First of all, what is an Employee Resource Group (ERG)? If you have spent most of your career in the nonprofit sector, chances are you probably haven’t come across ERGs at your workplace (sometimes called Affinity Groups or Business Resource Groups). ERGs bring together employees with shared characteristics or life experiences, often times from underrepresented groups, and help employees advocate for the groups they represent and gain leadership experience.
According to Diversity Best Practices, ERGs were originally created in the 1960s to address racial tensions and discrimination in the workplace, but have gained more momentum in the last couple of decades, as companies diversify and embrace the potential of ERGs. Some ERG group examples include groups for African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ+, working parents, and so forth. Diversity, Inc. includes companies like EY, AT&T, and KPMG as some of the top companies with Employee Resource Groups in 2018 - but what about nonprofits?
UCAN, a Chicago nonprofit, has decided that ERGs are not just for for-profit companies. UCAN has a handful of ERGs, including a specific group for millennials, that was started in May 2018. The group was created by millennials and led by two ambitious UCAN employees - Dejanae Byrd, a clinical therapist (pictured left), and Nadia Hill, a development coach (pictured right).
After hearing jokes and stereotypes about millennials, Byrd and Hill decided to use them as motivation to start their own group to address the needs of millennials, as well as the needs of millenials that other ERGs weren’t necessarily tackling, such as career instability and basic career information, like negotiating a salary, getting promoted, and finding leadership opportunities. Titling UCAN’s tenth ERG Emerge, they made their mission to create a supportive environment for young professionals through mentorship, training, social engagement, and career development. Their goal is to provide professional development opportunities geared toward millennials, with a desire to increase professionalism and support the passion, creativity, and enthusiasm of young professionals.
Byrd and Hill came together with their senior leadership team sponsor, Melissa Jenkins, Vice President of Human Resources at UCAN, and brainstormed some ways to fulfill their mission, outside of a typical lunch and learn. This led to putting together a Professional Development Conference for millennials, which happened on July 18th at the Lawndale Christian Health Center. The conference was birthed out of a desire to increase professionalism, as well as to inspire and empower young professionals to excel with excellence within their career paths. They talked with their fellow millennials, and worked with Jenkins to bring in a variety of speakers, including Cheryl Grace to talk about how to supercharge a career, employees from Ariel Investments for a networking activity, and Dr. Nicholas Pearce to talk about pursuing one’s authentic life’s work. The afternoon included a panel of notable Chicagoans, including Anna Valencia, the City Clerk of Chicago. The conference was a success, doing exactly what Byrd and Hill set out to do when they created Emerge.
“UCAN is big on engaging employees through various avenues – collaboration, leadership opportunities, and more,” Byrd said. “I think overall being at UCAN really helps Elevate be successful because Emerge’s vision is very people centered, with is helped by interdepartmental collaboration and leadership.”
UCAN is a Chicago nonprofit that strives to build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education, and empowerment. UCAN serves over 15,000 at-risk children, youth, and families across Illinois through their various services.