Simply hiring a diverse workforce may not be enough, especially for larger companies, experts say. That’s why employee support and education groups are increasingly part of company operations, especially at the biggest employers.
Whether it’s a large pharmaceutical company such as Bayer Corp. in the Whippany section of Hanover, a hospital such as AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Egg Harbor Township, or even a small insurance company, such as Health Republic of New Jersey in Newark.
Nilda Mahrer manager, human resources programs and diversity at AtlantiCare, explains the process.
AtlantiCare has had a diversity program since 2010. More than that, it has eight different employee resource groups, or ERGs, that help support and educate staff. These ERGs allow diversity employees to not only discuss diversity needs within their own group, but also to present them as a group, demonstrating that they are a workplace issue, not just the feelings of one individual employee.
“There is increased enthusiasm for ERGs on a national level,” Mahrer said. “Organizations have realized the business value and impact on organizational outcomes — such as high employee engagement levels and customer experiences.
“Enhancing care and the workplace environment by being more culturally competent is the right thing to do. Our ERGs have evolved into valuable business partners. They have become the go-to groups to assist with employee engagement efforts, community outreach and customer experience initiatives.”
Study: Forcing diversity has negative outcome
When businesses focus on diversity and inclusion, it’s a good thing, right? Not always.
Says who? Harvard University.
A Harvard study recently highlighted the internal struggles businesses often face when diversity is too forced upon the workplace. Training, the study found, often does not alleviate bias.
“Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers,” the report said. “Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.”
The study analyzed three decades’ worth of data from more than 800 U.S. firms and concluded that rather than having trainings, simply engaging more with the employees — especially women and minorities — was a more useful tactic.
The training is a one-time thing, so the effects also reflect temporarily before an individual can forget what he or she learned, the report said.
“One reason is that three-quarters use negative messages in their training. By headlining the legal case for diversity and trotting out stories of huge settlements, they issue an implied threat: ‘Discriminate, and the company will pay the price,’” according to the study.
Instead, the study suggests having a task force or a different way of engaging a diverse workforce — and even targeting minorities to recruit out of college.
“Five years after a company implements a college recruitment program targeting female employees, the share of white women, black women, Hispanic women, and Asian-American women in its management rises by about 10 percent, on average,” the study said. “A program focused on minority recruitment increases the proportion of black male managers by 8 percent and black female managers by 9 percent.”
The eight groups include support for: African-Americans, the Asian-Pacific community, Latinos, disabled individuals, military, interfaith knowledge, LGBTQ community and women.
Bayer also has employee resource groups, each of which has an executive as the point of contact to help with communicating needs quicker through the chain of command.
The groups cover different ethnic minorities, veterans and LGBTQ employees.
One of the most recent changes to come out of Bayer’s ERGs was coverage of gender-affirming surgery in health benefits.
Ryan McDay, head of diversity and inclusion for Bayer in the U.S., said his experience with diversity efforts at other companies has proven that creating ERGs is a smart decision.
“When you create an environment where employees feel engaged and supportive, employees feel they can be who they are and are in a position to increase productivity,” McDay said. “It strengthens employee loyalty. It builds the brand and positions you as one of the more favorable companies.”
Having the groups makes you a more attractive employer, he said.
He likened it to the Olympics. If all the talent was being scouted in only California, that limits the pool of talent, rather than making a concerted effort to tap all 50 states.
“Diversity is a win-win, not a downside,” McDay said. “Companies that put forth greater commitment increase market share and ROI for shareholder return.”
And the term diversity doesn’t just stop at the people, McDay said.
“Through technology, we are much more connected than ever before,” he said. “You, as an organization, want to take advantage of that opportunity and grow your business and company — that’s diversity and inclusion.
“I find it’s not just corporations with a concentrated effort (on diversity).”
It’s becoming an area that nonprofits, universities and government entities also recognize that needs to have support, McDay said.
But not everyone has figured out the right formula to succeed.
Take, for example, Yana Pomerants, a young Russian woman who worked at an education consultancy. The small nonprofit in the greater Washington, D.C., area had an employee pool of about 10 and has only two affinity groups: women of color and those who identified as white.
Pomerants was uncomfortable by the sudden classification of employees in the office and tried to ask if she could avoid participating. She noticed that there were only four employees who were white and the remainder were from every other continent on the planet.
“I felt very insulted because (my boss) said we do that so we can discuss issues pertaining to our affinity group and that it wouldn’t be fun to talk to yourself,” Pomerants said.
Though Pomerants, a 30-year-old Russian woman, has fair skin and dark hair, she felt more comfortable in the women of color group than the white group, to the surprise of both the owner, a white American woman, and her manager, a Puerto Rican woman.
“My boss is Puerto Rican, (and) she asked me, ‘Oh, so you are staying with the colored group?’ It was so bizarre,” Pomerants said. She was later asked again by the owner about choosing the white group instead.
“I thought about it a lot after that. What if there was a Muslim woman who was technically white, she could be European, but she wears a headscarf?” Pomerants said.
Coming into the office the next day, Pomerants noticed herself looking at everyone based on the group they belonged to, rather than one big office group, as she had prior to the meeting.
McDay said that while there is no right or wrong formula to create the groups, companies should take care to ensure the purposes of the groups are being achieved.
“If leadership is not behind it, if the company does not have individuals to help or facilitate concerns” the efforts could be moot, he said.
AtlantiCare, for example, has to accommodate hospital shifts to ensure everyone has access.
“As a 24/7 organization, we have various shifts. Some employees are unable to participate as much as they would desire due to the variances in schedules,” Mahrer said. “However, over the years we have mitigated those challenges by offering different ways to participate in meetings and activities.”
On the plus side, because it is a growing focus area, and some companies have been doing it for years, there are now consultants and companies that can help guide an inexperienced company or group, McDay said.
“The reality is, employees have a voice and have an opportunity to express their interests or support a particular organization,” he said. “We want to be as progressive as possible.”
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