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Employee-Led DE&I Programs Can Keep Workers Active, Engaged

A group of business people sitting around a table.

​Employee-led diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) groups, often part of employee resource groups (ERGs), encourage employees to be actively involved and engaged in developing a unique DE&I standard for each ERG.

According to a 2022 McKinsey and Co. report, "As ERGs discover more opportunities to engage employees and support companies' DE&I programs, they will want to be judicious about choosing where to dedicate time and energy—in part, to make sure that their activities are promoting a sense of inclusion among ERG members."

Here's how employees and companies around the U.S. are using these groups to elevate DE&I goals.

Including Employees at All Levels

Alorica, a global hybrid company based in Irvine, Calif., that provides customer service to mostly Fortune 100 companies, has two employee-led DE&I initiatives that have seen strong participation by women and people of color.

"When we work together as leaders—and there's no barrier—we learn so much from each other," said Vanessa J-Douglas, division director of HR at Alorica. "[We] have [an immersive] morale, compassion and openness that results in a global and relatable company."

One initiative, Together for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (TIDE) at Alorica, was founded in 2020 in response to George Floyd's killing. It conducts "Real Talks" to discuss typically taboo subjects that other workplaces may avoid, J-Douglas said. Through these talks, employees can let their leaders know how to improve and learn about one another's cultures and beliefs.

The other employee-led initiative, Making Lives Better at Alorica (MLBA), was founded in 2015. It is a nonprofit, philanthropic group that raises and donates money to the community and to Alorica employees across the globe, said Sunny Yu, Alorica's vice president of global communications and corporate social responsibility.

Employees may submit grant applications for money on behalf of a co-worker who needs extra help. That money can be used to help with challenges such as an employee's housing costs or a neighbor's medical bills. MLBA has raised $7.6 million to date to support the community and its employees.

"The [Alorica] leaders offer a safe, culturally nuanced space to their employees for TIDE conversations, and for constructing MLBA opportunities for its employees and community. Then they just run with it," Yu said.

Employee involvement is crucial for successful DE&I strategies, according to consultant Robin Pedrelli of VisionSpring Inc., a DE&I strategic consulting and training firm in Natick, Mass. She emphasizes using a DE&I strategy that involves both leaders' and employees' input when coordinating initiatives and behaviors across a company.

"Leadership cannot be the only ones deciding the DE&I strategies for their workplace because they will be riddled with blind spots," Pedrelli said. "Employees at all levels must be engaged in the DE&I initiatives—a strategy that is not in a vacuum."

In addition, employee retention will increase if all employees are engaged and contributing to the DE&I strategy at work, she said.

Increasing Inclusivity and Belonging

Qualtrics, an experience management company with offices in Seattle and Provo, Utah, has diverse and high-performing teams that share a sense of belonging, said Farren Roper, the company's head of DE&I. He noted that this increases the likelihood that Qualtrics employees stay with the company for at least five years.

At Qualtrics, each ERG, or Q group, has an executive sponsor at the highest level. Q groups are centered on underrepresented communities, including women, veterans and people living with disabilities, Roper said.

"When we talk about our mission of making business more human, our core belief is that you cannot make that mission come to life if you don't have a diverse, equitable environment where people feel like they belong," he said. "We take a quarterly in-house pulse of our community to see what we are doing right and wrong and how [leadership and our workforce] can work together to meet our DE&I goals of inclusivity and belonging."

Elsewhere, Cohesity, an information technology company in San Jose, Calif., has five employee-led DE&I-related ERGs: Black Cohesity Network, Women's Impact Network, THRIVE (a well-being group), Unidos Network and LGBTQ+ ERG.

"In 2022, [Cohesity's] employees expressed that it was extremely important to have a connection point that could help them build a community with like-minded cohorts across the business," said Ruth Grigsby, DE&I program manager at Cohesity. "In our hybrid and remote work environments, especially, employees are looking to connect with colleagues who share similar values and perspectives."

Meanwhile, Indianapolis-based Engage Mentoring, a software-based mentoring enablement program, has three employee-led DE&I programs that allow participants to "grow and reflect": Developing Leaders Forum, Project Lead for Women Forum and Pride Leadership Forum, said Yalonda Brown, the program's president of diversity initiatives.

"Through our work with companies to aid in [DE&I] areas, we realized that access to relationships in the form of mentoring was especially critical for diverse employees, who sometimes have a harder time accessing critical relationships to help them grow within a company," Brown said. "[Access] to mentoring relationships is critical when you look through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion."

Sarah Dolezal is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.


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