Employee resource groups shape the inclusion narrative  

Across companies, these units are proving their effectiveness in promoting the LGBTQ+ cause

June 28, 2023 09:43 am | Updated 09:43 am IST

GE employees take part in a pride walk on their premises in Bengaluru.

GE employees take part in a pride walk on their premises in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

John F Welch Technology Centre, a research unit of General Electric, in Bengaluru recently organised a Pride Walk on its premises. There were no half measures. The employees had taken meticulous efforts to capture the spirit of the cause.

Some of them had their faces painted. Some of them were carrying placards promoting acceptance and inclusion. And some, pride flags. A Pride quiz covering LGBTQ+ terminology was integral to the celebration. While this one sought to create awareness about the community, a discussion that followed, sought to sharpen existing inclusion strategies.

Through the month, employee resource groups (ERGs) across GE’s businesses were organising events set in this mould. These groups drive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) by influencing policies, practices, infrastructure and mindsets.

Companies are increasingly acknowledging the role of ERGs in furthering the LGBTQIA+ cause within the framework of a work environment.

Recently, power solutions technology provider Cummins India announced support towards Gender Reassignment Surgery of any of its employees. Earlier, the company came up with a Gender-Neutral Dress Code Policy for its workforce including contract employees. In doing so, the company was honouring the recommendations and “vision of its ERG India Pride.”

Employees of companies at Brookfield Properties

Employees of companies at Brookfield Properties

“Our India Pride Employee Resource Group plays a vital role in advocating for the rights and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community, fostering a safe, equitable and inclusive work environment where they are valued, inspired and empowered,” says Anupama Kaul, HR Leader, Cummins India, in a communication that announced support for Gender Reassignment Surgery.

Mahesh Palashikar, president, GE South Asia, in a communication, heaped praise on its “Pride Alliance.”

“In the last 18 months, GE’s Pride Alliance in South Asia has been leading conversations and conducting groundwork to raise awareness on inclusion and integration of the LGBTQIA+ community,” says Mahesh. He adds, “The Pride walks are an extension of the many initiatives to propagate positive change.” GE boasts of gender neutral washrooms across its facilities and a “JD Decoder tool” that helps hiring managers weed out words that reek of bias from job descriptions.

DEI infrastructure

A McKinsey research in 2022 that had the participation of 25,000 employees from the United States found that ERGs drive inclusion at work but they “tend to fall short in predictable patterns — patterns that can be undone with practices followed by the most effective ERGs.”

“We found that even while many companies believe their DEI aspirations are transformative, the majority do not have a DEI infrastructure — including ERGs — that is equally innovative and set up to advance the company’s overall DEI strategy,” says the McKinsey report.

It also noted that when ERGs are ineffective, employees feel excluded.

How can companies make sure their ERGs and DEI teams are not at loggerheads? Effective DEI teams share their strategies with ERGs so the groups can devote activities and resources towards shaping the overall DEI strategy, says the report. Other best practices include developing a charter that details the ERG’s strategic objectives; drafting annual plans that outline initiatives; defining who is accountable for the initiatives and how ERG members support them; establishing metrics to assess the impact of initiatives and programmes; and soliciting feedback and analysing those metrics.

Dipankana P and Priyadarshini K, leading the ERG at an MNC and participants in Pride events organised by Brookfield Properties, say that when the leadership and the support group are on the same page, the task becomes easier.

On getting more people into the ERG, Dipankana notes the focus is not so much on numbers as on impact. Irrespective of its size, an ERG is valuable if it has sensitised the employees to the LGBTQ+ cause.

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