To continue our discussion on leadership on National Leadership, the skills required for a local leadership role can vary depending on the size of your company. I view local leadership of any ERG as where the “feet meet the street.” Local leaders are more connected with the employees on a daily basis and have a much better understanding of local events, organizations and community culture.
When considering the development of LGBTQ programming for your ERG, understanding the local communities demographic dynamics and uniqueness is key to engaging employees. Local leadership is the critical role in uncovering and realizing these opportunities.
Let’s first define what I mean by a local leader.
Local leadership could be a single location of employees, or much larger regional group, up to multiple cities or even states. It depends on on the infrastructure of the company and their ERG programming.
Regardless of size, local leaders have the responsibility of:
• Connecting with employees and communities,
• Communicating the needs and opportunities of employees, and
• Creating the local events and sustainability of group activity.
Each of these is in addition to the necessary skills outlined in A Primer — National Leadership. Let’s explore these in more detail.
Local leaders have the best opportunity to understand employees and their communities and share this with the organizations ERG management. Knowing the demographics and business units within their ERG leadership will provide opportunities to meet the LGBTQ needs and communication preferences of the local employees. If it is a Call Center environment, then understanding the availability of employees for events, and their styles of communication (sometimes based on generation identification) will drive what type of activities and programs the local ERG will develop. Or if it is multi-site offices, with infrequent interactions between departments, then considering more virtual engagement or in-person events monthly/quarterly may provide more significant engagement opportunity for all employees. Local leaders must first ascertain these work demographics and dynamics in order to help with the next step of connecting with the community.
The LGBTQ communities vary significantly across the nation. Our regional differences, both culturally and demographically, need to be understood to identify opportunities for engagement. Local leaders should first ask employees for recommendations of organizations, as they may already be actively volunteering and supporting them already and can provide more insights into there programs and needs. Also understanding any primary social issues that may be unique to the area will serve to prioritize the initiatives and activities the local ERG may commit to. Ways to obtain this information could be:
- Host a town hall call (phone or in-person) to brainstorm — be sure to set clear expectations and invite open, honest discussion
- Conduct an online survey — be sure to leverage individuals skilled in survey development as this will ensure survey effectiveness and quality (click here for tips on developing online surveys)
- Facilitate a focus group of select employees to establish a list of opportunities and priorities — be sure this is a diverse group that represent all local employees, and they have the opportunity provide open and honest feedback
Once you obtain the ideas and suggestions from local employees, engage with LGBTQ community organizations and leaders (as appropriate and per your company’s policies) to explore how they are currently partnering with companies similar to yours. Some organizations to consider are:
- LGBTQ community centers
- LGBTQ legal organizations
- LGTBQ historical or museum organizations
- LGBTQ business organization
- Homeless and health organizations
- Government agencies focused on LGBTQ issues/programs
WORD OF CAUTION: Be sure you are aware of your company’s grant and donation policies. Most often many of the organizations listed above will want to see how much in funding they can obtain from your company, so set clear expectations of the conversation you are looking to have (such as donation drives, volunteer opportunities, etc.) and have a plan to address grant giving as a separate conversation.
Once you have a good understanding of local employee needs and demographics and have ascertained community opportunities, share this with your company’s national leadership or ERG programming office to work on the next steps of crafting events, programs and other opportunities to engage. Most often, the national ERG leadership (or ERG programming office) will have established communication protocols and channels to connect with employees. These channels could be as simple as email templates or as dynamic as multipage intranet sites dedicated to ERG information and collaboration.
Leveraging the resources and protocols of the national ERG leadership or ERG programming office provides consistency across the company when engaging with employees, as well as efficiencies with budgeting and coordination. Many times you will find that other areas will have similar issues or topics that can be opportunities for partnering in developing events, programming or resources. For instance, if you are exploring the idea of educating employees about the facts and risks of LGBTQ homeless youth, which is a nationwide issue, consider partnering with other ERGs or office locations to combine research and resource gathering efforts to produce one document or education series (webinars, online modules, speaking tours, etc.) used by all areas.
One of the most important reasons to communicate local issues and ideas to national LGBTQ leadership or ERG programming office is to ensure that all areas of the company are supported appropriately and equitably. Regardless of the size of your local ERG, the national level leadership should be balanced in their resource allocation and support to all local ERG groups. Many times, national leadership is merely unaware of local issues or efforts due to lack of communication, so be sure to report what you are doing frequently, and always provide how you plan to (or would suggest too) execute some of your initiatives so that you can obtain advisement and direction from national leadership.
Now that you have explored local employee interest and community opportunities, as well as communicated this at the national level, the next step is to create group momentum and sustainability through events and resources development. Though some resources and larger events, such as Pride events, may be directed and supported at a national level (dependent on the size of your company), many of the local events rely on you to implement.
Often when starting a new local LGBTQ ERG group, there is a lot of excitement generated. Many employees raise their hands to help, and the ideas come pouring out in a flood that lights a fire of passion in everyone. Once you get to creating events and resources, the reality of the work, time and expertise needed to execute becomes daunting. This is the time to remember that you should look to the following areas for support:
- National Leadership — they most likely have resources and best practices to help you in your efforts (dependent upon size and maturity of the company’s ERG)
- Other Local LGBTQ ERGs — you may have other existing groups that have “been there, done that” to learn from them and look for partnership opportunities
- Non-LGBTQ ERGs — most likely your company will also have other established ERGs (African-American, Women, Veterans, etc.) that are excellent partners to team up with as most of the practices and processes of developing events and resources are not group specific
- Outside ERG Organization and Resources — there are several organizations focused on supporting ERGs in their growth (click here for a list), many with free or low-cost options to obtain leadership and programming guidance
The critical point here is that you need to ensure you are starting something soon and often. Employee engagement is finite, meaning you are competing with everyone’s “day jobs” so be sure to plan your communications, resources, and events in a way that is easy to access but not overwhelming. Understand what the most effective ways to get their attention are and plan around (or in coordination with) other company events, so you get the most participation possible. Establishing excitement for a local LGBTQ group is easy, but sustaining that momentum depends on proper planning and leadership.