Why form a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Employee Resource Group (ERG)?
Starting a LGBT ERG is an exciting challenge that requires time, energy, and courage.
Employee Resource Groups are a great way to:
- Form a social or mentoring network
- Pursue LGBT-friendly policies like domestic partner benefits, transgender healthcare, improved diversity policies
- Create a workplace environment that is more inclusive
- Improve employee attraction and retention rates
Questions to consider as you begin:
- Who do you know who might be interested in spear-heading this initiative with you?
- Are there other ERGs in your company? How did they start, and what can you learn from them?
- Were there any previous attempts to form a LGBT ERG in your organization or are there already informal groups in place? Can you speak with someone who was/is involved?
- What are your company’s current diversity policies regarding LGBT people?
An Informal Beginning
Many ERGs start informally with a small group gathering for lunch to speak about issues away from work. In the beginning, growth can be achieved by word of mouth. Initial discussions might vary from socializing to brainstorming larger goals.
Once informal gatherings have generated some interest and energy, it's time to move forward!
- Determine your organization's policy about employee resource groups and follow any available process. If there is no policy, continue to step 2.
- Create a mission statement. For example,"increasing awareness of the LGBT community at work and expanding diversity policies for LGBT people."
- Define your goals and develop a plan and timeline for how to achieve these goals.
- Outline the business case by using the Business Case Tool.
- Develop a structure for your group.
- Create a budget and funding plan. Many organizations allocate funds for ERGs. You can also find outside funding. Visit LGBT Business of Change for ideas.
- Reach out to other LGBT employee resource groups through the Out & Equal Employee Resource Group Registry.
Seeking Official Recognition and Approaching Management
First determine what you are seeking from management. A few examples are:
- Leadership presence at ERG functions
- Advocates from the mangement team to publicly endorse the ERG
- Sponsors from the executive team
Approach management with a clear communications strategy. For example:
- Provide a brief overview of the business case for a LGBT ERG
- Emphasize the impact of corporate social responsibility (if in line with company culture)
- Explain that you want to help the company be more successful
When dealing with skeptical management:
Ask for clarification and explanation on areas of disagreement rather than demanding change
- Benchmark other ERGs within your organization and outside of your organization
- Use comparative tools such as the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index
- Have management attend a Workplace Summit or participate in Building Bridges training
- Meet with leaders individually
- Seek support from highest levels of the organization, those with the most influence
- Request participation in company’s diversity councils
- Invite high-level ERG members from another company to join in your “ask” meeting
Expect challenges. Whether there is resistance based on religious and moral arguments, concern that the company is promoting a lifestyle, or that a policy challenges the overall diversity initiative, remember to respond to skepticism with anecdotal examples, and always consider LGBT diversity training for top leaders.
The Business Case
Some useful points in making the business case
- Recruiting and training employees is an investment
- The organization will lose an investment when employees aren’t retained due to unsupportive environment
- Uncomfortable employees don’t work as well together
- Diversity is a priority across organizations.
- Being a diversity-friendly environment will help the firm compete.
- Customers and shareholders increasingly want companies to reflect their own diversity.
- Domestic partner benefits create good will and cost little money
- There are many presentations on this topic:
- 2002: Witeck-Combs; Target Solutions Inc.
- 2001: Nass and Guerrero
- 2003: Campbell and Grey; Finkle and Schmitt
- Presentations about research niche markets for your products and services:
- 2001: Combs & Krane
- 2001: Nelson & M
E-mail, listservs or voicemail are most frequently used. But keep in mind, many of these communication methods are for business purposes only and can be legally monitored. ERG work is often considered legitimate business.
- Maintain a group web site or produce a newsletter
- Do not assume to speak for your company on LGBT issues to external sources
- Get a voice mailbox set up by company
- Send a welcome letter to new members
Advertise! Some suggestions for advertising:
- LGBT publications
- Classified ads
- Event calendars
- Diversity newsletter or company newsletter
- Displays at events; for example, Pride or June (LGBT history month)
- LGBT publications do features on groups – send out press releases
- Trade journals
- Union newspapers
- Community directory
- Give employee group information to new hires (ask to be included in new hire orientations)
- Join a diversity council
- Contact EAP, management and/or HR for referrals
- Encourage straight allies to join
- Visibility outside of the firm is important
- March in pride event, have table at pride event (with or without company name)
Privacy and Confidentiality
It is important to respect different levels of “outness” in group. Always make sure to cautiously use e-mail (not easily identifiable sender, ambiguous subject headings). Other ways to insure levels of privacy are to keep meetings off site when possible and only send out anonymous mailings.
Meetings and Activities
Keep meetings interesting, ask for feedback, have variety of activities (social and activist – to keep attention).
Some activity suggestions:
- Community activities
- Food drive, tutoring, charity walks, Pride Parade and booths at Pride Events
- Contact college LGBT groups
- Collaborate with other ERGs
- Survey LGBT employees
- Support Staffing Process
- Develop targeted recruiting strategies
- Promote education within the company
- Write articles for company newsletter, participate in company diversity celebrations, sponsor speakers or luncheons on given topics, safe space program
- Train internal facilitators, develop educational programs, compile informational resources/library
- Provide LGBT 101 materials
- Develop a speakers’ bureau
- Put LGBT issues in other diversity trainings
- Hold annual celebrations honoring allies and change champions
Corporate and Community Activism
What are some of the possibilities that arise when an ERG exists?
Some of the rights ERG’s fight for in the workplace are:
- Domestic partner benefits
- Revisions of corporate diversity policies to address LGBT issues
- Transgender issues
- Trans-friendly environment
- Create structures for managing homophobic behavior
- Train HR
- Grievance procedures
- Be active on local, state, national civil rights legislation
How do you maintain momentum after your ERG gets started?
- Develop informal leaders
- Develop "Building Bridges" trainers within your organization
- Initiate buddy program for new members