The goal of many company inclusion projects is every individual’s free and complete expression. Achieving this is very challenging. However, in my opinion, there is a very effective tool that is used successfully in large organisations: these are ERGs (Employees Resource Groups), or communities of employees who voluntarily join to support a cause they have a shared interest in (LGBTQI +, disability, gender diversity…).
The LGBTQI + community was one of the first to benefit from the work of ERGs, since – in the same way as for other diversities that are not visible – groups of employees have found a safe and protected space there in which they can express themselves, discuss and grow, first on a personal level, experiencing a sense of belonging and strong psychological security. At the same time, the ERG must include many allies who do not belong to the community directly but who support it, helping to solidify the ERG itself and to strengthen its mission.
Gathering in an LGBTQI + group is an opportunity to amplify and make a group of voices heard more effectively. In all this, the company plays a crucial role: it must provide economic support for the organisation of events, provide platforms for communication between the group and potential members, but above all provide an “executive champion” who will support the group and give weight to its requests. The advantage of an ERG for the company is, on the one hand, the development of a more inclusive working environment and on the other hand a direct connection with the external LGBTQI + community, which benefits thanks to two aspects: 1. greater ease in identifying opportunities (products, services, resources) for the LGBTQI + target; 2. a strong connection with a pool of university students and candidates to attract potential talent from the community itself.
One example of a product developed for the LGBTQI + community comes from Mastercard, which, listening to the internal needs of the company, has responded to an unmet need: with TRUE NAME it allows its customers to indicate on the card the name with which they identify rather than the first name they were given at birth. On the one hand this serves to strengthen one’s identity, on the other to avoid painful misunderstandings whenever one’s appearance reflects a different gender from that identified on the credit card. Another interesting example comes from Adidas, which today boasts over 40 ERGs. The group supporting the LGBTQI + community was born in 2013, when an employee who was looking for information for Diversity Day became aware of his great privilege: to be able to express himself freely in society and in the company without hiding. So he decided to form an official group for LGBTQI + colleagues and the impact was soon evident. One message from a participant reads: “Now I know I can be myself; I don’t have to waste energy every day pretending to be who I am not. I know that, at least within this organisation, I am protected and accepted for who I am.”
Today, there are laws in many countries that protect the LGBTQI + community from discrimination and ensure equal access to workplace benefits. However, within the community itself, privileges persist: a gay white man living in a big city may not support the ERG as many of its equality goals have already been achieved. But the responsibility towards those who will come later and of those – within the LGBTQI + community – who have not yet reached the goals of the privileged, gay white man, must make us reflect on the need to continuously support these groups: they remain indispensable to guaranteeing equality in the workplace, as well as being a key tool for companies to connect with various LGBTQI + stakeholders.