Why You Need Global Resource Groups

June 4, 2012 9:34 pm

Global resource groups as well as global diversity-management initiatives are non-existent or are just beginning at most companies. Where these resource groups do exist, they are almost entirely aimed at talent-development efforts for women. But there are exceptions: There are companies increasingly using these groups to enhance their global business objectives while adhering to their corporate diversity values.

Global Resource Groups PanelWe asked four companies that have advanced this crucial diversity-management initiative to tell us what they’ve done, how they’ve enabled local control and cultural competence, and what results they are getting. The panel spoke at our spring 2012 DiversityInc event in New York City.

Two of the companies featured, American Express and Dell, were last year’s and this year’s recipients of DiversityInc’s special award as the Top Company for Resource Groups. IBM, which last year received DiversityInc’s special award as the Top Company for Global Cultural Competence, is the leading company globally in pioneering LGBT resource groups.


Eugene Kelly, Worldwide Director, Global Diversity and Inclusion, Colgate-Palmolive, No. 10 in the DiversityInc Top 50

Jennifer Christie, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President, Executive Recruitment, American Express, No. 14

Sarah Siegel, Human Resources, Social Learning Developer, Center for Advanced Learning, IBM, No. 17

Lisa Mink, Executive Director, Global Diversity and Inclusion, Dell, No. 26

Moderator, Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

Best Practice: Corporate Values But Local Control 

  • Lisa Mink: With more than 67 percent of employees outside the United States and most of Dell’s growth in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries as well as Asia and Latin America, the global groups are vital to local cultural competence. “They help tell us what the culture needs to be; they help take our corporate cultures and values into the regions … a lot of building an inclusive culture is around managing differences effectively.”
  • Sarah Siegel: IBM is known for its strong moral values and adherence to them in all countries. Siegel, who has been involved with global LGBT groups, recounts a personal experience in India in 2007, when being openly gay or lesbian could land you in jail. “I brought my partner with me and the deal was that in IBM’s four walls, you can be completely yourself, so I bought Pat to every function. IBM is great, but we can’t get you out of jail. So for our driver and our maid, we slept in separate rooms during the week and gave the maid the weekend off. We need to meet the local cultures halfway and stay safe while we’re trying to do good and advance social change.”
  • Eugene Kelly: “It’s a very big challenge for companies to navigate within their four walls when the [local] culture doesn’t necessarily hold the values and beliefs that you have.” Colgate-Palmolive encourages its employees to be open about who they are because it improves recruitment and employee engagement/productivity. He cites the company’s resource group for women in Pakistan as an example. “The things they do inside of the workplace … they would never be able to do outside or when they go home. It really helps them to thrive.” 

Best Practice: Getting Global Groups to Communicate and Share Ideas, Challenges 

  • Eugene Kelly: Colgate-Palmolive provides a portal where the network groups can electronically discuss priorities and how to implement them locally. “So far, the greatest need has been structure. We have the energy; we have the people that can think and innovate. They just need to tie it all together globally.”
  • Lisa Mink: Dell created the ERG Advisory Council, which allows the global co-chairs of its resource groups to meet virtually on a monthly basis. Dell also has regular forums to bring people functionally across groups together.
  • Jennifer Christie: Seven of the 16 resource groups have chapters outside of the United States, and they each determine how they communicate. Some hold regular calls and some have actual meetings. American Express has also held a summit every year in partnership with Johnson & Johnson and Aetna, Nos. 11 and 24, respectively, in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50. Executive sponsors and employee leads share best practices.
  • Sarah Siegel: IBM is in the process of investigating “leapfrogging”—jumping ahead steps in implementation through communication technology. For example, in Israel, the LGBT employees had a column in the site-wide newsletter but hadn’t figured out how to have critical mass to set up a resource group. They are using the intranet to build support. And in Africa and India, where everyone is using their phones to communicate, IBM is trying to figure out how to build resource groups through phone communications. For its LGBT groups, IBM also has global LGBT leadership conferences, where “super-high-potential IBM’ers who happen to be LGBT are invited.”

Best Practice: Work With Other Companies in Region to Share Ideas 

  • Sarah Siegel: Siegel had a six-month assignment in India in 2007 and worked with Accenture and Target (Nos. 12 and 30, respectively, on the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50) and other companies to begin an intercompany network. “It did make a difference. [IBM was] mostly helping others, but it helped us as well to say, ‘Look, Accenture is here too. So is Target. We need to be doing this.’”
  • Jennifer Christie: The business value of global resource groups is enhanced by benchmarking with other companies. “We say, ‘Hey, see what these other companies are doing.’ It really can help drive that home … focusing on the things that can help the bottom line around business development.” 

Best Practice: Expose Local Resource-Group Leaders to Senior Management 

  • Jennifer Christie: Each local chapter has an executive sponsor who is from the senior-most level of the organization. “They have that kind of air cover in the market, which links us back to everything we do.” American Express hosts events globally with the senior executives in which the resource groups are hosts or their activities are highlighted, “so there is an energy and excitement around these groups.”
  • Lisa Mink: Dell makes sure local-country resource-group leaders have the ability to connect with the company’s most senior leaders, especially virtually. For each of the executive leadership teams for the resource groups, one of CEO Michael Dell’s direct reports is an executive sponsor. Being an “active and visible” resource-group sponsor is part of executive leadership teams’ performance objectives. Dell meets with resource-group leaders and listens to them. For example, the Millennial group recently told him that “email is dead; we need another way of communicating within this organization.” These were 23-year-olds, and he listened. And so very quickly thereafter, we actually launched Chatter, which is a salesforce.com platform.

Best Practice: Have Defined Goals for Global Groups 

  • Lisa Mink: Dell has four global groups and they have very specific focuses around diversity recruitment and talent development, as well as relating to the local marketplace. “That’s really allowed them to stop spending energy trying to figure out how to be valuable.” Each group goes through a chartering process and a planning session (with senior-executive sponsor approval) to demonstrate their value to the business.

Best Practice: Encourage Participation of All Employees 

  • Lisa Mink: At Dell, all employees globally are invited to be members. If there is a time conflict, it is handled on a case-by-case basis. Employee time is calculated at hourly rates, but measuring the business impact of the resource groups remains a challenge. One way Dell assesses this is through engagement. Its “Tell Dell” survey has added a category on resource groups to document their impact on employee engagement. 

Best Practice: Use Global Groups to Innovate 

  • Eugene Kelly: Kelly cites Colgate-Palmolive’s Global Innovation Fund, presented at our February Innovation Fest! and featured in the video below, to allow the company to compete effectively in a global market. He cites an example of a recent meeting with the head of the Asian resource group, who was reporting out to a global division president who wanted to know how a product was impacting the Asian dentists in the United States. “They’re going to come back with insights but they’re also going to have recommended solutions.”

Read DiversityInc Innovation Fest! Presentation by McGraw-Hill: Digital Employee-Resource Group for more on virtual groups and communication.

For more best practices on diversity in recruitment, watch: Diversity Web Seminar on Recruitment: 5 Workforce-Diversity Strategies to Find, Engage & Retain Talent.

 –Barbara Frankel