How to start employee resource groups in the workplace: A Thermo Fisher example

In this episode, you'll learn how to start and get buy-in for your employee resource group (ERG) in the workplace.
We chat with business resource group (BRG) leaders from Thermo Fisher and explore how their BRG's operate, attract new members, maintain engagement and what skills they gained from being a part of and managing their respective BRGs.
We also discuss how to grow a community and examples of allyship with other groups in the workplace.
This is part two of our series on employee resource groups.

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So this is part two of our discussion on ERGs, or in this case BRGs with Thermo Fisher.

So today I'm joined by four special guests.

My first guest is MyMy Lu. She is the Director of Diversity Inclusion.

I'm also joined by Patricia Hoekman, who is the Global Lead PossAbilities BRG Senior, IP Litigation Paralegal.

Also joining us is Kevin Robinson, who is the African Heritage BRG Co-Lead and Vaccine Quality Assurance Auditor One.

I'm also joined by Lee Pullan, who is a PhD Global Lead Women's Empowerment BRG, Senior Manager Application Scientist.

Thank you all for joining us today. When we're talking about your BRG, what are your BRG specific strategic focus areas and maybe talk about some of the pillars that you want to focus on in your group.

Strategic focus areas for your Business Resource Group (BRG)


Lee Pullan:

So for the women's BRG, one of our key pillars is really about supporting talent.

We are really focused on really driving and developing the next leaders within the organization.

And so we've spent a lot of time working on different workshops and activities and events to really enable our current employees to become that next leader and really to feel comfortable and to be confident in what they're doing.

And so if being a member of the BRGs, this allows them to take that also into their day job. And so we've worked closely, as I mentioned, with associations externally to Thermo Fisher Scientific.

We've also worked closely and developed an allyship iConnect page and also developed a handout for managers with the other BRG leaders over the years just to enable other employees and colleagues to really understand the challenges that women have within the organization.

And so we've continued to promote that.

We've developed a pin and sort of a presence for those male allies for the women to enable them to have a space or a coach or a mentor to go to and to have someone to be able to speak up for them and to promote them.

And our other sort of pillar really is also community outreach. We're connecting with our local communities and striving to help women.

And maybe in time those will be women that join our organization. So we've worked closely with organizations like Dress for Success, providing mentoring capabilities.

We've also done donation drives for clothing for women to enable them to be successful in their interviews.

And then we've also worked with STEM initiatives where we are striving again to promote girls to really embrace science and engineering and to really know that it's not just for boys in their classroom and they can enjoy it and they can have fun and we want them to be a part of it and hopefully in time they can be part of our organization.

So having our members go out and share their joy of science with the youngsters has been another key part of our pillars.

Patricia Hoekman (03:33):

So looking at the PossAbilities, the disabled affinity resource group, one of the main strategic goals for our group is to improve the disabled colleague experience.

And one of the things that we really very deeply focus on for this is to reduce this stigma surrounding disability and mental health.

A lot of people don't feel comfortable identifying openly as being someone who's disabled or talking about their mental health situations because there traditionally has been such a stigma associated with that in the past.

Not necessarily Thermo Fisher, but just systemically in the country and the world.

(04:18) And so that is a very foundational strategic goal for our resource group is to educate, to create allyship, to reduce that stigma because we can support the company by supporting the colleagues to feel empowered, to be authentic at work.

If you are disabled and you feel like you are trying to hide that part of your identity, all the energy that goes into that doesn't allow you to put that into your work or your experience at the company. So that is one of our main goals is to help people feel that they can just be who they are and that they are not just tolerated, that they are valued for their authenticness at the company.

Kevin Robinson (05:13):

Just real quick, for us and our main focus has been on recruitment and just make sure that the diverse numbers are there, that we do feel comfortable that those efforts are being taken into consideration.

And then the second thing is, like I mentioned before, career advancement, specifically internal moves.

A lot of people looking to get to that next level, including myself and just looking to make sure we're maneuvering those spaces the right way and that we are using the right resources to get there.

Karl Yeh (05:44):

Well, talking to a lot of previous guests, one of the toughest things to do in the social impact space is getting buy-in and getting approval.

So what are some advice or recommendations you would have to get that buy-in for some of your programs in your BRGs?

Advice for getting buy-in, approval and support for employee resource groups


Patricia Hoekman (05:59):

Well, I definitely have seen that in the disabled advocacy area.

And for me, one of the best ways that I've seen to get buy-in is to really show the business case.

How does the initiative, the strategy that we're proposing, the company's support align with the company's goals, align with the colleague experience that Thermo Fisher is trying to curate and really prove that up with, as I said, the business case.

If we do this, then people will feel empowered. Empowerment for colleagues leads to greater productivity.

And you can really see there's a through line between most of these ideas and positive benefits to the business. Because at the end of the day, Thermo Fisher is a company.

We are a business and what we do needs to have that positive impact on the business. And as colleagues, we can show that positive impact for us is positive for the business. So that's how we've achieved buy-in.

Lee Pullan (07:11):

So I'll take what Patricia said, and I'll make it really short, simple.

For me it's about be clear in what you want, be determined to get to that goal and then just be persistent.

I think the biggest thing that we have found is that you just have to continue to strive and to continue to communicate clearly to everybody as to what you want to achieve.

And we are the BRGs, as Patricia said, we have to connect it into the business, we're connecting it into our employees, but the way we have to do it is just clear, concise and systems. That's been my success.

Karl Yeh (07:48):

I wanted to follow up just really quickly on, there's one thing about getting buy-in, but have you noticed it in your BRG or in the Thermo Fisher that you kind of need to prove a return on investment or return on time?

Just because I've heard from other social impact professionals that sometimes they're under pressure to prove return on investment for either their programs or their ERGs.

Is that the same thing at Thermo Fisher?

Is proving ROI a factor in maintaining buy-in for ERGs?


Patricia Hoekman (08:19):

I haven't seen a requirement that we prove a return on time per se.

I think one of the things that is inherent in our leadership at the global level is how do we measure the impactful change that we are driving across the company?

And that comes through our data analytics, our metrics that Kevin talked about before.

One of the ways that we try to prove a return on investment through PossAbilities BRG is partnering with one of our external resource group partners.

Because a lot of times if we're asking for buy-in, it's something we haven't done before.

So I can reach out to one of our resource groups that we partner with externally and I can say, "Do you have any other companies that have done something similar? Would it be possible to share how it impacted their business?"

(09:15) And then I can take that case study and extrapolate it to, if we do this at Thermo Fisher, then these are some likely scenarios where we can get buy-in, we can get a return on our investment if we take these steps.

And so leveraging external partnerships and resource groups have been very key and critical for us to grow as a resource group.

And that's something that I would encourage any other groups that are looking to start up or they want to expand is connect with other companies that have groups that are similar to yours. Expand your networking beyond your company so you can see how other people have done it and that you have those examples.

MyMy Lu (10:03):

Karl, maybe I'll add here. I think it's less so about the individual BRGs, but it's collectively what is the return on all of that around our DE&I efforts?

So I get asked that a lot. As the company puts resources, of course we know it's the right thing to do, we want to put our dollars behind it, but it's also understanding where is the dollar most impactful.

So the colleagues earlier talks about, well, you got to justify how you're going to get budget, or when you go to your sponsor, you have to explain what are you spending it for and what would it do. But I do think there's tremendous return.

If anybody wants to just like research what's the business case for DE&I, they'll find millions of data points for this. But some of the examples we've seen is, for example, our African Heritage supports our just hiring a project with HBCUs.

(10:52): There's tremendous return in that because we can actually track exactly that. The number of backends that come through, what that saves us in terms of recruiting costs and all of that.

They put together an onboarding guide.

So as colleagues come in, they're getting a warm welcome from the BRGs to say, Hey, we want you here. We like it here. And that helps a lot around retention.

So that's just one example of how our BRGs are bringing impact. And you can easily measure that because the cost of acquisition, the cost of retention or lack of retention is really high in our BRGs is directly impacting some of those things.

Karl Yeh (11:31):

So how do you promote your BRGs, your individual BRGs, and how do you attract new members?

How to promote your employee resource groups and attract new members?


Patricia Hoekman (11:39):

Well, for us in PossAbilities, disability is something that intersects across all affinity groups.

Regardless of your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, your military service, disability is something that can affect everyone.

So one of the ways that we try to promote our resource group and attracting members is through collaboration.

By working with the other resource groups, we're letting their members know that, you have different layers to your identity and you can really explore another layer of your identity or another area that you may be interested in over here with us at PossAbilities.

Because sometimes I have found that if we are working with the other groups, new chapters who don't really have a lot of members or a lot of distribution lists, they can work with other groups and amplify the message of that group as well as promoting their own.

So for us, that's been a very successful strategy.

Kevin Robinson (12:53):

Yeah, I'll say for African Heritage, we've definitely just been getting around with the word of mouth for majority of the part.

Like Patricia said, we've also collab with a lot of different BRGs in there.

But as of right now, most of the time if we haven't collab with anybody, someone reaches out to Jimmy who runs our listserv or reaches out to someone, say, Hey, I heard about safe spaces, or I heard about this or that looking to get involved, and then they reached out and most likely that information gets to me or Lisa and then we do something with that information.

So most of the time like I said, it is a word of mouth where they reached out and in some capacity.

Karl Yeh (13:32):

Community is a very, very big part of employee resource groups or business resource groups. So how have you built community for your members?

What are some of the ways your ERGs have built a community?


Kevin Robinson (13:45):

Yeah, I'll say for African Heritage, again, safe spaces is where it really starts. We invite that for anybody to come.

We've had allies come, we've had a lot of... We've opened it up to professionals to come and lead sessions. So from there, I just think having those conversations where people can feel safe was the start.

And then from there it just kind of went on to different activities.

Now we're if doing a DJ, people might not be conversing, but people are still engaged in the chat, people are still reaching out to you on LinkedIn. I mean, I can tell you how many time I've been with someone in a safe space discussion or virtual homecoming and I see someone like, Oh yeah, that's good. I need to reach out to them.

And I catch them right there on LinkedIn or I message them on Teams, "Hey, you mentioned this in the chat. I know somebody that can help out or I would like to help out myself. When you want to schedule a meeting to make it happen?"

Lee Pullan (14:43):

I was just going to say for the women BRG women find it... There's a lot going on in our lives. And what we did was really find different ways to connect with each other.

Some people find that Yammer, our internal social media space is the place that they want to go to connect and to see what's happening.

Others love to be involved in more sort of group discussions on Teams, which again is another internal community that they can connect with.

So all of our different chapters and our different regions have developed different community types that really fit with what our members want to connect with.

So maybe not everybody comes together in one big place, but they have their way of doing something, their way of feeling connected and it's just something that works with them and works well with them.

(15:26) So as leads, we check in and sort of make sure that everything's still moving along and if there's a way we can help. So we are probably signing into Yammer and Teams far more frequently than maybe our community members are.

But it's really just as Kevin mentioned, having that safe space, having that environment that works for them. We've also found for women it's about on-demand.

A lot of them don't have time to do things during the day and it's at 11 o'clock at night, they want to see a recording or connect with some friends or read some messages.

So it's about making it available to everybody 24/7. And so those are the places we've created community environments.

Patricia Hoekman (16:06):

It's very strongly about creating community as well. Kevin, because that's one of our purposes is to create a community of support for our members and for our group in the disabled community.

I think I've mentioned before, providing representation through personal storytelling and having touchpoints available to our members has done a lot to create that community that people can go onto our global Yammer page or their chapters Yammer page and see someone who is experiencing something similar to what they have been going through, or to see a leader in the company say, Yes, I have anxiety disorder and I'm still a leader here at Thermo Fisher.

I'm very effective, I can be myself. And people feel that they have that safe space that Kevin talked about when this happens, when there is representation, when there is a place for them to connect through Yammer or Teams.

And I think those are very key ingredients for us to be able to create that community of support.

Karl Yeh (17:19):

Actually, the follow-up question I had was, do you find it really tough to keep your community or your respective BRGs engaged?

So yes, you have all these activities, but do you find it's a lot of work or a lot of time to keep the conversations, I guess going or keep the engagement level high?

How do you keep your members engaged?


Patricia Hoekman (17:41):

Yes, I do find that, because these are people's passion projects a lot of times. And sometimes people come to us when they're in crisis mode and so there's a different level of engagement where they're seeking help with something, but there's a lot of burnout. Right.

We've all been struggling over the last two and a half years as a world, as a nation, as a company, dealing with the pandemic, dealing with the challenges of working from home, our social experiences that have been going on in the world.

Through all of that, the cacophony of the noise and the experience and the requirements of the job, it's very difficult to continue to drive a sustained level of engagement.

As a global lead it's difficult for me to maintain that sustained level of engagement.

(18:36): So one of the things that I really try to help my chapter leads understand is you don't have to have a big flashy event all the time. Sometimes driving engagement means just providing the space for your members to connect.

  • Do you have an active Yammer page?
  • Do you have an active Team site?
  • Do they know who to email?

Just having those touchpoints for the community sometimes is the best way that we can continue engagement to not step back.

You don't always have to move forward. I tell people, you don't always have to create a big space, you just have to hold your space.

You just have to be there and let people know that if they need you, they can find you.

Karl Yeh (19:21):

So as leaders of your respective BRGs, what are some important skills you think are required for managing the group and what are some of the skills you have gained by participating?

What are some skills required for managing a BRG? What skills have you gained?


Lee Pullan (19:34):

So I can comment on the skills that you need to lead your BRG.

Well, first of all, it's phenomenal organizational skills and just the ability to, I don't like the word multitask, but just the ability to manage a number of different projects all at the same time.

Because this is something we do on top of our day job.

And so it's fitting in these meetings amongst your day job activity, making sure you're available and aware of where your members are or if your other co-leads need you and can reach out to you.

But also maintaining those strong relationships, making sure you've got those one on one time scheduled with the rest of your leadership team.

So again, it's having that personal connection, having that ability to communicate, having empathy as well, and just that connection with your members.

Obviously I'm a woman, I reflect and respect a lot of the members who are the same, but also being able to connect with our allies and listen to them.

(20:33) I think being a listener and an active listener, not just sitting nodding and it just goes in one ear and out the other, but really absorbing what people need from you and really making a change. And then also just being able to petition for yourselves and for your BRG.

And as I mentioned earlier, being able to be clear to put together what you want to achieve. And then most of all, just being persistent, having just that kind of determination that you can succeed, you can lead this team, you can lead this group and you can help them.

I think that's really what you need to be able to do to lead. And then what do you get about being in the position? We've talked about it and we've mentioned some great things as far as networking and connecting with so many employees.

We're an extremely large organization now, more than 100,000 employees that we have the ability to connect into, to tap into, to learn from all around the world.

(21:32): It's not just someone here in Oregon or even on the east coast of the United States. I'm talking to people in India, I'm talking to people in Australia, talking to people in Spain.

And it's just this cultural learning that you're gaining and experience of other individuals in their work environment and the challenges that they may have. But you also have the opportunity to coach and mentor others.

And I think that's something in this role that is extremely important. You have those times to connect and to share your stories and then to learn from others.

As I mentioned before, just having that opportunity to develop your leadership skills, develop your management skills.

And I think overall just have something unique on your personal development plan at the end of each year.

This is something that you step up into this role, you're seen to be capable and it's just a fun activity and a fun experience for all of us that get to be a part of this.

Kevin Robinson (22:30):

I just wanted to add definitely with the ability to lead, for me it's just been delegation as well. That's one of the things that I know that I do like to take initiative and I do want to be involved in everything.

But being realistic, just like, Lisa, we have our day jobs, we have a lot of stuff that comes up on our plates. You have to be able to pivot.

So I know I also have to be able to delegate out those tasks. I might say, "Hey Lee and Patricia, I need y'all to do this." So I have to replicate myself twice and know I have to instill the confidence in y'all that y'all can do the work.

But I still know that, okay, it's what I need to get across. So it's kind of like a two-way street. And I know I learned that outside of working for Thermo Fisher and now I can do that. I can show those skills.

(23:18): I might not be able to show it on my team, but now I can show those skills for the BRG that I'm working with.

So not just the so delegation ability to pivot, and I know you mentioned ability to lead.

And so with that I wanted to say as far as leading meetings, whether that's your board meetings, committee meetings, whether that's leading by taking initiative because sometimes you will have to step up to the plate, there will be things that fall to the crack.

So as a leader you have to pick that up or you just let it fall to the cracks.

And so I can't make the decision for you and that decision's going to change based on the situation. So I would just say for me those are the things that I've been able to learn and whether I already had those or I'm developing those, that's been instrumental in my success so far.

Patricia Hoekman (24:04):

Far As myself, I agree wholeheartedly with what we described, and Kevin also as skills for managing the BRG.

For myself, one of the skills that I have found to be really important is prioritization.

When you're looking at all of the initiatives that are available, really understanding that we cannot boil the ocean and picking the few things that we can make that strategic impact on and prioritizing where do the resources go?

Where do we ask for assistance and buy-in. So prioritization very important. And then what do I gain by participating is I really gain the ability to work more closely with some of the executive level leaders in our company. Each of our resource groups is led at the global level also by an executive sponsor.

(25:08): And at Thermo Fisher, it's one of our group presidents, executive vice president in the company.

And that's a fantastic opportunity that I would not have had had I not been in this role, being able to connect on a regular basis to someone who is only one level down from the top leader of Thermo Fisher, be able to work closely to learn from them.

And even at the chapter level, our members have that opportunity to connect in with leadership in their location. And I think that is a really great way that people can gain from their participation.

Karl Yeh (25:47):

So Lee, you actually mentioned allies in your comments before.

So a lot of people join BRGs as allies of communities. So can you give us examples of successful allyships with your BRGs?

Successful examples of allyship with Thermo Fisher ERGs


Lee Pullan (26:06):

Yes. So we have a mentoring program that we have rolled out with the Women's Empowerment BRG.

And what we have done is we've actually discovered a number of men who have stepped up and who want to help.

And women are asking for a male mentor because they would like them to understand and to have that discussion with them.

And so we have a couple of people right now who are having a very successful mentor mentee relationship experience through our mentoring program.

We also have developed our allyship webpage or iConnect page, our internal page where people can come and learn just a little bit more about what it really means to be an ally.

It's not just saying, Yes, I support you, but it's really going out there and showing that you're there to support the individual that you are an ally for and being inclusive and stepping up for them and speaking up for them. And again, we've seen people sign up wanting to be connected with, reached out to and actively involved.

Patricia Hoekman (27:08):

So for our group PossAbilities, some of the examples of our allyship that's been very successful for us is being an ally to other groups, to amplifying the message of the Veterans who do share a lot of affinity with the disability group, or to amplify how different ethnic groups may have more disproportionate caregivers among the women in their group because of disability. Also, looking at mental health is something that affects all of us.

And so that's been one of our biggest areas of allyship is being able to promote our message through our allyship to other groups.

In May, we had a very big allyship event with our Asian 49 API Voices group and the African Heritage group on the releasing racial stress and trauma through yoga.

(28:23): And so we were really able to take these three groups and look at examples of how mental health have been affected across these two other BRGs looking at the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, looking at how the Asian community has been experiencing a lot of race-based trauma.

Also because of the pandemic and trying to find a positive way to give our members an opportunity to recognize that they have that trauma and how do we have a positive way to empower you to try to start releasing some of that stress.

So for us, allyship comes in the form of being an ally a lot. And that's been a big success for us.

MyMy Lu (29:12):

I add here for all of your viewers and listeners, I feel like allyship requires passion and compassion, right?

A passion for making sure the world is a difference inclusive, equitable place where everybody belongs.

But it's also that compassion piece to say, I am not that affinity, right? I am not a person with disability, I'm not a part of the LGBT community. I'm not X, Y, and Z, but I have capacity to think, what is it like for that person?

And I'm going to take some time to understand their lived experience and think about how can I in my position do something about it.

(29:49): So for me, allyship and we all can practice, we can all be better allies in some way or form, but allyship has always required that you have the capacity to get out of your own shoes and try to think for somebody else and then take action.

And whether it is, I'm going to learn about this because I just don't know enough about pronouns or I don't know enough about what veterans are going through with, like this year. This year will be, or[inaudible 00:30:19]should be in the anniversary of 9/11. Right.

But I am going to learn and I'm going to take some time to at least feel what they're feeling and see how I can take action and to support them.

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