Thought Leadership

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Making Real Strides Towards DEI Goals with Employee Resource Groups

Hands putting together a tangram square block puzzle, each piece has the icon of a person on it.

Leading organizations looking to attract top talent and make meaningful impact know that they have to do more than pay lip service to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The smartest employees in today’s workforce need to see leadership investing in ways that support people from groups that have faced marginalization and discrimination. So how do you support these communities within your organization?

Town Hall, in collaboration with our counterparts from Situation Group, is investing in the formation of Employee Resource Groups. Our first three ERGs, set up for colleagues at all levels of the organization who are BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and Parents, are in the throes of figuring out how to make a difference in our organization, with our clients, and in the world. 

True to the spirit of the inspiration for these groups- there are varying opinions on the best way to move forward, but some important learnings have already emerged. 

A Clear Throughline: Moving from Inspiration to Opportunity

Town Hall’s nonprofit and foundation clients are doing impactful work around the globe, in areas like Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Social Justice, so we understand the importance of living the values that are critical to this work, and educating ourselves on an ongoing basis.

So in determining the structure and purpose of these groups, we recognized that it’s important to draw a clear through line from the organizational mission– inspiring impact– to the DEI committee’s vision of cultivating an inclusive community of professionals committed to diverse perspectives and equitable practices. 

With this in mind, Employee Resource Groups were created to provide employees with opportunities to: 

  • Connect with those who share an identity
  • Help each other find resources and develop language for the company
  • Lead programming to educate and celebrate our team
  • Embody Situation Group’s values internally and externally while centering specific communities

Finding a Sense of Purpose

One of the fun parts of forming these groups is that members are empowered to define who and what we are, and  outline a vision for the ways the group will make a difference to our employees, our clients and partners, and the community at large. 

Luckily, we have a team of creative experts who are the best in the business for leading visionary branding exercises. (For recent examples of Town Hall Branding work, check out our case studies here)

We put this expertise into action in our ERGs. So, for for example– in the LGBTQIA+ group, our branding experts led a highly engaged group in a lively brainstorming session, and found that the areas of enthusiasm fell into three main categories:

  • Community- Foster a safe, joyful, and inclusive space where we can inspire internal and external impact through the collective use of our crafts, passions, and resources.
  • Education- Educate ourselves on LGBTQIA+ history and issues through an inclusive lens and share our learnings with our colleagues, clients and industry partners.
  • Advocacy- Uplift important topics, holidays, and timely moments within Situation Group and support community initiatives at work and beyond.

But we knew we needed something to tie all this together, to summarize the values driving this work and the aspirations of group members to have a real impact. And we landed on a statement of Purpose: 

To promote the safety, health, and happiness of the LGBTQIA+ community within Situation Group and beyond.

This packs a punch that clearly defines who we are, what we stand for, and –most importantly- what we’re willing to work toward. 

Building and Bridging: Sharing Learnings and Creating Synergies among ERGs

While all three groups are autonomous and set their own course, in comparing notes among members of the BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and Parents’ groups, we’re finding that a few common themes have emerged: 

1. Affinity or Allyship?

One of the key questions we’ve been wrestling with is whether it is better to create an open or closed space. Some members of the groups feel comfortable discussing the issues that affect their community inside and outside the workplace among those with a shared experience of identity. Others would like to welcome our teammates into the space who do not identify as part of the community and create opportunities for informed allyship.

There are pros and cons to both, and at the moment, groups are open to all, with the understanding that future programming can be designed to serve one or both of these objectives. 

2. Balancing Individual Needs with the Collective Good

Within the Employee Resource Groups, we’ve intentionally created some structure while leaving enough space for everyone to be heard. So delineating what is and isn’t relevant to the work of the group can be  a tricky question. 

Health Coverage concerns? Volunteer Opportunities? Passion Projects? Advocacy Initiatives? Current Events? It’s up to the group members to define the priorities for members, then subcommittees are formed to dive deeper into agreed upon priorities. 

Some members are more focused on ways to make change, while others are more inclined to focus on visibility and community building. We often have to remind ourselves– keep striving for progress, but don’t forget to celebrate who you already are.

3. Compare Notes and Collaborate

When we ask members of other ERGs “How are things going in your group?” One thing becomes clear- the issues that affect one are relevant to the others. 

Parents are trying to understand how to talk with their kids about gender and sexuality, Queer community members are underscoring that BIPOC and Trans Women have not benefited equally from the progress made by the gay rights movement… these issues are all interrelated. he richness of insight offered by our teammates with intersectional identities is especially powerful.

Beyond These Walls

While the ERGs are a testing ground where we get to bring our various perspectives and put our expertise to work in service to something bigger, our work doesn’t stop in the office. Especially at Town Hall, our nonprofit and foundation clients are navigating extraordinary levels of uncertainty, and our ability to integrate our learnings from these DEI initiatives into the services we provide is essential. It’s not just ‘optics’; it’s doing what’s right.

Some clients are in the throes of rebranding to power up their presence in the advocacy arena, while others have been given a new mandate to be more political and agile in the events they organize.

But whether they’ve brought us on for Branding, Campaigns, Events, or Technical Support, what our clients have in common is they are organizations of committed, passionate people. They keep us inspired and make the grind worthwhile, because we know we’re not just their marketing agency, we’re strategic partners in the realization of their vision, and real people benefit as a result.

If this article spoke to you, let us know– how could you take your impact to the next level? What’s holding you back? If our expertise can unlock your potential, it’ll be a win-win for our shared goal of creating a better world. 

Click here to let us know what you are thinking about.

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