imageContributing blogger John Long is a professional career coach and consultant in Atlanta who founded Two Roads Resources. He blogs at Atlanta Career Coach.

Q: I’ve heard the term “affinity group” used in the workplace, but I’m not exactly sure what it means. Can you fill me in?

A: Affinity group is another name for an employee resource group. Typically, these groups are created in response to raising awareness around issues such as age, race, physical disability, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. They often form as a result of a grass roots effort by employees interested in developing rapport among like-minded co-workers.

Ideally, these groups should capture formal recognition and support through the employer’s diversity program. One of several key factors evaluated in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index is whether companies “officially recognize and support a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered employee resource group; or would support employees’ forming a LGBT resource group, if some expressed interest, by providing space and other resources; or have a firm-wide diversity council or working group whose mission specifically includes LGBT diversity.”

An affinity group often provides support in four areas:

Education: Providing an open forum for the exchange of information, which often begins with efforts to increase the awareness of all employees about their LGBT co-workers. Other common topics for a forum include non-discrimination initiatives and domestic partnership benefits.

Networking: Organizing social events aimed at developing professional contacts and the promotion and advancement of mentoring opportunities within the company.

Recruitment and Retention: Companies are finally recognizing just how critical it is to hold on to good people. Employees are far more likely to stay with an employer if they believe a genuine spirit of equality and inclusion exists in the workplace. The company also benefits through the referral of candidates from employees who feel a sense of community. The affinity group provides these vital links.

Community Outreach: Companies are now focusing more on the promotion and benefits of corporate social responsibility. Resource groups can serve a vital role in building a company’s image by promoting activities such as directed giving campaigns, volunteerism and corporate sponsorship.

Check with your company’s human resources department to learn more about its stance on affinity groups. If your employer isn’t included in the Corporate Equality Index—or isn’t large enough to be considered—brainstorm the merits of starting an LGBT resource group within your company or as a collaborative effort among several smaller companies within your industry.

Resources:

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Atlanta

HRC article on Employee Resource Groups

Fuqua Pride Alumni Alliance—An academic affinity group

The GE GLBTA Alliance

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