How do employee resource groups make a difference?

31 tammikuuta 2023

Communication, competences and commitment of employees and top management. According to the Diversity and Inclusion in Finnish Companies study done by FIBS in 2022, these are the main challenges experienced in the largest organisations who aim to promote diversity and inclusion. Based on the answers in the survey, the most common measures adopted by companies are integrated in the management (53%), regular progress monitoring (52%) and strategy (50%). in the monitoring of D&I progress and included in the strategy.

The ownership for D&I is a shared responsibility at Nordea.

While it is important to have the management taking these important measures, the study reveals that only 26% of companies have formed an Employee Resource Group (ERG). What are ERGs and how can they help solve some of the most experienced challenges related to D&I? Since these groups are relatively unfamiliar, I will make use of our experiences at Nordea for readers to reflect if and how they can be valuable in your organisation.

To ensure all of our 30,000 colleagues and 11 million customers are welcomed and appreciated for who they are, the ownership for D&I is a shared responsibility at Nordea. In addition to trained leaders and employees, the strong commitment in the top management, the D&I team and D&I councils, there are also dedicated people and teams actively moving the needle. Typically called the Employee Resource Groups, affinity groups or business resource groups, they are central in co-creating a more diverse and inclusive organisation for all.

Having an executive sponsor is vital as it ensures the bridge between ERGs and leadership.

What are Employee Resource Groups? They are employee-led open platforms that foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond by providing opportunities to peer support, contributing to the D&I strategy, driving engagement and awareness. At Nordea each ERG has a democratically elected chairperson who together with the team determine how they wish to make a difference. Despite being employee-led, there is a continuous dialogue and collaboration between the chairperson and the D&I team and Councils to ensure goals are aligned with strategic D&I objectives and they receive the needed support to drive change successfully.

In addition to close collaboration with, and support from, D&I team and Councils, each Employee Resource Group has sponsors from the top management who serve as mentors and advocates. Having an executive sponsor is vital as it ensures the bridge between ERGs and leadership. This allows different voices and experiences to be better heard in the top management and enables support whenever and wherever needed. The sponsors are oftentimes invited to represent and share their knowledge and experiences in the internal events organised by ERGs.

Another thing ERGs have in common is the aim to raise awareness and help colleagues to understand the different aspects and needs our diverse community and customers have, and what it takes for us to ensure equality for everyone. At Nordea, this is done through various internal activities such as webinars, trainings and other types of knowledge sharing events. Encouraging parental leaves for all parents, different cultural celebrations, Pride engagement, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, International age diversity day, just to mention a few of the meaningful examples organised in 2022.

The type and nature of ERGs can vary a lot between organisations. Generally, they are organised on the basis of specific areas where diversity and inclusion perspectives are applicable. At Nordea, five ERGs are currently found in the organisation focusing on cross-culture, gender balance, LGBTQ+, ability variation and age diversity. Together, they gather colleagues who share the interest to advocate for the following topics:

A.  Ability Variation

Despite the term “disability” being often utilised in the public discussion, it can risk to reproduce stereotypes and be perceived as patronising,. The term utilised in this ERG is “ability” since it allows us to see each other in a positive light – we all have different abilities. There are many types of visible and invisible ability variations that come in various physical and cognitive strengths and challenges. The need for more awareness is sky high to enable a better understanding of the different starting points our colleagues and customers can have. Awareness is raised through events and communication organised by the Ability Variation ERG who also brings valuable experiences and knowledge to the business.

B.  Cross-Culture

Moving to a new country can be a life changer experience. The new culture can feel very unfamiliar, the learning of a language can be depressingly time-consuming and being in a foreign country can cause loneliness. This network of internationals and international minded people strive to create more awareness on language inclusion and multiculturalism by offering networking opportunities, social gatherings and cultural events to ensure every colleague regardless of their ethnic background, language skills, religion or nationality can feel comfortable in our workplace with almost 100 nationalities represented who together speak nearly 60 languages.

C.  Cross-Generation

Some organisations might have an ERG focusing on one specific age groups. At Nordea, we have one common group empowering all stages of life. This ensures a more holistic understanding of how ageism can take place and, in turn, offers more opportunities to learn from each other and to bridge the generational gaps. One impactful and eye-opening example to do so is the reverse mentoring. In this case, the traditional roles are shifted resulting in one younger employee mentoring an executive team member on strategic and operational matters.

D.  Gender Balance

When we talk about gender balance, the definition is men and women from the legal perspective. That is what is allowed to be registered and measured. Nordea aims for a gender balance on all levels and in all parts of the organisation. There is also a commitment of ensuring that each gender has at least 40% representation at the top three leadership levels combined by the end of 2025. The Gender Balance ERGs aim to raise awareness on topics preventing or slowing us down from reaching those goals. Encouraging parental leaves for all parents is a good example of the most recent topic discussed to promote more equality throughout the organisation. We know that there are more ways of defining gender and this is something that is discussed under the LGBTQ+ agenda.

E.  LGBTQ+ & Allies

Nordea has been partnering with Pride for many years and the work striving for an organisation where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, feels appreciated and safe takes place all year around. The LGBTQ+ & Allies ERGs are involved in many initiatives to raise awareness by offering trainings to employees how to better understand the issues LGBTQ+ colleagues and customers can face. The knowledge and experiences found in the ERGs are very valuable. A good example of their contribution took place in the creation of our new guidelines launched in 2022 to support transgender colleagues.

To encourage more colleagues to join the ERGs and to show the appreciation for the valuable work they do, everyone in Nordea can utilise 16 paid hours per year for contributing. Today, there are hundreds of members. Among them a steadily growing number of allies who are people who might not directly identify themselves to an ERG or minority but are dedicated to help fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace. Joining an ERG is an opportunity for those who want to make an even greater difference.

Victor Brück
D&I Expert, Nordea

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