5 Ways Employee Resource Groups Are Helping During Covid-19
Seeing colleagues in-person can be an important way to maintain connection. But what do you do when that’s not possible?
In the wake of the pandemic, many companies are creating new opportunities to build connection among employees, and they’re working with their employee resource groups (ERGs) to do so. ERGs—voluntary groups of employees based on a variety of identities—are an important way for colleagues to connect and support each other both personally and professionally.
“Being visible and feeling connected are more critical than ever. ERGs provide an avenue for employees to connect and engage with one another and feel more tied to the organizational community,” notes Catalyst’s VP of US Strategy and Corporate Engagement Katy Breitenbach. ERGs, she adds, also provide a forum for organizations to hear directly from employees about their experiences and needs for support.
Looking for innovative ways your ERG can help build connections or promote productive dialogue? Here are five key strategies.
- Show appreciation for your “essential” colleagues
With the support of leadership, the Whirlpool Women’s Network, an ERG with nearly 1,500 members, launched a thank-you letter-writing campaign for Whirlpool manufacturing workers in the US. Whirlpool employees from across the organization have mailed approximately 150 handwritten letters, and they are still rolling in. Many of Whirlpool’s manufacturing sites have highlighted the letters in videos and weekly newsletters distributed to all staff. Said one Women’s Network member, “Our men and women in our manufacturing and distribution facilities are our ‘essential’ workers. We are incredibly grateful for their dedication and skill. It’s an uplifting, culture-building experience to write them personal thank-you notes that are really from the heart.”
- Organize meaningful virtual events for all staff
In May, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) leaders worked with the Global Women’s Network, an ERG for women at HPE, to develop a Women’s Excellence Award Speaker Series that could be streamed across global regions. Featuring the 2020 winners of HPE’s Women’s Excellence Award, the virtual event series enables staff to hear from the award winners about how they continue to rise in challenging times. Sessions are being hosted across regions so that team members can participate in their own time zones. At Uber, a long-running partnership between the company’s LGBTQ (Pride at Uber) and Black (Black at Uber) ERGs allowed the two groups to quickly develop programming and resources for staff in the wake of the George Floyd protests. The two groups produced a virtual panel discussion, “Pride is Protest,” which focused on personal stories from staff who are both Black and LGBTQ. The event was available to all staff globally and has sparked continued learning and dialogue across ERGs about how to fight systemic racism, sexism, and injustice.
- Share tips and resources to help employees manage work and family issues
2020 Catalyst Award Winner Medtronic was honored for its initiative Igniting Women to Lead Through the Medtronic Women’s Network (MWN). CEO Omar Ishrak’s robust engagement with the MWN ERG to create an inclusive workplace helped the company adapt quickly to meet employees’ needs during the pandemic. When the disruption began, the MWN Leadership team didn’t sit still—they quickly worked to identify other ways to improve the company’s flex work guidelines and develop an implementation plan. Aspire—a subgroup of the MWN for women in the field—has also provided support for women now managing the dual responsibilities of work and childcare. Aspire hosted a webinar on tips and tricks for homeschooling that included a panel of Medtronic parents who shared their personal challenges and experiences, attracting more than 750 attendees.
- Promote awareness of mental health issues The pandemic has caused an increase in mental health challenges for employees, and KPMG recognized the need to address this reality head-on. In May, the company’s National Abilities in Motion (AIM) group hosted a Mental Health Awareness Month campaign to provide mental health support for all staff, partnering with KPMG’s Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) provider. Each week, they provided free webinars for staff about mental health. They also sent weekly emails to AIM members with resource information. Some AIM members volunteered to share selfie videos, which were included in the newsletters to show the importance of role-modeling and empathy.
- Facilitate one-on-one connections With the pandemic sending us all to our homes, the One Catalyst ERG decided to bring people together through coffee. The concept behind “10 Cups of Coffee” is simple: You are matched with another employee, and the two of you find a 15-minute window to grab a cup and enjoy the conversation. Catalyst staff have had the opportunity to connect with colleagues with whom they may not interact otherwise.
Read more about the power and promise of employee resource groups and consider implementing some of these initiatives at your own company.