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Connecting employees & community 5 min read

Doing good is good for business

Mobilizing hearts and hands around a passionate cause can be a powerful way to uplift and engage not only communities, but employees too.

It’s no secret that when we do good for others – and with others – we also do good for ourselves. Like the Grinch, we might even feel our heart grow three sizes from just one simple act of kindness.

For Kari Bilyk, CWB Senior Manager, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement, this reciprocal effect is one of the reasons why a company culture of inclusivity, diversity, and giving back is such a win-win for both employers and not-for-profits.

“It’s bigger than just being the right thing to do,” says Bilyk. “Communities are in need. At the with same time, especially with the pandemic, people are really looking these days to be part of something larger – to contribute to something they’re passionate about, and to feel like they belong.”

Done authentically and meaningfully, doing good is also a powerful way for organizations to not only attract talent, but to engage and retain employees by bringing hearts and hands together to lift up their communities and each other.

In fact, research from Great Place to Work Canada shows that when people feel good about the way their organization contributes to community, they enjoy their time at work more and this leads to greater engagement and productivity – and less turnover. By the numbers, here’s what this looks like: their commitment to their career increases by over 18 per cent, their effort goes up by over 83 per cent, their impact rises by more than 57 per cent, and their willingness to be brand ambassadors increases by over 79 per cent.

In other words, it’s safe to say that doing good is good for business. And there’s a way to take that even deeper, says Bilyk.

Employee Represented Groups help create belonging – and a connection to community 

She explains that in addition to providing monetary and volunteer support to charities, creating space and structure for Employee Represented Groups to grow within a company and connecting them to corporate community investment efforts really brings compassion, collaboration, and advocacy full circle.

“All of our ERGs are currently diversity centric. This links back to our organizational value of ‘inclusion has power.’ Our community investment program also aligns to this value, creating a natural and potent opportunity to integrate the two,” says Bilyk.

ERGs are grassroots, employee-led groups formed around shared interests, characteristics or background(s). At CWB, the ERGs actively work to build community and culture in the workplace by providing their members with support and resources, as well as a variety of leadership, educational, and professional development opportunities. Some of their activities include delivering flagship events for Black History Month and Pride Month, as well as leveraging modest budgets to support community organizations – like last summer helping to send queer and trans youth to Camp fYrefly.

They also regularly connect with the organization’s corporate community investment efforts to provide input, get involved, and help direct funds that are near and dear to the heart of the ERG itself.

For example, the CWB Women ERG recently participated in a Canadian Women’s Foundation focus group, and also supports Edmonton Women in Finance. The Sharing Circle ERG for Indigenous peoples and allies is also engaged with the organization’s truth and reconciliation efforts, including supporting the new Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park.

“These are all really good examples of influencing change not only inside CWB, but external to the organization – pretty much all of the ERGs have gotten involved in some kind of external opportunity to fulfill an advocacy mandate,” says Bilyk.

There are currently about 600 employees involved across CWB’s nine ERG’s, five of which were started during the pandemic. Bilyk says this isn’t surprising.

“People may already have been feeling challenged and alone before the pandemic and when COVID hit that need for community, for support, just became even stronger,” she says. “ERGs are a place to gather (virtually) and chat about, ok what are you experiencing? How has COVID affected you? How can we help others through these types of obstacles – internal and external to CWB? It’s an opportunity to connect with people and do something that feels meaningful, outside of the day-to-day COVID grind.”

Bilyk says most ERGs start with someone coming forward who’s passionate about a topic or cause. The organization then supports them in raising awareness internally to see if other employees are looking to come together too, either as a part of a group or as an ally. Forming the ERG then includes developing their mission, goals, and mandate, and this often leads to defining activities for advocacy. 

“They look at how they can not only make the group’s work matter within CWB, but beyond it – how they might help to bring about systemic change,” she says. “That’s pretty huge…I mean who wouldn’t want to be part of that? Many of our ERG members tell me that when they talk to others about their job at CWB they actually lead with talking about their role with their ERG. There’s a real sense of pride and meaning there.”

Interested in setting up an ERG at your organization?

Bilyk has these 3 tips:

  1. Don’t try to “over science” it too much. If there’s a passionate champion for a cause and a group of people that’s aligned to it, then do an ERG. “It’s one of those things that when you start you don’t necessarily have the end in mind, you just kind of give a platform for people to take it and grow it and just sort of nurture it,” says Bilyk.
  2. Create a way for passionate people to find each other. Bilyk says all of CWB’s ERGs started with somebody coming forward saying they were personally really interested in starting a group and then articulating the reasons why. They were then invited to write a blog article for the organization’s intranet to reach others who share this passion.
  3. Provide support and structure, but give the ERGs lots of space to develop. “We have more formal support and processes in the background now, but when we started we didn’t have any of that,” says Bilyk. “It was just about, what are people passionate about, who are the people that want to get involved, and connecting them. And then providing opportunities for them to extend their work to support others, both within the organization and out in the community.”