Years ago, when Employee Resource Groups (ERGs, also known as Affinity Groups and Employee Networks) made their appearance in corporate America, the goal was to provide a space for diverse groups of employees to be heard and to offer support and networking opportunities which would result in an increased level of employee engagement.
As with most things, ERGs have evolved through the years and at a time when businesses need to leverage any advantage they have to earn market share, using the power of employees to reach an increasingly diverse population is key. In the words of Kerrie Peraino, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express: “We don’t want to loose the educational, informational and celebratory mandates of ERGs but we also want them to help with recruiting, orienting, training and retaining of talent and to share and develop business ideas that bring direct benefits to the bottom line.”
As a matter of fact, the AHORA network at American Express (their Latino ERG) helped develop the idea and the design for Amex’s new ¡Felicidades! gift card that went on sale recently and which will be available until January to account for the Hispanic community’s habit of buying gifts for Three Kings Day. ERG members voted online for one of the three designs that the company’s ad agency came up with after hearing AHORA’s input.
Ms.Peraino is not alone in her thinking. Recently, I moderated a panel called “Optimizing ERGs business effectiveness” at a Diversity Best Practices’s conference in Washington, DC. While discussing the different models ERGs are using to impact a company’s bottom line, one of the presenters on the panel, Claudia Mastrapasqua, Managing Director Client Executive Practice at Marsh, shared the innovative approach of her company’s Women’s network (WEBB.)
For the last few years WEBB has been hosting an event where Marsh clients and Marsh employees get together for some strong networking around a keynote speaker at a great venue. These events have helped the company develop new relationships with prospective clients and strengthen existing relationships. Most recently, I was the speaker at their event at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where about 140 women got together at around 6 PM on a Thursday night.
Everyone networked until 6:30 when the 1/2 hour program started. First, Joseph McSweeney, president of Marsh’s US/Canada Division, said a few words and then I made a twenty minute presentation. That was it. The group went back to their networking, their shopping and having their hands massaged for free. No doubt that the wonderful hors d’oeuvres, the Holiday Martinis, the 15% discount coupon and the personal shoppers assigned to help the women shop privately (the store closed its doors to the public at 7 PM) helped make the evening a wild success.
But what I want to point out to you is this: through their involvement with their ERGs the members of AHORA and WEBB have found great opportunities to connect with senior management and gain visibility within their companies, which is often hard to do. By taking an active role in developing programs and products that affect your company’s bottom line you become part of a selective group of individuals who get recognized for their contributions. AHORA and WEBB have received lots of internal praise as well as external press and their members are preparing for wonderful year-end reviews.
So the question is: In this economic climate, what are you doing to stand out in your company?