With Pride Month upon us, many companies are waving rainbow flags on social media or in offices to show that they support the over eight million workers in the United States who identify as LGBTQIA+. But more important than just saying a company or team supports the LGBTQIA+ community is showing it in meaningful, tangible ways—every day, not just in June. 

Despite the movement toward acceptance and equality, members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to face intolerance in the workplace: a 2021 study found that nearly one in ten LGBTQIA+ people experienced workplace discrimination in the last year. As the drivers of company culture, HR teams are uniquely positioned to advocate for and protect LGBTQIA+ people in their workplaces. When they create and support spaces like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), they give LGBTQIA+ individuals a place to be themselves—which can make a substantial difference in creating an inclusive culture at work. 

How can ERGs improve company culture? 

An ERG is a voluntary, employee-led community where people who have shared identities or values can feel seen and supported by both members and allies at work. ERGs can have many benefits, from leadership development and education for the greater workplace to improved employee retention. Peter Lam, Manager of People Experience at Maven Clinic, started Maven’s LGBTQIA+ ERG, Pride at Maven. He and Arielle Solomon, Manager of Sales Enablement, now serve as the co-leads of Pride at Maven. 

“At first, the channel was not an official ERG—there was just a Slack channel,” Lam explains. “The difference between a recreational slack channel and an ERG is that there’s a mission statement. Everyone aligns on those values.” After leveling up from Slack channel to ERG with the creation of a mission statement, Lam started planning events centered on education, advocacy, and joy to create some buzz. “It’s great to have a safe space to connect and know that you have that community within your workplace, but it’s another thing entirely to have visibility and engage with the greater work and activism,” Lam explains.  

What ultimately made Maven’s LGBTQIA+ ERG an asset is its engagement with and encouragement from leadership and the company as a whole. “The first two big events we had were really well attended,” remembers Solomon. “Well over 50% of the company attended, and now we have LGBTQIA+ representation in executive leadership and senior management. That has made us one of the most visible ERGs at Maven.” 

How to create an effective LGBTQIA+ ERG

“To create an effective ERG involving the LGBTQIA+ community, people have to feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves,” Lam explains. This involves continually checking in to make sure that the ERG addresses every segment of the LGBTQIA+ community and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups.     

There are many ways to create community but here’s are some of the steps to building a successful ERG: 

1. Connect your mission statement to company values

Creating a mission statement that ties back to your company’s values is an essential starting point for an official ERG. “There needs to be connectivity to the company to have a successful ERG. The goals and core values need to be woven into the fabric of the group,” explains Lam.

Pride at Maven’s mission statement is: Pride at Maven strives to facilitate a safe, inclusive space. Our goal is to hear and amplify the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community while educating and engaging our Maven allies and larger network. Lam and Solomon are intentional about their role in creating the company culture. They work hard to ensure that Pride at Maven events directly correspond to Maven’s values. 

“One of the values at Maven that we prioritize in our programming is ‘Continuously Learn,’” says Lam. “We have a Pride panel this year highlighting our queer parents and how they talk about their family structures and sexual identity and gender identity with their children. That was tied to the Continuously Learn value, which made it on-brand for us in terms of our company, product, and mission.” 

2. Find support among the company

After creating a mission statement, get in touch with HR and see if there is buy-in from leadership. “Find an executive sponsor who has been vocal about being an ally,” says Solomon. “Draft up what you want to accomplish and do as much of the work as you can, and bring it to that executive sponsor and ask, ‘Do you think this could work here?’” Recruiting an executive sponsor who is in a position of leadership can help to give the group visibility and secure a budget. “In my mind, that’s the job of executives,” says Solomon. “Not just doing their day-to-day, but creating organizational change. They’re often the people who can do that.” 

3. Establish a communication plan 

Find an easy way to consistently communicate. Starting a slack channel or having a regular meeting to discuss events and get to know people on a more personal level is a great place to start. Be clear about the logistics of the group—where, when, and how the group will meet. Creating a leadership structure to ensure that people in the group feel a sense of ownership over the success can help maintain the longevity of the ERG, but doesn’t have to create a strict hierarchical dynamic. Continue to recruit and allow the group to grow by being visible during onboarding, advertising the ERG on slack or in the office, and presenting at team-wide meetings. 

4. Meet! 

Active engagement for ERGs is key to successfully creating a structure that employees can turn to for community and education. If the group has an executive sponsor, encourage them to continue to champion the ERG in leadership settings to gain more visibility and support. ERGs should have multiple opportunities for members to meet and participate in the ERG, especially if the office is hybrid or remote and members may not get the opportunity to often see each other in person. Events can range from panel discussions about current issues to informal get-togethers to movie screenings. “The ERG gives me a network across every team at Maven,” explains Solomon. 

Don’t be afraid to start small 

Lam and Solomon were clear that an effective community doesn’t have to start out as an ERG. “It can be small and doesn’t have to be an ERG right away. Pride at Maven started as a safe place to connect on slack. It can be as easy as that,” says Lam. In smaller companies where structures like ERGs don’t exist or the queer community is small, an alternative could be joining an LGBTQIA+ resource outside of the company online or in the surrounding community for LGBTQIA+ people. “ERGs or other groups that connect you with a bigger population of queer professionals can serve as a general safe space for LGBTQIA+ people, which we need now more than ever with the state of the world,” says Solomon.

Supporting ERGs is a tangible way to meet the specific needs of employees and give them a space to share their challenges, needs, and most importantly, joy. Schedule a call with Maven today to find out how we can help make your company more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ talent. 

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