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DEI more important than ever, but don't expect ERGs to solve everything

Talent Management meeting takeaways

Oct 19, 2023

DEI is one of the most impactful roles that talent and HR leaders play and is critical in today’s high-conflict world to help create a sense of belonging for all employees.

During NAREIM’s Talent Management meeting in Chicago, members discussed how the goal of DEI is belonging (DEI=B) and how important a strategy it is in a world rocked by increased depression, suicide, mental health issues, wars and conflict.

“Employees are going through a lot outside of work right now,” said one member. “We need to respect all the nuances and differences of bringing those people together and helping them feel they belong within our firms.”

To download the Talent Management presentations and attendee list, click here.

Through case studies and whole room Q&A, members dug deep into DEI=B strategies, including: The evolution of affinity groups and ERGs (employees resource groups), how to use ERGs to develop leadership skills as well as develop ERG succession plans, as well as compensation and remote work trends in 2023.

  • DEI=B strategy. Don’t ignore the strategy

Throughout the entire Talent meeting, members stressed the absolute need to start with a DEI strategy. Without a strategy and understanding of goals, efforts to create ERGs, affinity groups or culture development will fail. Also be transparent as to what the strategy is and communicate it frequently.

Case study: One firm highlighted three pillars within their DEI strategy including people (broken into representation, pay equity and inclusive work) as well as procurement (vendors/supply chain) and philanthropy. DEI all fed into the goal of belonging where employees feel valued, connected and that they belong.

  • ERGs. Employee resource groups

Whether focused on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, family, socio-economics or military, the key advice was to ensure ERGS were more than just about “fun, food and flags”. Having ERGs only to celebrate holidays, cultures and fun activities, wasn’t using them to their fullest potential.

ERG evolution:

There’s an evolution from affinity groups to ERGs and business resource groups and the terms are not interchangeable. Each has a distinct role, with affinity groups being informal gatherings around an issue or topic. ERGs are groups sponsored and supported by the company and BRGs are where groups are making an impact on the business. ERGs should have a budget, metrics to track and senior leadership support. But remember ERGs are not here “to solve everything for the company.”

ERG leadership:

People leading ERGs were acting as quasi departmental leads running budgets, planning ERG strategy, creating a business plan and working with senior leaders. Such roles should be credited in performance reviews, and seen as an invaluable part of training and development.

When you have ERGs enforce term limits and assign successors (even multiple successors) to ERG leaders. “Passing responsibility to a team empowers everyone,” said one member.

ERGs – be inclusive and think outside the box:

ERGs are about allyship and are open to all employees, not just those from a specific ethnicity, gender or group. For smaller firms with fewer FTEs, ERGs don’t have to be just diversity-focused – think about a multigenerational ERG, parent ERGs or other causes and issues that can unite employees.

DEI and ERGs feed into the business strategy:

Communicate why Dei is important by framing it in the language of the business – DEI is a staple within investor RFPs; tenants want to understand DEI strategies of landlords and helps leasing strategies; retention and engagement of team members within a department.

  • DEI training. Don’t let it be a punishment

Also make DEI training part of all leadership and onboarding training – not a solo exercise that is seen as a punishment. Make DEI a mandatory part of all training, such as onboarding, leadership training, coaching, etc. It becomes one element of many.

  • Career Management Committees

Set up a career management committee whereby senior leaders and talent/HR leaders discuss all the talent within the firm – and the skills they have, need developing and don’t have. By bringing leadership and HR together, you are able to identify skill sets, what is needed for each person and how people are performing. It also pays dividends on retention as employees are shown they are being recognized, talked about and that their career is important to leaders.

  • Remote work: 63% of firms are in the office 3 days

According to the 2023 NAREIM Compensation Survey, 63% of firms are in the office 3 days – up 8% since 2022, while 13% of firms are back 4 days a week, up 85% from one year prior when just 7% of firms were requiring an almost full working week in the office.

Members agreed once the move to 4 or 5-days is made, everyone adjusts and few firms lose employees.

To download the Talent Management presentations and attendee list, click here.

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