By Shane Nelson
Bloomberg Businessweek posted the article “Deloitte Thinks Diversity Groups Are Passé” on July 19 about Deloitte’s plans to do away with its “employee affinity groups.” My first thought was, were they referring to the firm’s business resource groups (BRG)? That was confirmed as I read on and the article mentioned that the firm will end its women BRG, known as the Women Initiatives (WIN). My second thought was that this is a huge mistake. I sought to understand the rationale so I read on and finished the article.
Deloitte’s rationale for doing away with business resource groups is that it wants to get a broader buy-in, specifically from white males. The firm will move to set up “Inclusion councils,” which will include a mixture of people to tackle diversity issues. The firm’s managing principal for inclusion, Deepa Purushothaman, explains, “By having everyone in the room, you get more allies, advocates and sponsors. A lot of our leaders are still older white men, and they need to be part of the conversation and advocate for women. But they’re not going to do that as much if they don’t hear the stories and understand what that means.”
I’d like to give Deloitte my perspective on this, but first let me preface by saying the firm is really good in managing diversity and inclusion. The firm ranked No. 12 on our Top 50 list this year and has ranked on the list 13 of the past 16 years.
Inclusion in Resource Groups
When I first came into this space 13 years ago, most companies were not effectively utilizing their resource groups. The groups at many companies were operating as “affinity groups,” in which they celebrated a culture (Black History Month) or worked to spread awareness about a particular area (including LGBTs or people with disabilities). As the years went on, companies sought to gain more insight from these groups and leverage them for talent management and business objectives. Many companies changed the name of their groups, moving away from “affinity groups” to “resource groups” to “ business resource groups.”
The underlying reason for forming specific resource groups is to leverage the backgrounds and experiences of those group members to tackle problems specific to that cohort. For example, the Black resource group would be leveraged to tackle problems such as regrettable loss of Black high potentials, recruiting Black women or further penetrating the Black consumer market. All of the companies on the DiversityInc Top 50 and Noteworthy lists have employee resource groups.
Comcast NBCUniversal has eight ERGs, which include more than 20,000 employees across 118 ERG chapters. The groups have generated incredible results for the business, communities, culture and members’ careers. The company uses the 4C Model, which focuses the groups on four areas: Careers, Commerce, Community and Culture. Its ERGs have been successful in all four areas, especially Commerce. Its Black resource group was instrumental in shaping the company’s African American business strategy.
Companies that are most effective in utilizing their business resource groups came across the issue of inclusion years ago. Those companies encouraged inclusion of other race/ethnicities to the Black, Latino or Asian groups. In fact, many companies require a senior executive from a different race/ethnicity sponsor the groups. For the LGBT and people with disabilities groups, a best practice was to add “A” for allies or “Friends” on the end of the acronym to signal that the groups were inclusive of others.
Inclusion of senior executives, majority of which are white men, was critical to elevating the importance of the resource groups. It demonstrated that the company’s commitment to leveraging resource groups for talent management and business objectives was real. Executive sponsors of the resource groups have a responsibility not only to lead the group in completing talent development and business objectives, but to also guide the group to be as inclusive as possible.
While debriefing a global company last month, a white European senior leader who chairs the Black resource group explained to me how fortunate he was to have gotten the opportunity to do so. He spoke about how critical the group was in producing insights and action plans to help the organization recruit, develop and retain more of its Black employees. Inclusion in the group also helped him grow as a leader, widening his lenses and understanding on a number of issues.
Diversity Top 50 data shows that participation in resource groups has significantly grown over the past six years for the DiversityInc Top 10 and Top 50. Since white people are the big majority at all of these companies, we can deduce that the inclusion of whites in ERGs have grown. In fact, we encouraged companies to track race/ethnicity and gender of resource group members. Our data shows that whites are the majority of resource group members.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen a boom in companies finding diverse high potential talent in resource groups. Participation in resource groups allows talent to flourish. Members work closely with executive sponsors and senior leaders and get noticed. Resource groups provide leadership opportunities for their members. Half of the DiversityInc Top 50 have rotational positions on the diversity council for resource group leaders. Resource groups have been a haven and incubator for diverse high potential talent. Without specific resource groups, how will diverse talent be noticed?
Resource groups are also critical to increasing employee engagement. Companies routinely find that members of resource groups have higher engagement than non-members. Dell went a step further. When the company included ERG membership as part of its employee opinion survey, it found that the most active ERG members are the most highly engaged. At the 2017 Top 50 Event, Erin Kitchen, VP of Global Diversity & Inclusion, stated, “We found powerful correlations from team members that were the most engaged. They have higher customer satisfaction, which the sales folks loved. They are higher promoters of our products and services, outside the company. When they refer candidates, those candidates are more likely to be hired. And they’re less likely to leave voluntarily.”
Without specific resource groups, how will diverse voices be heard? Without specific resource groups, how will older white men learn about the specific challenges to women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, veterans, LGBTs, people with disabilities, millennials…you get the point.
Deloitte is going about this the wrong way. The firm should be focusing on increasing inclusion of white males and others in its business resource groups rather than abandoning them.