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Support for the Black Lives Matter Movement: Affinity Groups at Work (Part 7 of 12)

This is the seventh post in a 12-part series on how companies can show support for the Black Lives Matter movement by changing company policies and practices. This post focuses on creating effective affinity groups to assist in attracting applicants and maintaining productive employees.

An affinity group is an employer-sponsored or created group of employees that is organized based on social identity, life experiences, or shared characteristics. Often times these groups will implicate a protected classification such as veteran status, race, gender, and sexual orientation. There is no requirement that employers offer affinity groups, but many employers find that they are helpful in attracting and retaining diverse candidates.

Employers who may have previously had affinity groups and found that the groups were unsuccessful, may want to consider why that is and whether there are additional things the employer could do to assist in the group’s success. Often, contributors to unsuccessful affinity groups include: lack of buy-in from senior leadership; an employee population that may cover their membership in such protected classes and thus refuse to participate in such affinity groups; and lack of purpose or goals for the group as a whole.

It is important for the company itself to market and communicate why it has created an affinity group. This would include communicating many of the benefits of affinity groups generally, including: providing support for employees; fostering mentoring, networking, dialogue and the open exchange of ideas; increasing employee job satisfaction, morale, and productivity; attracting, recruiting, and retaining diverse employees; promoting cultural awareness and diversity; and creating a more inclusive work environment.

In creating affinity groups, however, it is important to create parameters in order to manage some of the risks related to affinity groups generally. Consider the following when organizing affinity groups:

  • Draft and enforce an affinity group policy. A policy should include some or all of the following elements:
    • The purpose of the affinity group and the policy (consider adding NLRA disclaimer language that there is no intention that the group represents employees as to terms and conditions of employment);
    • An explanation of the benefits of affinity groups;
    • Identification of the individual who oversees affinity groups generally;
    • An outline of permissible and impermissible affinity groups (make sure that the groups that are created tie in some way to a legitimate business purpose and are non-discriminatory in nature);
    • Set forth the criteria and standards for the creation of an affinity group (include standards such as eligibility, could a probationary employee participate in the group, or do employees need to be in good standing);
    • Rules and responsibilities for maintenance of an affinity group (include location and timekeeping elements as the time spent in affinity group meetings will be compensable).
  • Train affinity group leaders on best practices in complying with applicable law to make sure employees’ NLRA rights are not violated and that EEO and non-discrimination policies are maintained.
  • Train managers on best practices in limiting legal claims when working with affinity groups and responding to requests from affinity group leaders.

For information on more specific risks associated with affinity group, check out this podcast.

In addition to considering whether affinity groups make sense for your organization, other ways companies can create policies and practices that lead to actual change include:

  • If you don’t already have one, make sure that you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy that is easily accessible to employees and applicants (this is the bare minimum of what all employers should be doing, but is also the foundation of the process). Read more about this here.
  • Train employees on anti-discrimination laws, duties, and policies. If you already perform training, great, but consider ways you can make the training more impactful. Read more about this here.
  • Provide implicit bias training to employees. While in the past, there has been concern that acknowledging implicit bias will be detrimental in any future discrimination lawsuit, this is not likely the case. Implicit bias is present in us all and we all need to be aware of the devastating impact it has on the choices we make on a daily basis. Read more about this here.
  • Provide third-party intervention training to employees and managers so that they have the tools and resources to assist them should they witness racist behavior or microagressions in the workplace. Read more about this here.
  • Update your grooming/personal appearance policy to include language that forbids discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. Read more about this here.
  • Educate your managers about the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Review past EEO-1 and Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) information to identify places in which the company could be doing better (even if not required by law).
  • Stop referral-based hiring programs as these continue to perpetuate the hiring of non-diverse candidates.
  • Listen to the experiences of black employees and employees of color.
  • Educate your managers and decision-makers about the BLM movement and the injustices experienced by black employees and employees of color.

For more information concerning the creation or maintenance of an affinity group in your work environment, please contact Tawny Alvarez or another member of Verrill’s Employment and Labor Practice Group.

Click here to read part six of this series.

Topics: Discrimination, HR Best Practices