Proposed as a pilot program in the spring of 2021, the employee resources groups (ERG) received their initial funding through a proposal to the Campus Diversity Innovation Fund. Affinity groups (or employee resource groups) are typically defined as, “voluntary associations of people with shared, often marginalized, identities” and are commonplace both in higher education and the private sector. A small group of faculty and staff, led by OMA Director Megan Pugh, were awarded $1,000 to research and establish employee resource groups on campus. The goal was to use the spring semester to gather data, generate interest, and identify leads so that a network of employee resources groups would be fully functional by the fall of 2021.
Employee resource/affinity groups serve as spaces dedicated to identifying, addressing, and promoting the needs of minoritized employee populations. University-recognized ERGs also positively impact efforts to recruit, retain, and promote talented, diverse candidates. These affinity spaces may also contribute to an increased competence for intra- and intergroup communication regarding issues of equity and inclusion. Not only can these groups be used to promote UNC Asheville’s core value of diversity and inclusion but they also will prove vital in creating opportunities for employees to establish and enhance professional and social networks on campus. That increased connection and sense of community will assist us in our efforts to improve campus climate for both employees and students.
Initial Employee Resource Groups
A number of factors were considered when approaching the creation of these groups on our campus. The primary consideration revolved around demonstrated need, either empirically or qualitatively. In the fall of 2020, the UNC System administered the Racial Equity Task Force survey with the intention of understanding more about perceptions of equity, diversity, and inclusion at institutions across the system. In analyzing the results for our campus, we found that when compared to white employees, BIPOC employees are more likely to feel unequal in the following areas:
- access to leadership,
- access to the tools necessary to successfully perform their jobs,
- learning and development opportunities, and
BIPOC employees also reported experiencing more racial discrimination or harassment on campus, feeling less safe, feeling less comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and not feeling represented racially or ethnically at faculty events, staff events, or in leadership roles. This matches what we’ve heard anecdotally for years about the ways employees from traditionally marginalized communities have experienced campus. Another primary consideration centered around organizational capacity and the ability for the groups to be led and guided by members from within the community. Put simply, are there enough folks in that respective community, willing to lead these efforts. Given those considerations we decided to move forward with a few groups that we felt met that criteria. As the campus continues to move forward, it should consider expanding the number of resource groups to meet the inevitable need. As of the spring 2021 semester, the following groups and leads have been identified for the initial employee resource group rollout:
- Black/African American employees- Maya Newlin, Health Policy Project Manager
- Queer & Trans employees – Jordan Perry, Healthy Campus Liaison & Collin Hill, Graduate Assistant
- Employees w/Young Children (< 5 years) – Allie Ellenbogen, Survey and Assessment Analyst
Though the university’s employee resource groups will be led by and for members of their respective communities, it is important that these groups be provided with the support needed to both function independently and support the institution in its efforts to build an inclusive community. To do this, the Office of Institutional Equity has provided seed money to help establish these groups. Going forward, ERG leads should look to Institutional Equity and the Office of Multicultural Affairs to assist in the following ways:
- work with hiring managers to connect prospective applicants and new employees to ERG resources, meetings and leads,
- assist with communication to ERG members,
- assist in the procurement of materials, supplies, and services needed for marketing, communication, and operation of the group.