The Business Benefits of Resource Groups

Why do companies need resource groups? There are four key reasons: recruitment, retention, talent development and market outreach.

Why do companies need resource groups? There are four key reasons: recruitment, retention, talent development and market outreach.


Employees Make the Case for Resource Groups

After four years with Aetna in customer service, Cyndee Ward was at a crossroads familiar to many women. She had a toddler son and a newborn daughter and had every intention of becoming a stay-at-home mom. Then came the call.

"It was from someone wanting me to work on a project. Half-kiddingly, I said, 'The only way I'm coming back is if I can work from home.' And he said, 'No problem,'" she recalls. Ward became chair of the company's Telecommuting Network resource group.

Stewart Anderson of HP has a very different story. He joined the tech company in 1999 in product development. A gay man, he had lost jobs at other companies after being outed. Since his partner had children from an earlier marriage, Anderson was very leery about coming out at HP.

Then in 2004 he was asked to attend a company weekend workshop called White Men As Allies. "It was cathartic on so many levels. I came to understand that, being a white male, I had so many things attributed to me that I had no knowledge of. I came out that weekend to the organization and it changed everything," he recalls.

Anderson joined HP's Pride group, which he believes at 30 years old is the oldest LGBT resource group anywhere. Working in the organization, he developed his leadership skills and today is a business operations manager in consumer products.

"I started out with the company as an individual contributor," he says. My ability to think systematically and globally is largely because of my involvement in the resource group. There was reciprocal mentoring. I was able to interact with other senior leaders in a non-threatening way."

For Ward, Anderson and thousands of employees across the United States and, these days, globally, membership in a resource group has been critical to their retention and development and often has made the difference in their career trajectories. For their companies, resource groups play a rapidly increasing role in the recruitment, retention and talent development of ALL their employees and in their marketing efforts aimed at traditionally underserved communities.

Four Business Benefits of Resource Groups

  • RecruitmentAll of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies use their resource groups to recruit new members. Five years ago, only 75 percent of them did this best practice, but they've realized quickly how valuable an asset resource groups are for recruitment.

Specifically, they use resource groups to attend job fairs, host networking events for both recent college graduates and more experienced professionals, connect with their alma maters (especially HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions and women's colleges) and offer testimonials on websites. Most importantly, they meet with potential recruits and talk to them about the cultural fit in the organization. They also spread the word to friends that this company is an inclusive place to work.

The resource groups can be used for very targeted recruitment. At CSX, for example, the Military Affinity Group worked with the staffing department on a specific recruitment strategy aimed at veterans. They recruit veterans in 23 states covering 108 military installations. The results? In 2008, 26 percent of total hires at CSX and 19 percent of management employees were former military.

  • RetentionWhat are the key reasons vital employees leave? They feel disconnected and/or they feel as if their careers are stalled. Resource groups can address both aspects and improve retention, identifying cultural gaps that can prevent employees from realizing their potential, providing "safe" spaces to discuss them, offering mentors to guide them and giving constructive feedback.

For example, Accenture's Pedro Suriel said the company's Hispanic group made members realize that a failure to speak up in a meeting "because I was brought up to respect people in positions of authority" is not a reason to leave but an issue to address that can lead to a successful career path.

  • Talent DevelopmentResource groups are among the best sources of finding leadership talent and nurturing it. Many employees who might not have the "right" credentials to move up in management get a chance to shine as they develop into leadership roles in their resource groups. 

The groups also can identify potential talent and set up external and internal talent-development programs to develop them. At CSX, the African-American Inclusion Group has sponsored nine Black, female employees to be part of the National African-American Women's Leadership Institute.

  • Market OutreachAt many companies, especially consumer-facing ones, employee-resource groups serve as vital focus groups and innovators in terms of products, product placement and understanding the marketplace.

"The networks very much want to be connected to the business plan, and it also gives them lines of exposure to the business that they may not work in," says Kerrie Peraino, former chief diversity officer at American Express.

On a global level, in 2008, Merck & Co. created 10 global-constituency groups, part of whose mission is to connect with their local markets.

"Historically, in the pharmaceutical sector, we haven't really asked our employees to step out of their professional, technical subject-matter expertise and have their knowledge as healthcare consumers form our strategy," says Deborah Dagit, chief diversity officer at Merck. "So this actually gave people a level of permission to do that, which they got really excited about. And it's really helped us to be on the leading edge with our new commercial model approaches, the way we're approaching research and clinical trial inclusion, and our strategic alliances."

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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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COMPANY FACTS

AET (NYSE)

U.S. Headquarters: Hartford, Conn.

Global Employees: 49,723

Last Year's DiversityInc Top 50 Ranking • No. 32

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Aetna, a mainstay on the Top 50 list, has made a deliberate and intentional effort to design and execute a targeted talent strategy focused on diversity and inclusion. That approach has had a significant impact on key metrics such as representation of women at the executive level and among executives leading P&Ls greater than $1 billion.

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