Employee resource groups are very important for the cultures of large organisations. When employee numbers are numerous and spread across a vast enterprise, it can be detrimental to how people connect.
Those connections matter: they help build a common culture, create a familiarity that leads to opportunities and promote collaboration that leads to better business performance. If a company seems stuck with always the same choices for new leaders or talent, it’s worth asking if their people are not more segregated than they had thought.
Hence employee resource groups or ERGs. These exist inside organisations to create platforms where employees from similar races, creeds or backgrounds can meet and interact. But these aren’t isolated social clubs. They are an opportunity for others to also engage with these groups and learn more about each other.
“Diversity is being invited to the dance, but inclusivity is when you are busy dancing,” explained Angela Allen née Qithi, Black Networking Alliance Employee Resource Group Lead. “That’s the role of ERGs, to get everyone on the floor. You can’t have diversity if you don’t make the effort to include people. I am very passionate about inclusion. It is important for us to recognise that people who are a minority of any form need to be included, need to have platforms where they can share experiences and be heard and feel comfortable.”
BNA’s international success
The local BNA chapter has been charging ahead. It’s attracting the interest and participation of Dell Technologies’ employees. But the concept has also caught the attention of other markets.
Dell Technologies in France recently launched its BNA chapter and there are pipelines to establish BNA ERGs in London and possibly Amsterdam. Allen is helping with the phasing of this and has been appointed as the chapter leader of BNA’s EMEA presences.
But what she really wants to see are other local technology companies doing the same, establishing such ERGs that can start to promote diversity and inclusion. It is not hard to see the necessity for this in a multicultural melting pot such as South Africa:
“The initial callout was for EMEA to have this ERG that exists within the corporate in North America, purely to engage our internal employees, to retain and develop them, recruit black people and develop the communities they come from. That project is picking up momentum. But there is little point if only one company does it. We have a call out for other organisations within the industry to launch the same types of ERGs. By giving space for employees to get together, learn and grow with each other, we can really pave the way to an inclusive future for everyone.”
A call to technology enterprises
Allen spearheaded the launch of the Black Network Alliance, a Dell ERG, in South Africa - the first chapter to be established outside of the US. At the launch event, held in July 2018, she called on other companies to do the same - to bring such ERGs that exist at the US mothership into the South African market. She even extends her help beyond the confined of Dell Technologies:
“Those who are keen to establish such ERGs should definitely contact us. I’m on Linkedin, Twitter, all the social platforms. I am keen to assist other organisations, to assist launching ERGs from their US counterparts locally. We don’t want to hog it. It’s about helping more people so we can touch more lives.”
The Black Network Alliance (BNA) is one of over a dozen ERGs in Dell Technologies that serve different groups. These range from race-based to gender-based, religion, even age - there is an ERG of so-called Generation Z employees.
“The top BNA mandate is to help black people learn how to put their hand up, how to be at the right place and time. These are things we need to be deliberate about. We need to be proactive about not just training up, but boosting the confidence of black people to own their place and not feel like they should be held back. We have very talented people at DellTechnologies.”
No success happens in isolation, which is why BNA encourages other professionals to also join, share their knowledge and learn more about their fellow employees’ cultures and outlooks. But none of these is exclusive. In fact, Allen said, this would defeat the purpose:
“The point of ERGs is for people with like minds to have those groups so they can associate with people who are the same to them. But it’s also for others to get to know other people. So we also want people who aren’t necessarily black to be part of that. Them being part of it allows them to understand black people a bit more.”
Indeed, the BNA’s sponsoring executive is Doug Woolley, GM, Dell Technologies South Africa. At the BNA launch, Woolley said, “sponsoring a networking group for black professionals is a huge privilege and honour. It speaks to the heart of the company and the values we pursue. Dell is at the forefront of developing black professionals. It’s not about a scorecard - it’s about talent.”