december cover

Adding Value to
Corporate America

For years, Latino employees at major corporations have been coming together to form groups known as employee resource groups. Born out of the need to bond over cultural familiarity with fellow co-workers, these groups (often referred to as affinity groups or ERGs) have evolved to become an essential part of a company’s business model, adding to the bottom line.

Latino ERGs vary from company to company in age, size and structure, as diverse as the Latino population itself. Some are decades old, such as Xerox’s Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement (HAPA), which has been around since the 70s; others such as the UPS Latino Business Resource Group (BRG), just formed in 2012. The advantages of membership for Latino employees include development, mentoring and networking opportunities---in a setting that promotes understanding and awareness of Latino culture---leading to both professional and personal growth. For the business, the results support everything from product development and marketing to recruiting and retention.

Dr. Robert Rodriguez, considered an expert on Latino ERGs in corporate America, says these groups are uniquely positioned to help businesses as a corporate partner. Rodriguez is the president of DRR Advisors LLC, a management and diversity consulting firm in Chicago specializing in ERG optimization and Latino talent initiatives. In the past five years, he has worked with ERGs at over 80 corporations.

“Next generation Latino ERGs make the biggest impact on driving business results by focusing on two areas---providing consumer insights and helping with market penetration efforts. Both efforts help to expand the customer base,” Rodriguez said. “Because of their natural understanding of diverse consumer segments, ERGs are well positioned to provide unique cultural insights, establish relationships with community leaders and build trust within these segments.”

In January 2012, UPS launched its Latino BRG at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. John Hernandez, UPS Customer Technology Marketing and New Product Development Manager, is the current chair. He began pushing for the creation of the group last year after attending an event sponsored by the UPS Women’s Leadership Group, a separate BRG. The event featured Janet Murguia, the President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), as a speaker. After personally meeting Murguia, Hernandez realized other Latino employees could also benefit from a similar group and events. He didn’t hesitate to take action.

“So I went to HR and said ‘Hey, how do we get a Latino BRG going?’ because I think this is a great concept and there is an appetite for that,” Hernandez said. “This was in 2011. We were able to get executive sponsors and bring folks on board and that’s why we hit the ground running January 1.”

Hernandez says the BRG is focused on a three-pronged strategy to maximize benefits for both the employee and health of the business: the employee, enhancing and building relationships with the business community, and engaging the Latino community.

“From an employee perspective we really wanted to focus on professional development,” Hernandez said. A recent event featured four Latino senior executives from the company who discussed their recipes for success and the challenges they’ve faced. They also shared advice with dozens of employees who participated both in person and by video-conference.

Still in its first year, the group still has a lot to learn, Hernandez says, but the support on the business side has been strong and is a top priority. The BRG has partnered with the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to enhance and strengthen relationships with local businesses.

“At the end of the day we’re running a business and all of us that are in this group are vital to growing the business every day,” Hernandez said. “There is an advantage in being able to leverage the diversity and the different cultures that exist to both increase the business footprint and elevate the brand as a whole.”

It’s been 34 years since a group of Hispanic employees in Los Angeles came together to form the Xerox ERG called the Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement (HAPA). Since then, it’s only getting stronger, says the group’s current president, Jeannette Arbulu. A 25-year veteran of the company, Arbulu serves as Senior Vice President/Managing Director, Emerging Markets for Latin America.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the founders of HAPA and they felt a need for Hispanic employees to come together,” Arbulu said. “The main idea was to have a forum to share concerns, support each other, to provide mentorship and exchange ideas.”

One enthusiastic supporter of HAPA is William Castle, the Chief Diversity Officer at Xerox. “[It] assists Xerox in building and sustaining an effective, loyal and diverse workforce,” he says. “Employees benefit from being a member by taking advantage of networking opportunities with management, mentoring/sponsorship, and development of leadership skills. Their involvement ensures continuous improvement of Xerox management processes for the benefit of all employees.”

HAPA has now grown to 10 chapters in different cities around the country. In September, the group will hold its annual conference in Miami, with senior executives in attendance. A variety of networking events and workshops are offered to employees to promote professional development that will ultimately contribute to the bottom line.

“We will talk about the company’s direction and how do we make sure that everyone is clear about this direction and how do we align ourselves in this direction,” Arbulu said.

Originally from Ecuador, Arbulu says ERGs don’t exist in her home country and was surprised when she first discovered HAPA. She considers them essential towards a company’s business model and an invaluable resource for employees. “We align our high-potential candidates with our Xerox senior executives,” she said. “We have certainly seen them reach that next level.”

At GE, the Latino ERG calls itself the Hispanic Forum and was formed in 1996. Employees from all over the U.S. and Latin America make up the 3,500 member group.

“Our agenda is very simple. It’s all about attracting, retaining and developing talent,” said Delia Garced, GE Energy General Manager and national co-chair for the group. “Our ERG here is by the employees, for the employees.”

Garced says the senior executive leadership is also highly invested in the group. “One of the things that makes the GE employee resource group very successful is the level of engagement that we have from our senior leadership,” she said. “For our summit, one of the highlights is having Jeff Immelt, our CEO, come in and spend time with the employees to answer their questions and actually spend one-on-one time with them. “

Giving back to the community is also an area where the group expends their manpower and financial resources.“We went to a high school in Philadelphia and we spent time with students talking about what type of careers we have, how did we get there, and what to do about getting an education,” Garced said. “We provided two $10,000 scholarships to students that were graduating and were going to be focused on the areas of STEM.”

The sum of these efforts not only benefits employees and the community, but the company as well. “I have been a part of this group for over 12 years and we’ve shown to be a value to the company,” Garced said. “We are tapping into our Hispanic talent pool to understand more of the cultural nuances that might be the voice of customers, what type of products they’re looking for so they can put a good product strategy together.”

The Hispanic Support Organization (HSO) is the Latino employee resource group at Verizon. Kathy Bowman-Phillips, Manager, Corporate Diversity and Inclusion, says the group is involved in several initiatives at the local and national level that positively impact employee development and recruitment efforts, cultural awareness and overall company goals.

“They began to meet as employees, Hispanic managers, back in 1978,” Bowman-Phillips said. “We have a long and rich history with our employee resource groups.”

It was 10 years after they initially began meeting up that the company, which was New York Telephone at the time, began to officially recognize them as a group. The HSO now has chapters all over the country.

“Aside from being a valuable resource for employees themselves, our ERGs are also an important resource to the company, “ said Magda Yrizarry, Verizon’s Chief Talent and Diversity Officer. “For example, the HSO is fully engaged and focused on educating our large Hispanic customer base about Verizon services, and they actively work with our multicultural marketing team to come up with campaign and product ideas specifically tailored to them.”

One of the group’s major initiatives is an annual golf tournament to raise funds for Latino college students. “Every year they put together the HSO Golf tournament, which is a charitable event to raise funds to provide scholarships for underserved Hispanic students looking to go to college,” Bowman-Phillips said.

In addition, HSO members also volunteer their time to work directly with high school students. “HSO was a huge partner in our youth summit on STEM,” Bowman-Phillips said. “Eighty percent of the students that participated in the summit were Latino.” At the local level, the group also participates in Habitat for Humanity and raising awareness of domestic violence.

“It’s a big reason why diversity is such a valuable part of Verizon’s culture,” confirms Yrizarry. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s good for business as well.”

The Coca-Cola Company is already a major global brand, but Luis Viso, VP of Operational Excellence and Synergies, says the company has the opportunity for continued growth with the explosion of the Latino population here at home.

La Vida, the Latino ERG at Coca-Cola, acts as a valuable partner to help capitalize on this growth, says Viso, who heads the group. “There are countries in the world that don’t have the purchasing power that Latinos have here,” Viso said. “The contributions of Latinos really do make a difference because they provide a different point of view on how you can formulate for different tastes.”

For Coca-Cola, La Vida is not only a strategic partner to help develop and push consumer products and services with Latinos. Group members can take advantage of development and mentoring opportunities, and as they become increasingly embedded into company culture, they can rise up to leadership positions where they can directly help shape the business model, says Viso.

“So for us it’s very important to hire, develop and retain Latinos at Coca-Cola,” Viso said. “As we grow and evolve as a company, and if we help bring in those individuals to that level, they can make decisions that eventually will shape and transform Coke for the next 50 to 100 years.”

Running an employee BRG at Coca-Cola is also not without its challenges, according to Viso. The group organizes several events throughout the year to keep employees engaged and motivated.“The challenge is us, not the culture—you put your own barriers,” Viso said. “The challenge for me is how do I keep them motivated understanding that I don’t have 100% of the time for this role.”

It would be hard to miss the benefits, however, once the employee is fully engaged. “La Vida has provided a great platform to establish relationships with a diverse group of Latinos with unique perspectives in different parts of our business,” added Frank Ros, Vice President, Hispanic Strategies. “This familiarity fosters and facilitates collaboration and support resulting in more easily achieving the company’s, our departments’, and our personal business objectives.”

Adelante, the ERG at Dell, focuses its energies on different initiatives that include the employee, the community, business and membership. Ed Loya, VP of Human Resources for Corporate Services, is the co-chair of Adelante. He says that in the last year and a half the group has increased emphasis on the business initiative.“That’s where we try to look at opportunities where the Adelante constituency can participate on behalf of our customers, on behalf of our company—in less than a philanthropic view but more of a direct business impact view,” he said.

To help drive this business view, the company created an Executive Briefing Center, a facility within the Dell campus in Round Rock, Texas that brings customers from around world to meet with sales and marketing teams.

“We’ve created a team of Adelante members to partner up with the Executive Briefing Center that go and brief prospective customers in Spanish and Portugese,” Loya said. “Our customers find that to be really helpful in being able to navigate in their native language.”

By tracking close rates at the Executive Briefing Center, Dell can directly measure the value Adelante members contribute to the company’s bottom line. “We want to measure did that actually end up translating into a sale for the company and a great partnership between Dell and our customer,” Loya said.

For years, Adelante members have also been involved in several initiatives in the community that Loya describes as “real relationships.” One of these is a long-standing relationship with San Juan Diego Catholic High School, a predominantly Latino school in south Austin. “At San Juan Diego High School we have a relationship with them where we bring our Adelante membership to do a variety of different things on campus, whether that’s campus beautification or sitting with students and going through different types of initiatives that are important to the school,” Loya said.

Students from the school also have the opportunity to work at Dell during the school year. “We generally have about 14 of their students that work here during the school year and they do a variety of different tasks,” Loya said. “We’d like to transition that from the time that they are here to college, and keep an eye on them through that. At some point it would be great to see them 360 and become employees at our company.”

Every year, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) holds the Latino ERG Corporate Challenge, which identifies the best Latino ERGs in the country. Rodriguez oversees the competition, which will take place this year at the USHCC 33rd annual convention in Los Angeles on September 16-18, 2012.

The challenge is identifying metrics that can demonstrate how well ERGs are accomplishing their goals. “While ERGs have grown in size and sophistication, methods for measuring their success and performance have not,” Rodriguez said. “This leaves organizations with little or no data upon which to make decisions on how to improve ERG performance.”

While each group faces its own challenges, there is no doubt that they have evolved from social groups to key partners in their respective corporations, adding to the bottom line.