Do employee resource groups help to boost diversity?

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Employee resource groups give workers the opportunity to bond with those of similar backgrounds or interests and can play an important role in encouraging diversity at work. But employers need to do more to boost worker participation, experts say.

About 90% of Fortune 500 companies offer some kind of employee resource group in the office, according to data from Bentley University. Employers such as Johnson & Johnson, Salesforce and Trulia all offer the benefit. Still, despite the widespread offering, only an average of 8.5% of U.S. workers belong to an employee resource groups.

“Employee resource groups tend to be in place in larger companies, and not even all of them have them,” says Jorge Titinger, co-author of the book “Differences That Make a Difference,” which focuses on diversity at work. “There are not enough employee resource groups, especially in mid-sized companies.”

TIAA, a large employer with about 17,000 employees in the U.S., began adding business resource groups in 2010. The financial services company now has 10 groups that employees can join based on a number of demographic and career factors — everything from LGBTQ+ employees to diverse abilities. About 34% of TIAA’s workforce is involved in a business resource group.

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The employer decided to invest more in these groups as an effort to boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace, says Corie Pauling, chief inclusion and diversity officer at TIAA. With five generations in the workplace, employers need to make an effort to ensure all employees feel taken care of at work, she says.

“They are a big part of helping us identify the things we need to be talking about,” Pauling says.

This year the company introduced a new business resource group for older professionals, which is intended to give more voice to mature workers at the company. TIAA already has a group for young professionals, and decided this was a natural next step, Pauling says. That professional group is comprised of 28% baby boomers and 51% Generation X.

“There are five generations working side by side, which poses opportunities and challenges for making sure everybody feels included,” she says. “We wanted to make sure the voice of our older generation is reflected.”

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Employee resource groups boost diversity by helping workers to feel heard at the office. It can also help employees of similar backgrounds or experience feel like they belong, Titinger says.

“As we know people want to work in environments where they can get a sense of belonging, people with similar backgrounds, people that look like them, people with similar cultures,” he says. “Employee resource groups can provide these places of belonging; they can provide a safe haven for employees and can therefore make it easier to attract and retain employees of different backgrounds, races, gender preferences.”

TIAA’s Pauling says the company plans to continue to invest in these groups moving forward. They’re spearheading a communications effort to boost membership and hope to top 50% employee membership next year. The groups can be a key attraction and retention tool, Pauling adds.

“We talk to business leaders about really stressing the need for business resource group membership as a professional development tool,” she says. “This is an area where we can really identify and grow leaders.”

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