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Employee-led groups have an important role to play post-COVID

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Diverse groups across organisations have faced a number of different challenges and circumstances during the pandemic; from adapting to working from home with a disability; women taking on more domestic responsibilities, to members of the LGBT+ community living in lockdown in environments where they didn’t feel able to be their true selves.

There have been communities unable to practice or participate in religious events, individuals faced with personal loss and employees struggling with mental health issues throughout this difficult time.

For many people, employee-led groups have provided a forum and support network, offering a way to talk to colleagues in similar circumstances, receive help and advice and create a sense of community and togetherness when everyone has been apart.

As the UK emerges from the pandemic and restrictions continue to ease, it’s vital that leaders continue to engage with these groups and leverage their insights and relationships to make progress on diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) across all levels.

It’s not only the right thing to do, but also supporting and amplifying the work being done by these groups could have a positive impact on attracting, retaining and progressing top talent, boosting morale and ultimately strengthening the workforce in a post-COVID-19 business landscape.


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The value of employee resource groups (ERGs)

As many seek to embed responsible business values and behaviours, this activity has to include building a diverse and inclusive workforce. The focus for many businesses is how to truly create a culture of belonging where people from all backgrounds, with visible and invisible diverse characteristics, can be themselves and thrive in the workplace.

Employee-led groups have in many cases been an important part of this, helping to strengthen connections and further educate colleagues, and also offer a fun way to celebrate diversity.

These groups are mostly volunteer-led so companies need to be conscious that they aren’t there to provide all the solutions or solve all the problems. But if they’re set up well and operate in a meaningful way, they can absolutely help amplify change within any organisation.

They can be well placed to foster mentoring and career development for all employees, provide opportunities to network and create a space to share ideas and experiences. At National Grid for example, our 16 ERGs (11 in the US and five in the UK) are highly active and visible across the business.

They delivering events and awareness-raising campaigns through the year including Black History Month, Women in Engineering, Diwali, International Men’s Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Purple Light Up for Disability awareness – reaching all corners of the business.

How businesses can engage with them to the benefit of the wider organisation

Changes to working patterns and policies means that leaders need to leverage different resources to ensure they remain connected with their people in a post-COVID working world. Collaborating with meaningful employee groups can increase and improve how employers engage their workforce.

Business leaders can arrange joint webinars and firm wide events with their ERGs to shine a light on themes and issues diverse individuals might be facing. These groups can help highlight issues, share new industry research on DE&I initiatives and best practice with leadership teams and provide a way to elevate voices from different communities.

Group chairs and representatives can be featured at townhalls to raise awareness of a topic or development, and talk through how people can get involved, become allies and engage with the networks.

Employers can also involve employee groups in conversations around diversity communications, milestones, initiatives and events, including them in the discussion so that decisions are made based on input and views from people with varying backgrounds and experiences. This can help ensure outcomes reflect the needs of colleagues of all backgrounds and help create a culture of belonging.

 

Why this is critical as companies adapt to a post-COVID 19 working environment

We know that the business landscape and traditional working practices have gone through an upheaval during the pandemic. Everyone in some way is adjusting to change and in the months ahead, some things will remain altered while others may revert back to how they were pre-COVID.

Ultimately companies need to recognise this in their efforts to accelerate DE&I and look at how they strengthen the way they work with employee groups to incorporate them as part of their approach. This will enable them to better communicate with their people and ensure that the post-COVID-19 working environment is inclusive to all employees.

 

Natalie Edwards is chief diversity officer at National Grid