Forming an advocacy group can be an important initiative within a business to support the growth and success of minority employees. These individuals from underrepresented or marginalized groups may not have equal access to opportunities in the workplace, despite efforts from leadership. This is where advocacy groups – sometimes referred to as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – can step in to provide employees with safe spaces for personal and professional development, trusted network building, and support.
It’s also important to recognize that the success of these advocacy groups takes involvement from every employee in the firm – not just those within the group. While the number of members in the impacted group may be small, the impact that the network provides for them is large. It truly takes a company-wide effort from both leadership and employees not directly involved in the program to make the company safe, supportive, and equal. Clarkston has multiple Support Networks, including the Black Stewards Network, Pride Network, and Women’s Empowerment Network.
Top Priorities When Forming an Advocacy Group
Below, we outline important priorities from Clarkston’s Black Stewards Network that any advocacy group in business should consider.
Objective Over Initiative
Advocacy groups exist for a variety of purposes, but the distinction between being objective versus initiative-driven is significant. Primarily, groups should ensure that there’s a structured goal that is being consistently worked toward. This means that rather than simply having initiatives to “check the box,” advocacy groups should be able to understand when the goal has been achieved.
Having initiatives for the sake of having initiatives may not be what the group needs. Sometimes it’s more impactful to simply have a safe space for minorities to be heard than to have a list of tasks. When it comes to true progress for diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s important for advocacy groups – and organizations as a whole – to recognize that the world won’t be changed in a day. As such, focus on the end objective instead of overloading on action items.
One of the key aspects of advocacy groups is their focus on challenging the dangers of conformist thinking. Groupthink is when employees often feel pressured to reach the traditional consensus on a topic. This limits individual responsibility and can alienate those who feel differently.
Advocacy groups often represent a perspective that isn’t always prevalent throughout a workplace. They should be an avenue for the group’s thoughts and feedback to be heard by company leadership. Consequently, the knowledge and feelings of minority groups are not stifled but are rather amplified.
Personal and Professional Development
Equal opportunity in the workplace is crucial, and advocacy groups play a large role in advancing it. Minorities may not always feel comfortable seeking additional resources, and advocacy groups should be platforms in which they can seek without fear of judgement.
Companies and advocacy groups can ask themselves how they’re investing in their members both personally and professionally. Developing an individual beyond the workplace helps improve the people themselves and not just their work. Acknowledging the challenges that come with being a minority is often the first step to recognizing how important accessible resources are. This may even require having a system in place that recognizes and addresses when employees may be the only minority in their environment.
Mentorship and Support
Being a minority with trusted mentors can make a huge difference in their tenure at the company. Minorities should have individuals whom they can approach for support, guidance, or anything else that they need. When they don’t have that safe space, they may not feel comfortable speaking to anyone else for fear of judgement. Advocacy groups may even want to develop a dedicated mentorship program that is constantly active for the employees who need it.
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of forming an advocacy group for minorities is the support. Being surrounded by similar individuals who understand more about you can make a serious difference in feeling comfortable in the workplace. Significantly, these support networks can even contribute to employees remaining with the company because of the sense of belonging that they gain and can improve employee retention and satisfaction.
Wider Company Commitment
Finally, it’s extremely important for the company itself to make commitments toward the group’s goals. A fantastic system that Clarkston utilizes is executive sponsorship. Essentially, trusted members of company leadership are directly involved with the groups. This is key to demonstrating that the firm is willing to dedicate their time toward progress and making a difference for the impacted individuals.
A second avenue that companies can use to demonstrate commitment is by having a dedicated budget for the groups. Money is tangible and speaks volumes to a firm’s willingness to allocate resources to the group’s objectives.
Creating Safe Spaces
Remember that creating a safe space for growth and support takes time. Gaining the trust of potential members is key and often requires trusted people from the business to lead the effort. Companies and workspaces won’t be transformed in a day, but specified priorities, objectives, and members of the company can make a vast difference over time.
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Contributions from Jake Park-Walters