It’s no secret that supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is critical to a healthy and engaged workforce. Gone are the days of simply saying your company or organization cares or of simply participating in philanthropic donations or volunteerism; you need to show up for your people every day. Engaging your people in their benefits is one way to tangibly show you care—and working closely with your employee resource groups (ERGs) can give you an additional boost.
Employee resource groups (also known as business resource groups, employee impact groups, and affinity groups) are communities within your workplace that identify with or support a specific segment of your population. A few of the most popular types of ERGs include Asian American, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Women, Disability, and Caregiving affinities. These groups create connection and unite their members—and you’d better believe they talk about what your workplace does (or doesn’t do) to support them. Here’s how you can engage with ERGs to ensure that what you have to offer isn’t being overlooked.
All good strategy starts by asking questions, and your first efforts to engage with your ERGs can help you gain a strong understanding of your employee population. You may have a good handle on what your population looks like by the numbers, but your ERGs can help you supercharge employee personas. Start with questions like:
Once you get a picture of what you have, what you want, and what you need, you can start building communications that reach your population effectively and inclusively.
Considering a plan design change or introducing a new benefit, program, or vendor? Ask the ERGs what they think. Employee listening is an important piece of communications strategy, but it’s especially significant for groups that are historically marginalized. If you have a white, heteronormative, cisgender view of the world, you may not be able to see where a certain plan or program has gaps. Getting feedback is key to avoiding embarrassing and potentially discriminatory benefits communications. And remember, you not only need to think about racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion, but also accessibility for those with disabilities. One of our favorite methods of getting feedback is online focus groups. They are especially helpful in these situations, because they provide anonymity, which encourages authentic conversations about potentially sensitive topics. We have a great tool that allows participants to vote on what others are saying in the moment, so you can get a real feel for what your people think and what they’re sharing around the virtual water cooler.
One of the first places employees or members will go for help is their manager, so your managers need to know where to direct people for support. Make sure managers are equipped to deal with potential questions about DEI by providing them with the resources they need to be knowledgeable and the opportunity to participate in ERG initiatives.
You can do this by:
ERGs can help you do the work too. They’re an essential part of manager support in two ways: (1) They provide valuable insight to making sure an inclusive message is being shared during manager training about how to promote benefits to their groups, and (2) ERGs can be a topic of manager support to drive awareness and create a healthier workplace for all. Consider a campaign for managers that spotlights each ERG’s mission, vision, and purpose, so they can learn and share what they know through their direct reports. For ERG members, it’s not a social club; it’s a crucial part of being able to bring their authentic selves to work. Helping managers encourage ERG participation is essential to maintaining and improving a DEI-friendly culture, but it’s also essential to well-being on an individual level.
“I didn’t know we had that!” How many times have you been on the receiving end of this statement? By engaging with ERGs, you’ll be able to connect the people who need and appreciate benefits the most with the resources offered. Set up a meeting with each ERG to hear what benefits they’d like to have, and share which benefits are already in place. You can also create ERG-specific materials that detail the benefits and resources a group may be interested in. For example, creating an LGBTQ+ benefits guide can highlight gender affirmation services and inclusive family planning and leave benefits.
It’s not enough to say, “We’re a DEI-friendly workplace.” Show potential new hires in your recruiting material by detailing how you support different affinity groups. Make your ERGs external facing. Share how your benefits and programs support your unique populations like caregivers, LGBTQ+, and Black employees. One of our clients created a set of recruiting flyers for all their ERGs after realizing that many of them were trying to do it themselves. The result was a set of professional and accurate flyers that beautifully showcased their benefits and inclusive culture at recruiting events.
We know that all benefits information needs a bit of translation to turn it into easy-to-understand language. Take that refinement lens a step further, and look at it from the perspective of different groups. As with testing and employee listening, review vendor content for bias with all ERGs to ensure that what you’re introducing is inclusive and helpful.
As part of the onboarding process, all new hires should be invited to join the ERGs available at your company. Want to be bolder? Require new hires to join at least one affinity group, either as a full-fledged member or an ally. This creates a culture of inclusion from day one and establishes your workplace as one that requires a mindful approach to the needs of all employees.
It can be scary to tackle DEI in benefits communications, but don’t let that hold you back from diving in. Having a diverse workforce isn’t the same as having an inclusive one, and employee benefits are uniquely positioned to help bridge the gap with support. Start with strategy and listening, then start communicating. And a note on ERGs: They’re not extracurricular. They make your company or organization better by reducing turnover and increasing performance outcomes and productivity. It’s another example of how taking care of your people empowers them to do incredible things for you.
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
Cassandra Roth, Senior Communications Consultant, is an award-winning innovator in using augmented reality for employee engagement and in developing results-driven campaigns.