Building Love and Belonging Into Employee Resource Groups

By Ashley Estes
Jun 5, 2024 11:15 AM ET
A person waving a pride flag next to a sign that says "Camden County PRIDE"
Employee resource groups such as the Out + Ally network of LGBTQ+ employees and allies help to foster inclusion and belonging at Subaru. (Image courtesy of Subaru of America)

Originally published by TriplePundit

Finding common ground is inherent to human nature. It’s how we establish rapport, make meaningful connections, and relate to one another each and every day. Encouraging individuals’ diverse perspectives and embracing their unique experiences should be at the center of any successful business. People are increasingly looking for a genuine community built on a foundation of respect, shared ideals, values, genuine connection and, ultimately, a sense of belonging.

The challenge, especially as companies work to reach pre-pandemic levels of productivity, is that many employees feel excluded at work. This can be especially true for those from marginalized communities. In the 2023 Belonging Barometer from EY, 41 percent of workers said the workplace is where they feel the greatest sense of belonging, but 75 percent said they’ve felt excluded there. In addition, more than half reported feeling reluctant to share dimensions of their identity while at work for fear it could hold them back professionally. While this can sound disheartening, it points to an incredible opportunity for businesses to build workplace communities that ensure all belong.

Fostering that sense of community is a core element of the Subaru Love Promise – the Subaru commitment to show love and respect to all people at every interaction, including our workplaces. While we often talk about the impact we make on the communities around us, the Love Promise begins at home within our own walls and with our own employees. For us, that means fostering an inclusive workplace where people feel they can bring their authentic selves to work. It is important that we create an environment that values diversity and inclusion, where our employees feel celebrated and valued for their diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives. Toward this goal, we support employees to voluntarily organize and participate in groups to recognize, embrace, and leverage the richness of their backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks.

This commitment to our employees has come to life in several ways, most notably through our employee resource groups (ERGs). While we have our eye on growing ERGs further, we currently have five: Black and Latino Employee Network for Diversity at Subaru (BLENDS); Evolve, which focuses on access to physical and social wellness for all; Out + Ally, a network of LGBTQ+ employees and allies; Subaru Armed Forces Resource Group for Employees (SARGE); and Subaru Women’s Network.

We established ERGs as an opportunity for employees from historically marginalized groups to organize and create safe spaces to connect, educate, and become champions for the unique needs of underrepresented groups within the company. In the spirit of inclusivity, the ERGs are open to all. Employees can receive peer support, explore leadership and volunteer opportunities, and actively help us work toward the bigger goal of cultivating a more inclusive workplace. We believe there is something in it for everyone, whether you personally identify with one of the groups or not.

At Subaru, we see ERGs as an integral part of our culture, and we treat them that way. We invest time and resources to ensure they are set up for success. That means providing a framework for each group with structure, clearly defined operating processes, strategic goals, and financial support.

Each group has two employee chairs, a steering committee, and a budget that allows them to host events and invest back in the community through nonprofits aligned with their unique mission. Each group also has two executive sponsors who also sit on our corporate diversity council. This ensures that senior leaders are directly involved in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts at a grassroots level and better positions them to identify and champion new ideas or initiatives that support our inclusive and equitable workplace goals.

We leverage our ERGs to help us cultivate a more inclusive culture, but their support extends beyond hosting events and volunteer activities. We also see them as trusted advisors on company policies and benefit packages. It is important to us that our ERGs have an opportunity to make an impact on how we support people, and asking for their input is our way of including their unique perspectives and diverse ideas in shaping a more inclusive employee experience and support system.

But what is particularly special about ERGs at Subaru is that they reach outside of the walls of our headquarters to make a difference for the causes that matter to them. The Subaru of America Foundation, which supports organizations that benefit our hometown of Camden, New Jersey, allocates funding to each ERG to donate to a charity of their choice in the city of Camden. ERGs work together to select the charity, present their proposals to Subaru executives, and coordinate the donation and volunteer opportunities for members to make a real difference in the causes they care about. At its heart, it’s our Subaru Love Promise extending to the communities where we live and work and having a meaningful impact.

Working with intention on our ERG programming over the past five years has strengthened our culture in immeasurable ways. We have seen an increase in employee engagement scores, and group membership has increased year over year. We’ve also heard from new hires that our thriving ERG community was a key driver in their decision to work at Subaru. It’s one of the reasons why we have incorporated ERGs in the recruitment and onboarding process.

Most importantly, the key ingredient to our ERGs is aligning them to our guiding principle: the Subaru Love Promise. We unabashedly talk about how love is what makes Subaru "More Than a Car Company,” and it’s also what makes an office into a true community. When businesses allow the people in that community to pursue their passions in the workplace – and put true support behind it – incredible things can happen.

This article series is sponsored by Subaru of America and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.