How Can ERGs Drive Their Companies Toward Greater Inclusion?

One question I often hear from ERG leaders is, “What can we do to drive greater organizational inclusion?” Whenever I hear a broad question like this — whether from someone else or rolling around in my own head — it always reminds me of the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s famed fable, “Alice in Wonderland.” It goes like this:

Alice, coming to a fork in the road, asks, “Which road do I take?”

“Where do you want to go?” responds the Cheshire Cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answers.

“Then,” says the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

As in the case of Alice, we need to know specifically where we want to go before we can choose a way. So before we venture too deeply into thinking about what ERGs can do to drive their organizations toward greater inclusion, let’s first get more specific about what organizational inclusion looks like and its specific parts.

A Closer Look at Organizational Inclusion

Organizational inclusion is an institutional condition that can be said to exist when all the people in the organization feel equally advantaged, appreciated and empowered to be fully authentic by the company and with one another. One factor used to measure the degree to which this condition exists in an organization includes the presence of a perceived sense of fairness on the part of employees when it comes to the hiring and promotions practices of the company. Another is a clear and reciprocal sense of appreciation for one another as professionals and an environment in which people who are members of dominant and non-dominant groups manifest close personal relationships and mutual respect for one another’s more personal values and beliefs. Finally, there is evidence of a greater freedom for authenticity on the part of all members of the organization — for example, a gay person does not feel compelled to convince co-workers that she or he is straight.

When seeking to create this type of environment, savvy companies generally focus on three key areas:

1. Transparent standards. Increasing the visible fairness of policies and practices as they relate to all employees, and using clear rules that apply to everyone relative to performance management, promotions, etc. An important point is to make sure that these rules are focused on specific job requirements and not personal style preferences.

2. Acknowledgement of differences. This refers to identifying opportunities to provide flexibility that recognize fundamental differences in the key factors that make up the life contexts of various groups of employees — for example, making certain religious holidays floating days off so people who do not practice the dominant religion can opt to take religious time off when it is appropriate for them. This is also done by sponsoring and fully participating in cultural events, as well as having flexible work schedules available to employees.

3. Valuing differences. This means openly and visibly valuing diversity by leveraging it. Some organizations do this by involving employees from dominant and non-dominant groups as focus group participants in key committees. Others do it by intentionally making sure that their project groups are richly diverse and aware of what their differences bring to the project.

So now, with a more specific sense of what organizational inclusion looks like and how it its often created, we are in a better position to ask more specific, actionable questions about what your ERG can do to help drive positive change and increase inclusion in your company. Here are just a few questions to get you started:

  • How can our ERG increase fairness in organizational practices and policies relative to our members? Can you identify any specific gaps that need to be addressed? What would you recommend as a modification?
  • How can our ERG increase the acknowledgement of our members’ identities within our organization? For example, who should included in cultural events? What form should these events take beyond being a food, flag and famous people celebration? Also, does work scheduling recognize the need for flexibility among members of your group? What would you recommend?
  • How can our ERG increase the way our organization acts to display that it values our members’ diversity? Where can you recommend value-adding participation in projects and programs in your organization? What value proposition can you present for the active participation of your members in a project or effort?

So What’s Next?

If you’re interested in further exploring how to formulate a strategy and action plan to increase organizational inclusion in your company and you are attending NALC in New York City this year, I invite you to join me at 9:45 a.m. ET Wednesday, June 18, 2014, for the “Burning Issues Forum: How to Leverage ERGs to Drive Change/Inclusion in an Organization.” For more on this upcoming program and how I plan to run it, visit

As recent studies tell us, diversity in the absence of inclusion does not bring companies the business benefits they want. Diversity in the presence of inclusion, on the other hand, is a powerful competitive force. Clearly, helping organizations reach a higher level of inclusivity so that they can fully leverage all of their talent is an important way for ERGs to drive competitive value to their businesses!