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What's next for employee resource groups | Insights

Employee (Resource) Groups – also known as employee networks, affinity groups, or business resource groups – have been a core component of companies’ diversity and inclusion strategy for decades. Yet, many organizations still struggle with business alignment and with keeping employee-group initiatives sustainable over time and across different regions of the world. Join our researchers as they explore current and future trends to understand “what is next” for employee groups, as well as share insights from leaders across different industries and global regions on: How are employee groups evolving in the diversity and inclusion space and across regions? How are employee groups’ strategies, goals, and activities changing in response to new workforce and workplace trends? How do employee groups foster inclusion across multiple identities and with allies? Report Summary link:


Unknown Speaker 0:01

You are listening to insights from the Conference Board.

Unknown Speaker 0:06

Hello, everyone. My name is Amy and the human capital researcher at the Conference Board. Today, it's my pleasure to welcome you to this edition of insights. It's a podcast series brought to you by the Conference Board. Sitting with me today are Laura Genie, who is a principal researcher and human capital center, and also Amanda popular, who's also human cultural researcher at the conference board. So Laura, Amanda and I, along with Dr. Jean Horan, who is based in Asia. We recently co authored a report titled what's next for employee groups. So without further ado, let's get to the issue at hand with our two expert on this subject. I'm sure some of our audience audience already have some questions after hearing the title of a report. So let's start with you, Laura. So why do we choose a term employee groups versus a more common phrase such as employee resource groups, affinity groups or business resource groups?

Unknown Speaker 1:01

Yes, thank you. Amen. Hello, everyone. Yes, so in this study, we wanted to find a name for the groups that would be a little broader than employee resource groups or Business Resource Groups, as we know, many organizations may use different names interchangeably. And there's not a consistent way of defining the groups across all organizations. And so we wanted to have a general term that would comprise a lot of different examples of groups, as we said, and we also wanted to make sure that there was this distinction from between employee groups that we define them, and more informal workplace, groups and gatherings.

Unknown Speaker 1:50

Great. Thank you, Laura. So can you talk a bit more about how we define employee groups in our study? And what prompted us to do this study on this topic?

Unknown Speaker 1:59

Yes. So we defined employee groups as any type of volunteer employee LED, company recognized entity formed to act as a resource to both employees and the organization. And this dual function of the groups is really key for our definition. Many listening probably know that typically, employee groups are formed around shared characteristics such as background demographics can be gender, race, ethnicity, nationality. Some groups may be organized, organized around work life stages, like working parents, or early career professionals. And more and more, as we'll discuss later, we can find groups organized around interests can be around a job function of volunteering, sustainability, and so on. So the impetus for the study was exactly that try to understand how employee groups are evolving, and what is next for employee groups. And we know that many of these initiatives started a while ago, they've been in place in some organizations since the 60s. And so how are these kind of initiatives expanding or evolving? Interested? Interestingly, a the impetus from a 40 study came from the perception that maybe organizations are moving away from employee groups as we know them, and focusing on other DNI initiatives are focusing more broadly on inclusion. And so we wanted to explore if that was the case. To do so we conducted a survey it This was a survey where we asked executives in 92 organizations and these were leaders that had responsibilities related to employee groups, and a diversity and inclusion strategy. And we asked them about their initiatives and their global initiatives. In regards to employee groups, we surveyed 92 organizations globally again, and then we did some follow up interviews, these were in depth interviews with leaders, again, responsible for the groups, and this was to get some nuances about their experiences, understand the challenges and opportunities that they saw, and get also some qualitative data that we could use to help understand and interpret our survey findings. So what we found without giving too much away from what we're going to discuss during the rest of this podcast, is that employee groups are actually still very relevant today. We saw a very substantial increase in interest in groups and across different global regions in We asked a survey participants to tell us both a kind of interest that they've noticed in employees joining employee groups as members. But also we asked them about whether they noticed interest in employees across the organization to participate in activities that were sponsored or organized by employee groups. And in both cases, organizations in our sample really, very strongly told us that there had been an increase in interest. And as we'll discuss also in a bit, as we go over the findings in more detail, is that while there are new types of groups emerging, and and, and the strategy and structure of groups are evolving, but oftentimes these are being added to when supporting more traditional types of groups. So a lot of really interesting insights came out from our analysis.

Unknown Speaker 6:02

Thank you very much, Laura, for the very thorough explanation. So it's great to hear that just mentioned employee groups are actually still relevant today, a very popular interest in playgroups is growing. So I'm sure our audience is also interesting. Organizations encountered any challenges when managing these employee groups? And what are they? If so,

Unknown Speaker 6:24

yes, yes. So we did ask in our survey about the top three challenges that organizations are facing when it comes to their employee groups. And interestingly, again, you know, there we had some, you know, thoughts about what we might find. We expected for example, people to talk about funding or or, you know, how did groups as things related to practical issues, but actually, what emerged is that some of the challenges that we see we saw in our sample are similar to what you can find a an other research that has been done on this topic before. So I'll talk about three things specifically. One is keeping the momentum of the groups it is basically about keeping engagement, keeping people interested in joining the groups and in doing work within the groups. And that was definitely the top challenge that many of our respondents mentioned, as people and employees, move around in organizations or leave the organization's. And so you can have, for example, a very passionate and engage employee group leader, and how do you maintain sustain that interest and that engagement, should that leader leave or rotate out of a particular role. So that was the top challenge. Companies also told us that they had challenges figuring out how to best align employee group activities with their business strategy, and business activities. So that's a really ideal situation for most groups to have that strong connection, it helps with sustainability and visibility for the groups. But maybe the practical ways of doing that is still a challenge. And we'll discuss that in a bit. The last area is around measurement and ROI. So we found consistently that companies are still not measuring or finding the best way to measure the impact other groups. Most respondents do track membership and participation, though, we were surprised to see that about 20%. Don't do that consistently across regions. But more a lot more. About 60% of our respondents don't go beyond that. So they don't measure for example, the impact. And that could be for to give an example. So are you comparing group members and non group members on engagement? Or are you looking to see if employee group members are more likely to advance to particular roles or leadership opportunities, so many companies are having trouble doing that? And not surprisingly, a fourth challenge that came up is also measuring the ROI of inclusion, of course, the two things are connected. If you're not measuring the impact, you cannot calculate the ROI the return on investment of these groups.

Unknown Speaker 9:38

Well, 60% of respondents don't track the impact of employee groups. And that's really surprising. Yeah, thank you for explaining the challenges. So as many of you already have known that the title of our report is what is next for employee groups. So now let's shift our gears a bit to focus on how employee groups are evolving. So In this research, we identified three major trends. Laura has just shared, the first trend, which is interest in employee groups is still strong and continuing to grow globally. So now let's hear more about the second trend. Amanda, do you want to speak to the second trend? Sure.

Unknown Speaker 10:17

So the second trend is about how employee groups are evolving to respond to workplace workforce shifts in companies. So this includes new groups evolving, terrific new generations. So part of this is the millennial generation. About a quarter of respondents to our survey said that they do you have groups focus on generational diversity. But I think this is anecdotal. It wasn't really in our survey, but more groups are focusing on the generational diversity than one specific generation. So I thought that was pretty interesting to see, how can we bring generations together? And how can we have them work together? Look at kind of the differences, but also the similarities there. There were also group new groups focus on life stage, which Laura mentioned. So groups for new parents, those close to retirement, you know, mid career workers. So there were all kinds of groups focused on the life stage. And other kinds of diversity as well. So for example, groups for women in STEM, or for creative workers, it's kind of an interesting one. In addition to looking at different types of diversity, and maybe new groups of employees that are in organizations, we also saw groups aligned with new interests. So not just about the diversity of the workers, but interest diversity, things like social change the environment and those kinds of movements. So organizations are kind of shifting and the way that they're thinking about these employee groups, and what the focus areas can be, and it's broader than maybe it was in the past. So some organizations are also shifting and how they do work towards flatter organization structures increase teamwork, they're creating more opportunities for collaboration. And that's being reflected in these groups as well. So we're seeing more virtual options, some completely virtual groups, so working across regions, geographies, different organization structures, and we're also seeing remote participation options in those groups as well. So in general, groups are evolving towards the new generations that are entering the workplace, and the ways that workers are now requiring availability to participate.

Unknown Speaker 12:40

Yeah, thanks, Amanda, for sharing the interesting examples. Yeah, the gender diversity. And like, I remember when I was doing this study, I remember a cosmetic company share that they launched a creative vrG to just help spur on innovation among the employees about their products. So that really fascinated me. So thank you for sharing these examples. So I think at this point in your program, we're going to take a short break for some quick announcements and be back just in a minute and to continue discussing the latest trends on what's next for employee groups.

Unknown Speaker 13:15

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Unknown Speaker 14:02

Hello again, Laura, Amanda, and thanks for taking the time to discuss a future trends of employee groups identified from research. So now welcome to the second half of our podcast. So before the break, we talked about the increasing participation employee groups, and how groups are evolving to meet the different and changing employee meet needs. So this third trend is actually related to one of the challenges Laura just talked about. It's about sustaining the employee interests and keeping the momentum of the employee groups. So this third trend is particularly focused on how organizations address these issues and sustain employee interest engagement. So I think in general, from our study, we found that organizations and existing groups are actually striving really hard to foster inclusion, both across and beyond the groups. For example, they include remote and virtual workers. They engage allies as wives. Employees who may not be working at head offices, but actually from smaller offices in different regions. So in most organizations that we studied, our employee groups actually open to anyone who's interested in joining the groups, attending events or participating in group activities, for example, as a way for them to learn more about their focus interests or focus areas. I'd say most, the DNI leaders we spoke with actually reported that they have their employee group events are open to all the employees, and some of them actually even also invited contractors, seasonal workers or family members of employee groups to participate in some events. So most organizations also encourage employees to join more than one group if they have the availability.

Unknown Speaker 15:49

Yes, and and to add, of course, this is Laura, we also see that many companies try to find a way to host fairs, or either employee group favors or DNI fairs where the group or participate in in a substantial way, and conferences, so give the opportunity for multiple groups to work together, either collaborate for the event, or just meet and discuss best practices, challenges, or, you know, success that they had in different things. And this was, again, a way for organizations to increase the visibility on the group for the groups and, and inform employees who might be interested in joining, as Amy said, but also as a way to connect in person. As you mentioned, sometimes employees may, we may meet with our groups, you know, on occasion, but there's also remote workers, so workers that may come from offices that are maybe dispersed in different regions that would have the opportunity to meet with others and sort of get excited about the activities and the work that they're doing. And those who want to mention that we heard that several about several companies that have given awards, to encourage, you know, sort of employee groups to achieve their goals and get visibility. And this is a way to definitely increase competition among the groups, but also think it's a way to increase that interest and an engagement from a team member. So we heard a lot of great examples from that.

Unknown Speaker 17:33

And another way that some of these groups are increasing the collaboration. We've heard organizations that are actually creating inclusive groups themselves. So groups that don't focus on a specific characteristic, but are really across all employees. So for example, one organization had a focus on engineers, I think in February, they had cultural diversity was in May, LGBTQ was in June, so just different focuses for each month. And that way, it included everybody that's provided flexibility, so they could tailor the groups and the focus, you know, depending on what was important at that time, and they could also focus it locally. So kind of have different focus areas for different months at a more local level, and shift over time. We also heard one organization that hosts did some events during each month. So looking at 5k, runs and lunch and learns and volunteer activities. And so just different events that kind of brought different people together at different times throughout the year.

Unknown Speaker 18:44

So organizations really making efforts to engage and attract employees to and workers to different employee groups. So in addition to the open membership structure, as well as a multi focus, employee group model that Amanda just talked about, employee groups actually are also engaging allies by encouraging them to join the groups participated in events or even encouraged them to become leaders or co leaders have the group's men for example, they're often the allies in gender inclusion efforts for some other employee groups such as disability or LGBTQ plus. So in those groups, a number of employees who identify themselves with affinity, especially at one specific rotation tends to be small. So allies and employees who feel a strong connection to this issue, usually because they have a family member with disability or they have friends who are LGBTQ. So allies and employees feel a strong connection of a makeup the majority of the group membership. Yes, definitely. And

Unknown Speaker 19:50

we find you know, this is we've been conducting more research on diversity and inclusion, and ally ship is definitely a topic that emerge emerges in a lot of discussions we have about diversity and inclusion in general, but definitely was key when looking at trends in for employee resource groups. That's a challenge that had been emerged before you know that. organizations don't want the groups to feel isolated from the rest of the population. But also, it's a way to make sure that everyone at the company participates in creating more inclusive work environments is a way to dispel, if you will, some of the myths might be out there about what employee groups do. And also, you know, way to share the opportunity to really build a better work environment, inclusion should not shouldn't be everyone's responsibility. And so by encouraging allies to join the groups and help with this strategy, that's one way of doing that. And as you mentioned, a me ally ship seems to be evolving across different groups. And but it seems to be especially salient for some groups. And as you mentioned, you know, disability networks and LGBTQ networks often really rely on allies to contribute in meaningful way and to really provide the opportunity for the groups to function and work across the organization. So definitely, we heard that loud and clear in many of our interviews. In fact, one of the companies we interviewed even change the name of the employee groups to add allies, so they had LGBTQ plus an allies as the title of their employee group to make sure that everybody really understood that that was a key element of their strategy.

Unknown Speaker 21:57

Yeah, definitely all our job is is really important for employee groups. Participation engagement. So last but not least, in this trend, we also found some organizations are developing practices to engage workers who traditionally have not had an opportunity to participate. employee group activities such as for hourly workers and remote workers. For example, we heard from a financial service company based in Asia, they actually invited contractors to their employee group events. So on the one hand, it's opportunity for the contractors to expand their network and also increase their profile among the current employees. And on the other hand, it's organizations opportunity to build a pipeline for full time employment. We also heard from a multinational food company based in Europe. So they have a lot of factory plants across different regions. And they recognize that on their factory workers were not able to participate in employee group events or activities just because the issue of just discretion or time, so they discussed, and they decided to allocate training hours for factory workers so that they have time, maybe like one or two hours a month to participate in employee group activities and events. So I thought that was really innovative.

Unknown Speaker 23:21

Yeah, those are very a great examples and creative way to make sure that everybody has the option to try to participate in these groups.

Unknown Speaker 23:30

temporally. Yeah, so now that we have shared the three key trends of employee groups, with our audience, I hope you found them interesting and resonating. So if you want to learn more about these trends, please check out my report, which is available on the Conference Board website. So now let's discuss some recommendations for companies to take if they're looking to renew their employee group strategy, or trying to improve the effectiveness of their employee group initiatives. So what are some suggestions for different companies? Laura, Amanda?

Unknown Speaker 24:05

Yes. So our report presents a series of recommendations that we gather from our interview is in from the literature we reviewed a when we worked on this study, and the first one is probably not surprising and not new, but I think it's very relevant. And it is a making sure that there is a strong business case for why employee groups are important to both employees and organization. Again, this is a recommendation that applies to many DNI initiatives. But in this case, it's important because we found that many leaders we spoke to actually held the group's accountable for creating, making this connection up front as a condition to join a group. So let's say that it If you had someone that was interested in starting a new group or starting a new chapter, in their application, they would be asked to make sure there was a connection with the business. And this helps with sustainability of the groups. Because again, they're supporting the business. But also it helps employees that are part of the group better understand their organization and their business. So again, the first one, the first recommendation we had is to articulate a strong business case for the employee groups, and why they're important, they can be very important tools for the organization.

Unknown Speaker 25:43

Yeah, and I would say another recommendation that we have in the report is about engaging all of the stakeholders. So talking to multiple stakeholders, and we see that the benefits for employees themselves, so employee groups can provide emerging leaders with some leadership opportunities, and some unique experiences, kind of for leaders at all levels that they might not otherwise get. And we also know that executive sponsors and having senior leaders in these groups can give them a pulse of employees. So what what is the employee sentiment? What are the things that they need? What are some experiences that they need to have? And what are they interested in? So there's kind of the benefits from the two sides there. But it's also important to engage other leaders allies, like we talked about, looking at different business units, functions, different regions, and be creative about how you can involve these multiple groups, community members as another one, how you can involve these groups, and and kind of bring people together through employee groups,

Unknown Speaker 26:43

simply, and I know this, Laura has discussed this in earlier when she was talking about the challenges. But I just want to reiterate the importance of measuring effectiveness of employee groups, as we know that people usually measure what we treasure. So if we track how groups are doing and how employees organizations actually benefiting from establishing and participating in this group's actually really sends a strong message across the entire organization. We encourage organizations to identify metrics early and as groups evolve, continue to adjust and how you measure the results. And Laura mentioned earlier as well find different ways to compare members and non members on key people Patrick's such as engagement, retention, and also career progressions. When it comes to measuring impact, organizations should look at metrics, but not only for the short term, but also for the long term. So I know we only have two minutes left, but I have a question. I'm really curious to hear the thoughts from both of you. So what surprised you most from this research study? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 27:57

So this is a little bit repeating. You know, you're related to your last recommendation, Amy, I would say that definitely, the number of organizations in our study, who are not tracking and measures of employee groups consistently surprised me quite a bit. And I everybody we spoke with, was very passionate about their employee groups. And and many organizations are investing a lot of time and resources, both staff time and leaders times. And so we know that they're valuing. But there's something there's a gap, I guess, into trying to figure out how to really measure things consistently, because often, it was an issue of having measures that would apply across different businesses, groups and regions. So as I mentioned earlier, almost 20% of our respondents don't even track membership or participation. And this can be to, you know, sometimes it's privacy, sometimes it's culture. But more importantly, about 60% of respondents did not track the impact as as you're upset. And so, again, this is an important areas of opportunity. It's one of our recommendation, but it's also what surprised me the most, I guess, as we were reviewing the findings. And just very quickly,

Unknown Speaker 29:20

I also found that really surprising. And I think the other thing for me was that there are so many things that were new to me, but that are kind of normal in organizations today. So having the virtual options, having these kind of multiple faceted groups, bringing in people from different regions, and you know, they're just there's more going on employee groups than kind of traditionally how you think of them. So I thought that was really interesting.

Unknown Speaker 29:48

Yeah, I find it fascinating when I heard that organization had virtual yarujie for the Mental Health Group. So that was really interesting. And I think for me, it was one of the things colleges actually number one challenge was keeping employee group momentum. I was not surprised to see that in aligning employee groups with business priorities and the measurement results to be at the top. But I know that employee interest is strong. So I didn't expect that keeping the momentum would take so much effort from employment organizations. So that said, I found that really amazed by the different and innovative approaches by organizations and to sustain and engage the interest of employee groups. So okay, great. So unfortunately, our time is up for today. I would like to thank you all for joining us today. And a big thank you to Laura and Amanda for sharing the insights on this important topic, which I think is not only relevant to DNI but also relevant to other HR functional areas. And I hope you have enjoyed our podcast today. And if you like to find out more information, please visit our slash podcasts or webcasts for more interactive programs. You can also find our podcasts and other platforms like iTunes or Spotify. Thanks again, and goodbye. This has been insights from the Conference Board.

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