Employee resource groups (ERGs) can be beneficial to businesses beyond improving employee morale and establishing a sense of community. Sodexo (DiversityInc Hall of Famer as No. 1 in 2013 and No. 8 on the 2019 Top Companies for Employee Resource Groups specialty list) director of market research Jonathan Preciado and Sanofi (No. 31 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) associate director of inclusion and diversity Chandni Patel discussed how ERGs also drive business and organizational impact for companies. Sodexo and Sanofi are at different places in their implementation of ERGs. Sodexo has offered ERGs for decades while Sanofi just officially implemented them in 2017 after they had been growing over the past 10 years. Preciado and Patel spoke to DiversityInc Chief of Staff Anita Ricketts and offered insights on the impact of ERGs at different stages of their establishment process.
Preciado said because Sodexo is a national company and many employees work remotely, being members of ERGs helps employees network with one another and establish an office-life rapport. For Sanofi, a French-based company, U.S. branches are still working to root themselves in North America, but Patel said so far, ERGs have allowed employees to develop new skills that are possibly beneficial to their primary positions in a safe, supportive space. They leverage talent by allowing members to take leadership roles.
“The way that we talk about ERG leadership positions within the company are, one, it’s a really great place to hone existing skills,” Patel said. “If you’re in finance or you’re in marketing and you want to get to know skills outside of your particular business unit or function but still within your same scope, that’s a really great way to get some more breadth of experience. Second, it’s a way for you to develop new skills that you don’t have in a safe space.”
Preciado also said for Sodexo, ERGs have been a catalyst to propel members and give them visibility throughout the company they may not otherwise get.
“It allows them to take on a stretch assignment, take on some leadership responsibilities that you may not get in your day-to-day role,” Preciado said.
He also said the more employees are engaged, the more likely they are to be satisfied in their positions. The more satisfied employees are, the more engaged they are likely to be, and the more successful the company is. He said anecdotal evidence supports how ERGs help employees become more engaged.
“Even in years where the engagement level dips a little bit, for one particular reason or another, the D&I [diversity and inclusion] scores are always consistent,” Preciado said. “Employees always feel that by being in an ERG, getting involved, that they’re able to feel more satisfied and more successful in their roles.”
At Sodexo, Preciado said, about 50-55% of employees are part of ERGs.
Because ERGs are newer at Sanofi, the participation rate is closer to 20%, Patel said, but she shared anecdotes about how they have already impacted employees and their families — and benefitted the company because of the diversity of ideas they have bolstered.
This year at the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that officially set off the gay rights movement in the U.S., Sanofi’s LGBTQ ERG, PrideConnect held a program with the GenderCool project, which shares stories of transgender young people who have had positive experiences during their transitions. PRIDE Connect partnered with the diversity and inclusion team at Sanofi and ParentsConnect — Sanofi’s ERG for parents — to take part in the program and hear how being transgender can be a positive, validating experience, contrary to the common narrative of transgender people being bullied or invalidated.
“We’ve gotten a lot of comments and feedback from our employees on what a big difference that made for them personally and then also how they saw the company,” Patel said. “I think about a couple of quotes that we’ve gotten sent to the inclusion and diversity inbox, you know, ‘I’ve never been prouder to work for a company,’ and didn’t realize how progressive we were in terms of the work that we’re doing.”
Patel also said ERGs allow employees to give advice to the company. For example, Sanofi’s DiabetesConnect ERG includes members who have diabetes or have a loved one who has diabetes. These members can offer the company a patient perspective. They were also the faces of Sanofi’s Diabetes Awareness Month campaign, where they got to share their stories.
Patel said ERGs help her company understand their business unit, which will help them drive business impact.
“I’m only feeling optimistic in terms of the business impact we can make moving forward,” Patel said.
Read more coverage of our 2019 ERG Festival here.