Letter Archive


How to start an affinity (or employee resource) group at work

Dear Su, 
Thank you for creating this site.  I have been struggling with these issues in my job for the better part of the last decade, and as the only woman and non-Asian in my position at my office, I have been deeply disappointed and hurt by the actions and attitudes of my male colleagues. My attempts to have any of the myriad of issues addressed by my superiors, by HR, and even my CEO has fallen on deaf ears. It has been discouraging and demoralizing, and I have felt like a lone voice adrift at sea. I have never heard of an affinity group before, and so I am interested in finding out what this looks like and how I would go about starting one in the corporate setting. Looking forward to more information, articles and resources from your site.
Dear DP,
     You are not alone.  There is a community of professional women and POCs who have similar experiences and I urge you to find (or build) that community. Im sorry you are experiencing such a demoralizing work environment because it’s something companies can address with nominal investment. Thankfully, you don’t need to wait for your company to act
     Most major cities and states have a professional womens/POC’s groups. These sort of groups are amazing at helping us re-energize, learn, and find community. For example, California has PBWC (http://pbwc.org/about-pbwc/) and Boston has Ellevate (https://www.ellevatenetwork.com/chapters/66-us-boston.  On a national level, I am a member of Catalyst.org (http://www.catalyst.org/) and they have lots of free webinars, tons of resources, and most importantly, a community of women (and men) focused on making workplaces better for everyone.  They recently posted an article on black women and pay equity (http://www.catalyst.org/blog/catalyzing/no-black-women-still-dont-earn-same-their-white-peers-heres-why) that was informative and reminded me of the systematic nature of gender and racial inequity.
     In terms of your specific work place and setting up an affinity groups, many larger companies have groups like a women’s leadership network or LGBTQI groups that meet and host events to raise awareness, share information, and help mitigate isolation.  If you have an intranet at your company, try searching there first as some groups may not be well publicized.  If you don’t find something, consider starting one.  Here are a few tips on starting an affinity group: http://careergirlnetwork.com/how-to-launch-a-womens-affinity-group-in-your-office/ and http://www.diversityinc.com/resource-groups-2/resource-groups-101-a-primer-on-starting-them-using-them-for-business-goals/.
     Once you have an affinity group up and running, the group can host or sponsor an ‘Allies’ subgroup of majority folks (straight, white, male, etc.) who want to help advance the conversation. Unfortunately, men are rarely the target audience for opportunities to engage in inclusion work but you can change that! And, if it’s an employee affinity group (also called employee resource group), rather than an individual asking for participation in these sort of conversations, you may find your CEO and male managers more willing to engage as it will be less personal and about addressing the concerns of a larger audience.
     As I am sure you already know, inclusion is a practice that takes time, energy and practice. Give our well-intentioned male allies some grace as they learn how to build those muscles. Those male allies are out there.

Getting a diverse population for my startup

Dear Su-

Given that I don’t use interviews, job ads, or even really any top down selection process at all in recruiting for my startup – how do I get a more diverse population base for the company?


Dear DC–Regardless of your recruiting method, the key to getting a diverse population in your workplace is three fold:

  1. Craft your job description and qualifications appropriately.  When thinking about new hires, our default is to rely on past roles we’ve filled and finding folks who are most like us (in terms of education and work experience), but a new hire is a great opportunity to consider whether getting someone with a different set of life experiences can improve your business outcomes.  As you draft your job posting, think about the impact of word choice and if it’s a preferred qualification (as opposed to a minimum qualification) say so. For example, men apply for a jobs when they meet 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100%. Textio.com allows you to run your job description through their algorithm so you can remove some of the expressions or phrasing that might discourage otherwise qualified candidates from applying for a job.  For more tips on writing gender neutral job descriptions, click here.
  2. Cast a wide net. Especially when you don’t use formal recruiting processes, its easy to rely on personal networks (which tend to be homogenous and reflect our background).  If you want a diverse workforce, you need to start with a diverse talent pool.  In most professions, there are minority or women focused professional groups you can share the opportunity with and ask for help spreading the word.  For example, if looking for a software engineer, consider reaching out to the local chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers or the Association for Women in Computing
  3. Take bias out of the selection process.  It’s easier to remove bias from the hiring/interviewing process than to try to remove bias from the folks making the hiring decision. For some quick tips on minimizing bias in hiring, click here.




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