Gideon Hyacinth, 28, joined Dell, No. 30 in The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, two and a half years ago. He noticed quickly that there were a lot of young people, right out of college, working in their cubicles pretty much in isolation.
"There was no way for us to connect with each other. We didn't know how to network or have an impact on the company," recalls Hyacinth, an HR business generalist.
With two of his 20-something peers, Hyacinth formed GenNext, an employee-resource group. The goal was professional and leadership development, an increased sense of community and the ability to help the company reach younger consumers. They started in November 2009 with 20 people in the room. They now have more than 700 members in three countries—the United States, Panama and India—and are launching a chapter in Brazil.
The group is proving itself invaluable, says Michael Tatelman, 54, vice president and general manager of North American Consumer Sales and the group's executive sponsor. For example, when Dell was developing Streak, its mobile tablet, it consulted with group members about what features and applications would most appeal to younger users.
What's happening at Dell is being mirrored at many of The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity and was the subject of a presentation and panel at DiversityInc's March event in Washington, D.C. The presentation, by Cindy Brinkley, senior vice president of talent development and chief diversity officer at AT&T, No. 4 in the DiversityInc Top 50, highlighted the benefits of generational communications. The panel featured two companies with successful generational groups: WellPoint and Toyota Motor North America, Nos. 36 and 46, respectively, as well as Deloitte, No. 8, which has chosen not to have a specific generational ERG. We've also interviewed ERG members and diversity leaders at Aetna, Cox Communications and MasterCard, Nos. 19, 20, and 31, respectively, about their generational efforts.
Here are the key points from this research that you can use as you consider whether to start a generational group or have more than one group, and if so, how best to use the groups for business goals.
1. Do you need a generational group? Should you start with younger workers?
As the chart accompanying this story demonstrates, DiversityInc Top 50 companies increasingly think you do. And almost all of them start with a group aimed at millennials. Keep in mind that at all of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies, these groups are open to everyone, so older workers often join these groups to gain insights into their younger coworkers.
The key focuses of the groups are talent development, retention/engagement, communication and innovation/customer outreach. All of the companies interviewed are reporting increasing success in all three areas.
"It's really important that companies have a value proposition to attract, to retain, to develop your employees. And this proposition needs to be across all generations," says Brinkley.
Two companies that have strong generational outreach but have chosen not to have formal generational ERGs are Deloitte, which has pioneered generational research, and Cox, which creates diversity councils that span various demographics, including age.
Suzanne Skipper, a principal in Deloitte Consulting, says Deloitte decided against creating distinct ERGs but instead chose to "bake into all of our ERGs those sorts of activities that the Gen Y'ers are going to identify with. For us, it was about integrating and creating meaningful, purposeful organizations and structures, like blogs and social networking, to drive engagement."
Mae Douglas, executive vice president and chief people officer at Cox, says age is integrated in all of their nine local diversity councils, but Cox chooses not to have groups specifically identified by one demographic. "We get a quarterly report and we measure their age diversity," she notes.
For the majority of companies, however, creating an age-specific ERG is proving valuable. Here are the critical factors they cite:
A. Talent Development
Jennifer "Jae" Requiro, internal diversity and inclusion process manager at Toyota Financial Services, remembers starting her career at Toyota 12 years ago, when she was a single mother in her 20s. "I did a lot of research figuring out how to communicate," she says, noting that generational ERGs help future leaders determine how best to understand the corporate culture.
"Toyota is one of those companies where people don't leave. So if you're a Gen Y'er, you need to feel connected to the company," she says.
At Aetna's EnRGy employee-resource group, which officially started in 2009 and now has more than 600 members, the genesis was to create a safe environment for networking and talent development. Giorelly Prado, EnRGY national chair, 28, notes that the group is often used to help with recruitment and to introduce young professionals to others who can help them grow.
Dell's Hyacinth puts it succinctly: "They really wanted professional development, to understand how they get to the next level."
WellPoint's younger-employees group, HYPE (Healthcare Young Professionals Exchange), has been helpful in finding out ways to enable millennials to stick around longer, notes Linda Jimenez, chief diversity officer and staff vice president, diversity and inclusion. "It is about asking very particularly what it is they want, individually … If you recognize that they are not here for 10 years, what opportunities exist within our organization?" she asks.
She notes that for millennials, having an impact on the community is a key factor in engagement and retention.
"What really attracts this age group? That commitment to making a difference. That social responsibility, that volunteerism, is a really attractive component for them," Jimenez says.
Flexibility also has been cited by several companies as key to retaining younger—and older—workers.
At AT&T, Brinkely says, there was a young man the company very much wanted to hire for its flagship leadership-development program, in which young MBAs are put in rotational assignments in various parts of the business. The young man they sought had a child with an illness and he really needed to work at home and be close to medical facilities. "Because we were willing to do that, he chose to work at AT&T," she says.
C. Innovation/Customer Outreach
Donna Johnson, chief diversity officer at MasterCard, tells us that her company's Young Professionals ERG, known as YoPros, started in October 2010. Its target group is employees with less than 10 years' experience.
"The focus is on innovation from a global perspective. We want to get insights into how they interact with technology and new product ideas," she says.
Brinkley gives an example: "We've developed an online collaborative platform. We call it TIP, or the Innovation Pipeline. We have over 75,000 employees who are registered for it. We had 10,000 ideas generated in 2010 alone. What is surprising about this is that all generations are using it … It was a Gen X'er who had the idea [to] combine your work and your personal cell phones into one device."
2. Should You Have Multiple Generational Groups?
The companies that are maximizing utilization of these groups are adding more groups—and all strongly advocate the cross-generational function as critical.
Aetna is one of the biggest success stories. In addition to EnRGy, Aetna started the X Factor ERG in the fourth quarter of 2009 and the BoomER Group in January 2009. Today, X Factor has 833 members and BoomER Group has 639 members.
Jackie Jenkins, X Factor national chair, 39, had been the chair of Aetna's African-American ERG from 2006 to 2008 and was excited to take on another ERG leadership role. "The Gen X demographic is the largest percentage of employees," she says. "It's a direct pipeline for Aetna to pull for its next leadership base. The company needs consumer insights, and this would be the group to pull from." Increasingly, group members are going out on sales/customer calls since, as she notes, the average age of employees in Aetna's large employer customer base is 41.
The BoomER Group is being used for employee financial wellness, including retirement planning, and to help employees change and improve their job functions, says Molly Goins-Cox, 46, the executive sponsor.
The groups are working together, including onboarding for new employees and, informally, as cross-generational mentors. Younger workers are helping others keep older workers abreast of technology improvements, notes Meghan O'Brien McNamara, Aetna's director of diversity.
Other companies are following suit. MasterCard, for example, has started WAVE (Workers With Accumulated Valued Experience).
"You really need to take the millennials' passion and energy and combine it and channel the intensity and focus of the Gen X'ers, and then leverage the expertise and leadership of the boomers, and also with the traditionalists as well," advises Brinkley. "Put those together and really listen to what your employees are saying."