The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility commenced its series of virtual programs on June 17, 2020, with a panel discussion on the benefits of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) during a pandemic: Employee Resource Group Activation in the Era of COVID-19.
ERGs are used to foster inclusive workplaces and connect members to a wider community and support network. Leaders of Hispanic/Latinx ERGs from AT&T, Bank of America, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and PepsiCo shared how their collectives are providing that support in the midst of a global health crisis, as well as championing diversity in an environment fraught with racial stigma and inequity.
“We’ve adopted the approach of having all of our chapters . . . leverage technology to host the events we’d normally have in person, but virtually,” said SVP and Senior Relationship Manager at Bank of America and co-chair of the bank’s chapter of the Hispanic/Latino Organization for Leadership and Development (HOLA) Shirley Morejon. “During the two months we were sheltered in place, we lost about 76 percent of our events across the firm, but what we saw in participation was an increase of four times the attendance. Our associates are really longing to have these conversations.”
While remote workforces and social distancing mandates have changed the way ERGs operate, they remain an essential source of communication and fellowship. Vice President of Manufacturing Quality and a Latina Leader of the Bristol Myers-Squibb Global Leadership Team Evelyn Marchany Garcia says ERGs at her company are conducting weekly membership meetings focused on topics such as health guidelines and awareness of the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic populations.
“We are continuing to provide support to employees. We’re connecting with other Latino organizations as we go to try to avoid the gap [in connection] that this situation has created,” Marchany Garcia said.
At PepsiCo, membership across all ERGs has increased significantly. “This has been a time where we’ve really come together,” said the company’s Vice President of Category Insights and Advanced Analytics for Walmart Inc. Customer Team Veronica Riojas. “We’re sharing stories of hope . . . and perseverance through these times.” Group members stay connected through meet-ups like virtual breakfast gatherings, as well as safe-space forums and town halls that allow employees to share their wants and needs with group leadership.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions regarding sustaining or starting their own groups during the pandemic. Responding to how small organizations can create thriving ERGs, AT&T Chief of Staff and President of HACEMOS (AT&T’s Hispanic ERG) Yovany Jerez, emphasized quality over quantity. “[You] should know each other intimately. There’s a great opportunity when you have a small ERG to increase the quality of the engagements that you don’t necessarily have with big numbers.” AT&T even developed a playbook to facilitate these types of conversations at any stage. “Don’t wait. Start now,” encouraged Jerez.
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