Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Employee affinity groups can help diversify workplace

While affinity groups form naturally in the work environment, a March 2009 article by Carmen Van Kerckhove explains how employee affinity groups can be aligned around an affinity for diversifying workplaces and charged with helping achieve business goals related to diversity.

Although Van Kerckhove has since moved on to other projects, as explained in her May 2010 farewell post on the Racialicious.com blog she founded, Racialicious.com continues and Van Kerckhove's article, titled "How Employee Affinity Groups Can Help You Recruit and Retain a Diverse Workforce," is worth a read. The full article is reprinted below.
How Employee Affinity Groups Can Help You Recruit and Retain a Diverse Workforce
By Carmen Van Kerckhove

It isn't surprising that employee affinity groups are a popular diversity tactic. They are easy to set up and inexpensive to run. And when they work well, they can help companies recruit and retain top diverse talent.

Affinity groups can help increase employee retention by reducing the social isolation of being the only person of color within a department or division. A good employee affinity group can also boost the number of employees of color among a company's new hires. That's because under-represented employees are more likely to refer friends to their employer when they know that an infrastructure exists to support and utilize them effectively.

Finally, the social networks created in employee affinity groups can serve as a counterbalance to the "old boy's network" and help increase diversity among managerial ranks. When a company makes it easier for employees to meet people in other departments and levels of hierarchy, it creates a greater likelihood of career advancement.

Although employee affinity groups can yield many benefits, they can also backfire. If managed ineffectively, they can become gossip or gripe sessions, where unhappy employees spread their negativity around. As a result, companies with disaffected affinity groups can actually lose employees and find it harder to recruit superior diverse talent.

If you want to avoid the potential pitfalls of ineffective employee affinity groups, keep these four strategies in mind.

1. Have the groups tackle real-life business problems.

To avoid having your employee affinity groups become glorified book clubs or gossip fests, keep the members focused on business objectives. Consider assigning brainstorming tasks focused on finding a solution to a problem faced by people from an under-represented group. At Best Buy, for instance, the women's networking groups focus on a specific challenge, such as finding ways to attract more women customers, or working with designers to make stores more female-friendly.

2. Cultivate a diversity of seniority levels within each group.

If all the participants in your affinity groups are entry-level employees or in support roles, meetings will yield fewer valuable networking connections for career advancement. So encourage senior executives to get involved. Their insights into how the organization works and how to most efficiently get things done can be invaluable for all involved, resulting in associations that may lead upward in the ranks as time goes on.

3. Encourage different affinity groups to work together.

If different affinity groups fail to work together, each group may isolate, making it less effective and less welcome within the corporate culture. A company's affinity groups can get more done when they pool their resources and they can demonstrate, through their cooperative efforts, the many benefits of diversity.

4. Make sure the affinity group remains within the confines of federal and state anti discrimination and labor laws.

Since I'm not a lawyer, I'm not able to cover all areas of legality, but here are a few potential problem areas of note. It's illegal for employee affinity groups to discuss any issues that a union would tackle, including work hours, assignments, pay, or promotion. And a company cannot show favoritism by allowing one affinity group to form but not another. If you offer meeting space, company time and other company resources to one group, you must offer similar resources to all other groups. Also, by law, an affinity group cannot exclude anyone from joining, as long as they share the same goals for the group. For example, if an Asian-American group is formed, it must allow non-Asian-American employees to join as well. Consult with a lawyer and educate yourself about all state and federal laws to ensure that your affinity group doesn't overstep any established legal boundaries.

Carmen Van Kerckhove, president of the diversity education firm New Demographic, specializes in working with corporations to facilitate relaxed, authentic, and productive conversations about race. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and has visited as a guest lecturer at Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia, among many other colleges and universities across the country.

She publishes Racialicious, an award-winning, influential blog about race and pop culture. She also hosts the podcast Addicted to Race and publishes the blog Anti-Racist Parent.

Carmen is of mixed Chinese and Belgian heritage. She was born and mostly raised in Hong Kong, but also spent much of her childhood living in Shanghai and Belgium. Carmen graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Political Science. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband.

You can learn more about Carmen and her courses, programs, products, and services at NewDemographic.com.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Carmen_Van_Kerckhove

Note: Although credentials for Carmen Van Kerckhove have since been updated, as stated in the opening of this blog post, reprint terms require that the entire article with credentials intact as is be published in full.
Brenda Dow is a specialist in Marketing, Advancement, and Business Development. She holds degrees in communications and human resources management, and blogs about affinities and affinity related activities at http://www.AffinityAvenue.com.

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