Internal Connection, External Benefit: Employee Resource Groups Imbue AIR Projects with Diverse Perspectives

At AIR, equity affects every aspect of our work and culture. As a not-for-profit institution dedicated to solving some of the most urgent challenges in the United States and around the world, equity is baked into our mission and vision. Conducting research and technical assistance designed to reduce systemic inequity requires a diverse and inclusive workforce. Diverse staff perspectives allow AIR’s work to be relevant and responsive to the clients and communities we serve as we work in collaboration with them.

AIR’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion begins from within, and our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an important structure that supports our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy. These voluntary, employee-led groups are based on shared characteristics, interests, or life experiences. They provide AIR staff with opportunities for social support, knowledge sharing, exposure, and visibility. The ERGs host educational, cultural, and heritage events throughout the year that are open to all staff. For example, events held in 2021 have included a Juneteenth Celebration, sponsored by the AIR BLAAC Diaspora Network; an AIR Pride Month Celebration and LGBTQ+ Issue Forum; and an Asian Heritage Month Virtual Speaker Event on the History of Asian Americans in Hollywood.

“AIR’s eight ERGs provide key social supports for staff looking for connection at work, but they also contribute a lot to the organization,” says AIR Human Resources Associate Allison Hedrick. “Especially as we’ve moved toward virtual work, those connection points are so important to having an inclusive, collegial culture.”
 

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AIR employees at a Stars & Stripes employee resource group event

 

ERGs in External Work

AIR Employee Resource Groups (2021)
 
  • Access AIR (Employees with disabilities and supporters)
  • AIR Asians in Motion
  • AIR BLAAC Diaspora Network (Black, Latino, African America, African, and Caribbean)
  • AIR CREW (Collaborative Remote Employee Workforce)
  • AIR Pride (LGBTQ+ persons and allies)
  • AIR Stars and Stripes (Veterans, service members, and their families)
  • AIR VIVA (Hispanic, Latino, Chicano ERG)
  • AIR WISE (Women in Support of Equity)

In addition to these benefits for staff, ERGs also offer diverse perspectives and areas of expertise in support of AIR’s external, client-facing research and technical assistance projects.

For example, when AIR Senior Researcher Jessica Mason’s project team crafted a survey of student veterans, she turned to the AIR Stars and Stripes ERG for in-house, specialized knowledge of that community to help refine her interview and survey protocols. “Our team members did not have much experience or background with the military,” Mason explains. “We wanted to make sure that our questions would make sense to veterans, that we were using language that would resonate with them. For example, we wanted to include a question about rank and branch in the survey. Becky Branch, a leader in that ERG, helped us make sense of the many categories, and ask the question in a simple but effective way.”

In another case, researchers on a California Dual Language Learner evaluation project designed their study to reach as many students and families as possible by administering their survey in five languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese. Though a third-party service provided the translation, the researchers reached out to AIR Asians in Motion for help with an internal quality assessment. Staff from the ERG who were native or proficient in each language served as liaisons and experts, considerably expediting the review process and giving the researchers confidence in their translations.

The BLAAC Diaspora Network ERG has also supported external projects on numerous occasions. For instance, the AIR BLAAC Book—a guide based in the tradition of Victor Hugo Green’s Negro Motorist Green Book—was developed by members of the ERG to recommend articles, books, reports, videos, and other media that accurately illuminate some aspect of the BLAAC experience to all AIR staff. Later, the ERG was able to adapt this internal-facing resource for an external audience: a technical assistance equity project at the U.S. Department of Education’s Southeast Comprehensive Center.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and remote working became the norm, Access AIR, AIR Pride, and AIR CREW partnered to update AIR’s inclusive meeting guidelines. Not only did these revised guidelines help address challenges that AIR staff faced due to their new remote status; they were also incorporated into all meeting presentations with external clients.
 

Looking Forward

In addition, the AIR Pride group has started a business development affinity group to support AIR’s work in the LGBTQ+ sphere. Their goal is to develop organizational capabilities in LBGTQ+ specific issues that relate to existing AIR work, including justice, health, and education. As AIR Senior Vice President Hans Bos explains, “The interplay between Employee Resource Groups and business development works both ways. If you’re in an ERG, you want AIR to provide you with good, equitable policies and a supportive community—but also to do strong work outside the organization on behalf of your community.”

He continues: “AIR is a mission-driven institution, so most people here are already doing work that they care about. If we can make their work even more closely aligned with their personal passions, that’s the ultimate goal for us.”