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Making a Bold Move with Black Employees

Setting the Stage

Based on company-wide survey results, it was revealed that Black employees were having a noticeably different experience from the predominately white male employees at all levels of the company and the CEO wanted to understand the contributing factors.

Background Information

Since having arrived at the company, the SVP of Sales, an African American male, introduced himself in the company newsletter by sharing his lived experiences growing up Black in America. It was a candid account of how a variety of encounters shaped and prepared him for such a level of responsibility as an SVP in a white male dominated industry. With the consent of the CEO, he created a virtual safe space for Black employees to have a shared sense of belonging and camaraderie that was otherwise missing.

The Challenge

Due to a lack of trust and transparency, it was difficult to find Black employees who were willing to become involved in the standing closed-door session, which was a monthly virtual open forum hosted by the SVP of Sales. There was an assumed risk to their jobs being in jeopardy, depending on where they were located across the country and in what position they were employed. Ironically, these were the very contributing factors that prevented Black employees from feeling like members of the corporate family, and which the CEO wanted to be made aware of.

The Approach

Having served on and advised Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in the past, the consultant, who provides executive coaching for high potential, emerging leaders up through the ranks of executive leaders, scoped a plan to establish a Black ERG. Regular participants of the closed-door sessions were invited to complete an application that explained the time commitment, the requirement to be transparent, uncomfortable, and demonstrate self-leadership as a Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Champion for the entire organization, not just Black employees. The program was intentionally designed to facilitate experiential learning, action research, and action learning resulting from creating the team’s name, the selection of officers and alternates, the most appropriate ERG framework, required readings, individual development plans fostering personal and professional development, 1:1 coaching, interactions with executives, and completing a capstone project to be presented in a final out brief to the executive leadership team.

The Outcomes

With approximately half the number of sessions than the executive leadership team had to complete the same work, the Black ERG created a team charter, leadership profiles, and stretch AIM goals that aligned with the executive leadership team charter and strategic inclusion plan. The ERG capstone outlined a strategy to facilitate a series of Black employee listening tours with focus group questions aligned with the company-wide survey results to ensure a one-to-one correlation between focus group participant responses and survey themes. Based on the outcomes, the executive summary offered several solutions to foster a deeper sense of belonging for Black employees via the ERG as an exemplar program that operates as the standard for future ERGs. Part of the strategy is to provide a safe space specifically for Black employees for two months during a quarter while reserving the third month in a quarter to host an open forum for all employees to raise their awareness about the BIPOC community and their lived experiences.

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