Video transcript : The ERG journey: Five steps to launching a disability employee resource group



Timing is everything. I've had organizations say, Nadine, we have groups for all these other constituencies. We don't have one for disability. So maybe we should start one. Well, the question is, what else are you doing around disability? And do you have employees requesting this type of group? Who is going to lead it?

We've had companies say, Nadine, we've had a little problem with some compliance issues, so we think we should have a group. That would not be the reason to start it. So what you have to do is first assess. Are you ready to do this? Let me talk a little bit about what I mean and how do you know if you're ready.

If as an organization you've really not officially started your disability journey, meaning you're not-- you haven't looked at disability etiquette and awareness training yet. You're not sure if your websites are accessible, physical accessibility. You might not be ready for the group. Many companies think that that's the place to start. But not necessarily because the group should really align with business goals and objectives.

I often will see names or things like support, differently abled, ability, accessibility. Let's talk about this for a second. We really don't want to use the word support. And the reason is because of what I said earlier. We are not here, this group is not here to necessarily support the employee. There's a lot of other mechanisms to do that-- accommodations processes, and so forth.

If you put the word support in, you may inadvertently have employees with disabilities that don't join. They don't want to be part of it because they don't want to be seen as they're there for you to support them. They want to be an independently functioning adult employee like anyone else. Differently abled, adults with disabilities say, say it loud, say it proud. I have a disability, put a capital D.

Then we have parents who have children with disabilities, like I do. I have two adult daughters with disabilities. In that world when their children are younger there's a term called special needs. Adults hate the term special needs. What's very interesting is although they are very different terms, although speaking to the same, referencing the same issues at different age groups, the one thing that both groups agree on, what the heck does differently abled mean?

Nobody really knows. They say aren't we all differently abled in some way? So it's about disability. However; companies have gotten scared about using disability and some of the "dis" words, so they talk about ability-- we're the ability group. Well, now you have folks that don't have disabilities and say, well, don't we all have abilities? Like that doesn't make sense either.

What we have to remember is that we can't create one model that it's good for one group and then not for another. So what you have to keep in mind-- there are some words that I would say are probably wrong to use, like support or differently abled. But then there are some that they're OK, but we have to look at the context that you're using them in.

So accessibility-- accessibility means different things to different people. We're talking about physical accessibility. Are we talking about digital accessibility, communications? So, again, we have to really use these words very carefully so that if somebody says, well, I don't understand what this group is about, you can be very clear-- "the elevator pitch", if you will-- and articulate what the name is and why it has that name.

As a group, what are we uniquely bringing to the table and why? At the end of the day, what that means is if you have this amazing resource group and tomorrow it went away, who would care? Who would care beyond the members of the group? Would your chief marketing officer care? Would your CEO, would your head of diversity of HR? Who would care and why? And what that speaks to is the impact that your group has.

It has to be measurable. It has to be defined, and let me give you another secret to-- the "secret sauce to success." It shouldn't be you talking about it. It should be everyone else talking about it and saying, it's because of this group that we've been able to accomplish this. It's because of their help, whatever that may be.

But please understand that there are different developmental stages to any resource group, but especially so from a disability group. If you are just starting out and you're in year one, you're going to have very different objectives, you're going to align differently, then a company like an IBM or General Motors who's had the Disability Resource group for 30 years.

It's just different, and that's OK. And so initially the developmental stage at the very beginning is typically awareness about the group and the group's impact. So that if you walk onto an elevator and someone says, hey, I heard you're running this group about disability. Oh, my gosh. It's new. How did you hear about it? What do you know about it? And they tell you what they've heard the impact is. Now you're starting to see success at the beginning.

So leadership and governance. Your officers, please define roles, length of service, alignment, career progression, and interests. What do I mean by that? Many times we have folks that are taking on roles to lead these groups. However, they don't have the leadership skills. So what are we going to do to provide that to them?

First thing you have to do is have very clear defined roles. If any of you have sat on a nonprofit board of directors, you get a job description or role-- president, vice president, treasurer. You want to do the same thing here. Length of service is so important because otherwise people will be put in this role because they have a disability and will be added 10 years later, and they burn out. And we don't want that.

We also want to align with career progression because if this leader does not have leadership skills, think about how we can develop those skills for them as it relates to the group, but by doing so, how it actually helps them in their profession and career progression, and vice versa. So accountability is so critical here.

Memo of Understanding, an MOU. What we hear often from our leaders, and more so in the disability groups than others, is that my manager doesn't understand all the time I'm spending. Or, my manager doesn't want to give me the time I need to help develop this. And it may be because they don't understand how they're going to develop skills that was going to help them in their career.

So what we recommend-- and we work with companies all the time on this-- is to have an MOU. Who signs the MOU? The person who's going to lead the group, the executive sponsor, someone from diversity and inclusion, whoever is overseeing the ERGs, and that individual's direct supervisor.

And this way everybody understands from the first minute what's involved, what the expectations are, and how we'll progress from amount of time we need to spend because if we do that, what we're finding is many managers are liking this and saying, OK, so can I make this part of their performance plan, and actually evaluate them on the success at the end of the year? Oh, right, how do we measure success for the group? Now we're tying it to measurement for the individual leadership as well. So hopefully you can see how this all comes together now.