Employee resource groups (ERGs) serve organizations as support systems for employees and oftentimes resources for leadership. These groups, launched within companies by and for professionals, are valuable. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, as well as other current events at the forefront, AT&T (Hall of Fame) and TD Bank (No. 18 on the 2020 Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) have leveraged their ERGs to offer support to employees, advice to leadership, and educational opportunities for their workforce.
Despite events of the past few months have sparked such powerful emotions, these companies and their groups have not shied away from acknowledging them both publicly and internally.
Gina McCray leads The NETwork at AT&T, a 50-year-old ERG that was formed in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in 1969. For The NETwork, McCray said, civil rights is ingrained in everything they do. “We’ve just always been in a position to where we’ve had to make sure that the civil rights are afforded to us, as well, that they apply to us just as they do to everyone else,” she said. “So I think for ERGs, and just with the network specifically, it starts with support. We have to support our members. We have to make sure that our members know that we are here with them.”
McCray added that The NETwork has been working closely with leadership to ensure employees feel represented and supported by their organizations. Upon its 50th anniversary last year, The NETwork also implemented an acronym, BREATHE, that governs how it stands by its legacy: Be proud of who you are. Reach the masses with voice. Educate people. Anticipate and negate. Teach your tribe. Hold firm to the cause. Examine your actions.
She said addressing Black Lives Matter was important to The Network because its cause spoke to many of the groups’ members. Its role was to offer support, a forum and a voice for Black AT&T employees. “If you don’t involve the people that it affects, then you can’t have the best solution possible. You can’t come up with the best plan,” she said.
Roxanne James now leads the recently-launched Black Experiences pillar at TD. Previously, all racial and ethnic identity business resource groups (BRGs) at the company were joined by the Minorities in Leadership pillar, however, TD decided to create a separate Black Experiences pillar to address the specific concerns of its Black employees.
“We know that this is something that we need to tackle and we really want to make sure that we’re bringing the voices of our Black colleagues to the forefront and assessing their overall experience. We’re taking a look at our representation and making sure that we’re doing everything that we can to make it a top-notch engagement experience for everyone,” James explained.
James added that the creation of the Black Experiences pillar will support the leaders responsible for taking high-level actions regarding diversity practices within the company, such as assessing hiring practices. BRGs have also provided valuable advice to leaders and colleagues on how to be part of the solution. Step one? Joining a BRG.
“Folks who sit at the very top have sent out communications within the organization about recent events and about the things that we’re doing as an organization,” James said. “But then also giving instruction on how our colleagues can get involved. What we’ve been hearing since everything happened is, ‘OK, I understand what’s going on, I want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of the solution. How can I help? How can I get more involved?’ And we instantly sent them to the BRGs.”
Additionally at TD, the Black Experiences group hosted a number of educational events, the first of which was a series called “Uncomfortable Conversations; Breaking the Silence.”
“Some of the things we talked about in that conversation … is, for a Black colleague, something that they’re well aware of,” James said. “They’re living in it day-to-day. But for other colleagues who may not have those same experiences, a lot of this is very new. These conversations are very new. And giving employees a space to have that conversation, that open dialogue, was really important to the organization.
Recently, a BRG member shared her frank thoughts on Black grief and fear in the midst of racial violence through the company’s internal communications forum. “The blog fueled so much discussion, and so much emotion with employees across the organization, that we said, ‘OK, we’ve got to have a conversation with, that’s open to colleagues and leaders.”
TD’s BRGs will continue to host a series of events throughout the next few months that include panel discussions with TD colleagues and leaders, as well as outside experts. Topics will range from megarecessions, to bias and privilege. The Black Experiences group will also be hosting virtual lunch-and-learns to get to know new members and answer any questions they may have.
AT&T’s The NETwork has also hosted a candid conversation about racial injustice to provide a safe space for members to discuss how they truly felt and what their concerns were. Another group at AT&T, the LEAGUE at AT&T, focuses on LGBTQ representation. Stacey Chosed, who heads LEAGUE, discussed the intersectional issue of systemic murders of Black transgender women.
“We’ve definitely seen a large spike in murders of Black transgender women and men within the last two years,” Chosed explained. “In fact, we’ve seen over 30 transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed by violence in 2019, with the majority of people being people of color. And it’s really sparked some serious conversations about what we can do as an ERG to help create safer communities for our transgender women and men of color.”
ERGs at AT&T serve as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and often take part in signing petitions that support equality. They work closely with external affairs representative at the company, who engage with local government officials to help change policies. In 2019, AT&T had signed onto the amicus brief which supported the ultimate 2020 SCOTUS ruling against job discrimination for LGBTQ people. It also helped push forward the Virginia Values Act. AT&T and LEAGUE also work with the Human Rights Campaign and other social justice organizations. Additionally, the group encourages members to register to vote and is even encouraging them to attend this year’s March on Washington. Chosed said they also help the corporation tailor its messaging and devise its programs to help enable equality for marginalized communities.
“We all band together, the ERGs, and we meet together all the time. We march forward, we make introductions to external organizations, and we help facilitate these conversations through programs and events,” she said.
Most recently, LEAGUE has collaborated with The NETwork to develop a program that helps employees continue conversations about racial injustice. “I think that ERGs are really here to bring life to the underrepresented, Chosed said. “We work hard with corporate and diversity and inclusion organizations to ensure they not only understand the community, but really help devise the strategies and programs that enable employees to feel not only included, but we strive to make them feel as though they belong.”
Although leadership is responsible for taking decisive actions that align with corporate values, James described BRGs as the “boots on the ground.” BRGs have regulations they must follow to align with the company’s values, and all of the BRGs’ events must be approved by higher levels. However, James said TD tries to give them as much freedom as possible.
“Leadership is leading the charge, but the BRGs are really going to help us drive the work,” she added.