I spent the first half of my career agency side but since moving ‘in house’ nearly 15 years ago, I’ve encountered various incarnations of the well-intentioned curiosity that is the corporate ERG (Employee Resource Group).
The queer agenda has become slightly side lined in the Diversity and Inclusion conversation and with COVID robbing the community of Pride last year, the rainbow flags have been somewhat at half-mast within many businesses.
But what difference do these groups make and where does the influence lie?
My first exposure to corporate life was at a titan of employee engagement: The Coca-Cola Company.
Within my first month, I visited our Atlanta HQ and became fast friends with a wonderful gay colleague. He was in a long-term relationship: he and his hubby had just adopted a beautiful boy. Both of their Deep South families had warmly embraced this loving little trio, their son the happiest of kids. I discovered that my new friend headed up the Coke ERG and it opened my somewhat naïve agency eyes to a world of struggle, prejudice and pain.
The irony was that having worked in a string of pretty misogynistic creative environments (Pimps and Prostitute themed Crimbo parties, anyone?) I was slightly humbled by this self-organised group who had noble intentions: to break down barriers and pave the way for future colleagues to not have to face the same discrimination that so many before had done.
Five years later, I moved to L’Oréal.
I discovered there was no ERG. A few weeks into my tenure I had the fortune to blag a ticket to the L’Oréal Colour Trophy final: an awards show which was dubbed ‘the Oscars of hair’. The ‘people watching’ was on another level: 1000 hairdressers of all shapes, sizes and hair colours dressed to kill, getting battered on free bubbles and shattering ear drums as the likes of ‘Streaks of Surrey’ won coveted awards. My lasting memory was of seeing a male straight colleague throw his arms around a man so camp he would have made Louis Spence seem like Tom Hardy. I loved it.
A year or so later, still at L’Oréal, I was interviewing a young wannabe intern for my team who nervously asked me what our LGBT policy was. At that exact moment, a colleague swished past with his face covered in glitter, donning leather lederhosen. I looked at him and turned back to my sweet interviewee and said, ‘we don’t need a policy here’.
And I thought: that was it! The ERG ambition is when you don’t actually need one, you just ‘are’. The fact that there was a predominantly female and gay male population helped: women have always been allies, but it was interesting to observe how straight men behave in this environment. Don’t work here if you have phobias: you won’t be tolerated.
From beverages to beauty and then to drugs.
My next experience at GlaxoSmithKline felt like a bit of a step back to my Coca-Cola days.
A more traditional set up with a new and upcoming ERG called ‘Spectrum’. During my first week, attracted by the delicious unicorn cake on offer at their stand in the office, I signed up to be an ally and was the proud recipient of a rainbow lanyard. The group rose to spectacular heights of prominence both internally and externally when I was there mainly thanks to a kickass lesbian who worked in the comms team. But I was most impressed that the overall sponsor for the group was again, a male straight man who sat on the Executive Committee.
And so, onto my current gig: I look after engagement and internal comms at The YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group, the world’s leading online luxury and fashion retailer.
I sit on the global Diversity & Inclusion Council helping to ensure that all of our groups have their moment in the sun, shaping internal activations such as Pride. This year, for Pride month, we are thrilled to have Indya Moore as the cover star for PORTER. Moore is a transgender non-binary model and actress voted one of the top 100 most influential people in the world.
Nobody at YNAP will bat an eyelid. We just ‘are’.