Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led cohorts whose members have shared characteristics like gender, ethnicity or interests. According to TopMBA, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. These groups help support employees’ personal and professional goals while fostering a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Focused on DEI, GHJ launched its Women’s Empowerment Cohort six years ago. Last year, GHJ rolled out its BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) Cohort. In 2021, the firm further expanded the ERG offerings with a Parenting Cohort influenced by the shared challenges the pandemic presented.
In many ways, employees led the charge to form the ERGs, however, leadership was quick to support and invest in the idea. For me and many of my colleagues, GHJ’s cohorts have provided a safe space to discuss issues that impact our lives every day.
MY STORY: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Growing up, I split my time between the immaculately cut lawns of the Chicago suburbs and the barred windows of South Side Chicago where my mom owned a business. This dichotomy was not new to me. As a Korean American and child of an immigrant, I also lived in two different worlds. One that afforded me opportunities to make a better life for myself and my family. The other where my mom was targeted at work – and often given more work – because she did not speak English and had no voice to speak out.
Decades after my mom proudly opened her first store, it was destroyed during the riots that followed the death of George Floyd. I was angry, and my mom was devastated. She had spent some of her happiest moments at her store, but I did not hear a single word of blame. Instead, she showed empathy for a community in grief and pain. While I have learned many lessons from my mother, her compassion in that moment taught me the importance of lifting up others in difficult times.
TRAVERSING TOUGH TERRAIN
Through GHJ’s BIPOC Cohort, I was able to share my story, which allowed me to process and cope with the destruction of my mom’s store. The Cohort helped me realize we are not alone, and our stories will be heard and celebrated.
People have faced different challenges this past year. For some, the pandemic presented physical stress while others faced financial hardship. Many have cited emotional stress while some communities have also had to take on systems of oppression. During these taxing times and social unrest, I would like to offer some tenants that have helped me on my journey, many of which I have learned from other members of my BIPOC Cohort.
- Be an ally. When #StopAsianHate started making headlines, I received a message from a partner at the firm. He wanted to express his sympathy and offer his support as an ally. I was struck by the simple, yet powerful, gesture. I realized that growing up I did not have many people reach out to me as an ally who were not a part of my ethnic group. It made me feel more like an included member of the firm, and I made sure to pay forward the goodwill I received.
- Focus on the positive. It can be very easy to let the 24-hour news cycle envelop one’s thoughts and drain emotions. While it is important to recognize what is happening in the world and to have a safe outlet to talk about it, now – more than ever – it is important to amplify the positives. Whether it be family, friends, accomplishments or milestones, do not forget to celebrate.
- Talk about it. Communication has always been the crux of misunderstanding or growth. Sometimes, we find ourselves surrounded by like-minded people with whom we can discuss openly about what is going on in society. Other times, we converse with others who have differing worldviews. In either situation, it is important to come from a place of authenticity. When speaking to people with differing views, I ask questions (for example, using the Socratic Method) with a genuine interest to understand their perspectives.
- Set limits and unplug. It felt like every day there was a new attack against an Asian American, which wore on my mental health as I feared for the safety of my family. I realized that I needed to unplug. I set limits on how much news I could watch or read, and it did not make me a less-informed citizen; it made me a more complete and present member of my family.
ERGs are more than monthly meetings or social hours. They are impactful places to connect, build trust and gain a deeper understanding of others’ diverse backgrounds, thoughts and experiences. The rich fabric of our differences makes for a more powerful and stronger collective.
The platform GHJ has provided employees to tell their stories and lift each other up in hard times has made a difference for me. My participation with the BIPOC Cohort has helped me create connections with people I may never have had the opportunity to meet. I am grateful my workplace recognizes the value of ERGs and encourages other firms to consider starting their own.