: “Where is the slate of candidates with these groups?” What the women taught us was that when we developed mentoring programs, things started getting better because we were bridging the gaps of understanding. So the women worked well, the Hispanics are working well, the Asians do very well. But Native Americans are a smaller group, and people with disabilities are still fighting the glass ceiling because we can’t get ramps up to the glass ceiling. Once you get this understanding and formalize it in our five-minute drills, our mentoring programs, we find that engagement improves.

Rodolfo Pittaluga, principal, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services (No. 8): The overall workforce is shrinking. Corporate America’s expansion into the global market and the people we historically referred to as “minorities,” which is becoming less accurate every day, are driving a huge change in the way companies operate. By bringing people together from varied backgrounds, skills, perspectives, and experiences and providing them with opportunities to grow, that’s part of how corporate America will continue to compete. But, with a shrinking workforce, where is it that corporate America will turn to make sure that it has the necessary talent with the skills needed to handle its clients’ needs? In all probability, corporate America will turn to less traditional sources, non-mainstream and diverse populations, whether they’re educated and trained domestically or abroad.


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