5 Ways Our Employee Resource Groups Foster an Inclusive Workplace
What are employee resource groups (ERGs)?
An ERG, also known as an affinity group, is a voluntary, employee-led group that seeks to foster inclusion, promote equity, and support diversity within the workplace. The goal of an ERG is to be supportive of underrepresented groups and help them connect to the larger organization. ERGs provide opportunities for their members to grow personally and professionally, and membership is based usually on a shared characteristic or interest, such as:
- Gender identity.
- Sexual orientation.
- Physical or mental ability.
- Veteran status.
- Parental status.
Gannett Fleming currently has four ERGs open to those who identify within the group as well as allies, including:
- Connected Women at Gannett Fleming™.
- Future Generations of Gannett Fleming (FuGen).
- LGBTQ+ of Gannett Fleming.
- Military Veterans at Gannett Fleming.
Read on to learn more from some of our ERG leaders about how ERGs make Gannett Fleming a more inclusive workplace.
1. ERGs further Gannett Fleming’s overarching diversity initiatives.
Each of our ERGs has a unique vision that it seeks to uphold, but at their core, all of our ERGs “uphold the foundational values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I),” according to Carmen Figueroa, Military Veterans chair and assistant project manager for construction services. “All who wish to participate are welcome to join and collaborate in the ERG’s operations; there are no barriers to entry.”
The ERGs are also responsible for fostering an “internal community environment,” said Catalina Echeverri, Connected Women chair and Florida transportation operations manager. “We facilitate networking, mentoring, and offer leadership opportunities at Gannett Fleming.”
Additionally, our ERGs directly contribute to the firm’s strategic direction through employee engagement. This is helping to “create a more thoughtful and diverse company culture for years to come,” said Caitlin Hollowell, FuGen vice chair and environmental scientist/project manager.
2. Each ERG champions unique perspectives, resulting in genuine connections and meaningful employee experiences.
With more than 2,700 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, and Qatar, our ERGs work hard to connect their members and provide impactful personal and professional development opportunities.
“Connected Women established a Connected Ambassadors program, where more than 70 women have stepped forward as local leaders across the firm,” said Joelle Shea, Connected Women vice chair and senior corporate communications manager. “It’s a great way to have lots of voices involved, and they shape the local impact of Connected Women. Our employees are so creative! They’ve coordinated client site visits, hosted lunch-n-learns, sponsored paint nights, started a book club, facilitated conversations about communications styles, and so much more. It’s energizing to see how each ambassador’s unique outlook shapes Connected Women.”
Our ERGs also provide platforms for new voices to rise on trending topics and issues, such as the importance of intersectionality in the workplace.
“LGBTQ+’s monthly Rainbow Connection series has been a wonderful opportunity to discuss a wide range of LGBTQ+ topics and hear different perspectives from all corners of Gannett Fleming,” said Heather Wilkie, LGBTQ+ chair and GeoDecisions business analyst. “We have been able to give a voice and community to those folks who have likely felt, at some point in their professional lives, that they had to make themselves smaller or suppress who they are to gain respect from their peers. It has been so fulfilling to shine a light on those unique perspectives through our position as an ERG.”
3. Our ERGs have buy-in from our executive leadership team.
Gannett Fleming’s leaders are proud to support ERGs and their related DE&I efforts. Each ERG has an executive sponsor who serves as an advisor and direct line of communication to Gannett Fleming’s leadership team. Each ERG also receives financial support annually via a budget to fund events, speakers, conference attendance, and more.
“Having executives recognize and go out of their way to place importance on the value of ERGs is very motivating,” said Stasys Fidleris, FuGen chair and overhead contact systems designer. “It makes you want to continue to work for a company that genuinely cares about its employees.”
When senior leaders buy into ERGs, it generates “safe spaces for employees to bring their full selves to work,” said Hilary Lentz, LGBTQ+ vice chair and digital communications manager. “When Bob Scaer, chairman and CEO, put out a call to action in 2020 for employees to form an LGBTQ+ ERG, I felt seen, appreciated, and empowered in ways I hadn’t before in my professional life to step fully into my identity.”
Ultimately, executive leadership support “reinforces that these efforts have value,” said Shea. “It’s empowering to see DE&I goals on our firm’s strategic action plan alongside our other critical business goals.”
4. ERGs help to create a sense of belonging for all.
Gannett Fleming has a proud family culture, which we credit with bringing diverse teams of individuals together to create innovative solutions for our clients. However, this culture is also crucial in creating a sense of belonging for all employees, especially our ERG members.
“ERGs often represent marginalized groups of people whose voices or opinions tend to get drowned out,” said Hallowell. “With company-wide recognition of the ERGs, the voices and opinions of these employees become louder, enhancing a sense of belonging for all.”
ERGs also help provide safe spaces in employees’ professional lives to be themselves and create a community at work where they may not have had one traditionally.
“When only 7.1% of the population in the U.S. identifies as LGBTQ+, it can feel like you’re alone,” said Wilkie. “But being able to meet others in the company who are part of your community can truly make you feel like you belong here.”
5. ERGs improve our work environment, particularly in a hybrid structure.
As Gannett Fleming shifted to a permanent hybrid work structure during the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew maintaining meaningful connections between coworkers as well as management and leadership would be necessary for our future success, and our ERGs have aided in this transition.
“Almost all companies are susceptible to siloing, where workgroups can become isolated from each other,” said Fidleris. “This is magnified when you’re working from home, so having a way to connect to peers and build a sense of community is not only encouraging, but it can lead to increased cooperation and a sharing of skills throughout different groups. I’ve drawn on the expertise of my peers many times for jobs that I would have never thought to include them in had I not met them through ERG activities.”
One area in particular that has improved with our hybrid work structure is the Connected Relationships™ Mentoring Program, managed by Connected Women and Military Veterans.
“Connected Relationships launched in 2020, and we have had almost 400 people in the company participate in the program, including our CEO and president,” said Echeverri. “Many employees have found the program valuable, especially during the early COVID days, when so many felt isolated.”
Our ERGs also present opportunities to “bridge the gap between leadership and employees in the hybrid environment, where seniority and different roles or corporate business groups would typically present communication barriers,” said Figueroa. “Additionally, our ERGs help build stronger relationships between groups by focusing on common goals.”
The future is bright for Gannett Fleming's ERGs.
As our ERG leaders look to the future, they see not only more ERGs, but as our current ERGs mature, they see new pathways for further employee involvement in DE&I initiatives.
“Gannett Fleming’s ERGs are far more than social clubs,” said Figueroa. “Our ERGs have helped make workplaces and people more accessible through connected environments, open dialogues, and continued opportunities for growth.”
Ultimately, our ERGs serve as vehicles to bring together employees who share a common interest or trait in ways they might not have been able to without the ERG. The conversations and ideas they generate are influential in creating an inclusive workplace.
“ERGs give us a clear, empowered path to generate change in our particular corner of the world, and that has ripple effects throughout the community,” said Shea. “While we don’t have all the answers, I’m proud that we’re having conversations about these important topics at Gannett Fleming. So no matter what the future holds, I know we’re leading with an inclusive, collaborative mindset.”
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