Employee Resource Groups: Giving employees a platform to improve their workplace

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What does LGBTQ2+ stand for? Should I include my pronouns in my email signature? Can I say “Black?” How does someone who is blind or low-vision do their job? Am I even allowed to ask about these things?

These are the kinds of questions that businesses are increasingly being asked to answer. At BDC, we’ve found our own way of answering these questions with the Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs.

ERGs are made up of volunteer employees from across the organization who drive inclusive change and provide insights about the needs of diverse employees and clients. They support local communities and help colleagues feel valued because of their differences, not despite them.

We have six ERG groups at BDC, each one focusing on one aspect of diversity:

  • Women
  • Indigenous people
  • Visible minorities
  • People with disabilities
  • LGBTQ2+ community
  • People from the military, including reservists, or veterans

Each group has anywhere from 10 to 30 members. These are people who are passionate about their communities and who want to come together to share and make changes.

Driving transformation

BDC’s purpose is to help Canadian entrepreneurs. But do they see themselves in our organization? Do our employees?

The groups have been around for about a decade, but we quickly realized they had a lot of untapped potential to bring about positive change; there was a tremendous opportunity for them to share their stories and perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion inside the business, as well as to serve as sounding boards when reaching out to diverse clients.

For example, during Black History Month, four Black employees from the visible minorities ERG published stories internally about what the month meant to them. The stories immediately resonated across the country: One had more than 1,000 views and 60 comments. That’s really impressive for a company of about 2,500 people. It was so powerful that we started to encourage all the ERGs to tell their stories.

I believe in the power of storytelling to increase awareness.

Stories can change a company

For National Indigenous History Month in June, a member of the Indigenous ERG decided she would publish daily posts internally about Indigenous customs and terminology, and debunked some common misconceptions. People absolutely loved it. She also shared her personal story in a video and a blog to highlight want the Bank is doing to support Indigenous entrepreneurs.

That initiative sparked a discussion. People wanted to learn more. So, we listened and discovered programming offered by the First Nations University about Indigenous history and culture, and Truth and Reconciliation. Today, that training, “The Four Seasons of Reconciliation”, is mandatory learning for all employees and an engaging way for employees to learn more about Indigenous issues.

Making BDC a better bank

So what does it take to have a successful ERG program? For me, it comes down to making sure the ERGs have a purpose beyond just getting together—in other words, making sure they are not just a social club, but actually being heard.

The groups’ profile at BDC has grown exponentially over the years. Before that, they had a limited platform or opportunities to speak to the whole company. And now they do.

A great example of how the ERGs are changing things for the better for everyone is sign language interpretation. An employee who is deaf, and a member of the ERG for people with disabilities, approached me because she was struggling to get access to an interpreter. We were able to enhance company policy by putting sign language interpretation in place as a resource for the organization.

This means that employees, and clients, now have access to an interpreter—even at a moment’s notice. This service didn’t exist two years ago. Today, it’s standard.

I’m a people person, so maybe that’s why storytelling is so key for me personally. But I also think it’s important to be vocal about how we believe in our own people. Giving people the opportunity to tell their stories by using ERGs is helping build a stronger, more resilient and inclusive organization overall. My hope is that we will continue moving forward in this direction and that our own experience can help other businesses to make similar changes as well.

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