Over the past six months, employees from across Stanford Health Care and Stanford School of Medicine have gathered for a shared meal around a shared affinity. These gatherings were part of the launch of Stanford Health Care’s first-ever Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). In all, more than 1,300 employees joined one or more of eight newly created ERGs. Completely voluntary, these employee-led groups provide a chance to meet and network with colleagues and leaders who share a common culture, background or life experience.
“ERGs were created to help build and nurture a culture of inclusion and belonging,” said Mary Stutts, Chief of Inclusion, Diversity and Health Equity. “What I heard from employees overwhelmingly was that we are a very diverse organization, but we are not inclusive.”
To address this need for inclusion, Stanford created eight employee affinity groups—Asian and Pacific Islander, Stanford BEAM TEAM (Black Employee Advancement and Mentoring, Trust Empowerment Affiliation and Membership), Stanford Medicine Abilities Coalition (SMAC), Emerging Professionals, LatinX, Pride (LGBTQ+), Women and Working Parents. Each helps build community, promotes inclusion, provides advocacy and informs the direction of Stanford Health Care (SHC) initiatives at work and in the community. ERGs are open to individuals who identify with a particular affinity and their allies, and employees can multiple groups.
The Employee Resource Groups are a way to enfranchise every person at Stanford Health Care, said David Jones, Chief of Human Resources. “We won’t stop until every person feels that they have a voice, that they belong, that they can contribute and that their value is recognized here.”
“This new role will champion the goal of fostering an inclusive and culturally competent work environment to better serve employees, patients, caregivers and underserved communities,” said David Entwistle, President & CEO. “It is an important step forward and a reflection of the organization’s commitment to advancing a culture of employee engagement, belonging and career enhancement. We are working to build a community where everyone feels valued, celebrated and welcome.”
Each Employee Resource Group is sponsored by a senior executive from SHC or the School of Medicine and co-chaired by employees who volunteer their time to lead these efforts. Inherent in this structure is a natural platform for networking, mentorship and leadership development.
“ERGs are an important component to feeling connected to the organization’s mission and values,” said Alpa Vyas, Vice President, Patient Experience, one of three co-chairs of the Women & Allies ERG. Vyas sees this as an opportunity to give back to the Stanford community, to mentor others on their career journey. “These groups offer an opportunity to raise awareness on important challenges and issues, and the power to create impactful solutions.”
“We encourage people to get involved so they can be the new voice of Stanford and help us change the narrative,” said Sharon Hampton, Director Clinical Operations and co-chair of BEAM TEAM.
ERG Launch events draw crowds
At all of the launches held this past spring and summer, there was a palpable level of excitement in the room. Employees shared their enthusiasm about gathering with colleagues, feeling recognized and having access to and the attention of senior leaders.
“ERGs bring people to the table who may feel like they do not have a voice,” said Yvonne Maldonado, executive sponsor of the Emerging Professionals group and Associate Dean of Diversity for the Stanford School of Medicine. Maldonado works with young faculty, helping them with career development. “Emerging professionals are the future of our institution,” she said. “We invest a lot into our employees and don’t want to see them go elsewhere.”
Improved employee satisfaction and retention are two key benefits of ERG participation, Stutts said. “But more importantly, they are a way to increase employees’ sense of belonging. They help Stanford become an even more welcoming organization.”
During the launch of the Stanford Medicine Abilities Coalition (SMAC) ERG, its executive sponsor Peter Poullos, MD, raised awareness of disability as “a fundamental part of diversity.” People with disabilities have a unique perspective on life and health care, said Poullos, an associate professor of radiology who suffered a spinal cord injury after a bicycle accident. “Providers with disabilities have a unique understanding of their patients’ struggles. That perspective is invaluable to improving patient care.”
A sense of belonging is what drew Ben Elkins to co-chair the Working Parents ERG. “I need this community,” said Elkins, Director of Quality Improvement for Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital and a first-time father. “I appreciate having people in the same situation to talk to and connect with.”
During the Working Parents breakfast launch, executive sponsors Sri Seshadri and Mary Leonard, MD, shared their stories of juggling home, children and careers during a time when working parents were not supported in the workplace. “We want to be a small catalyst for change here at Stanford,” said Seshadri, Vice President, Clinical Cancer Center and Cardiovascular Health and Chief Administrative Officer. As Chief of Staff at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Leonard was inspired to sponsor the Working Parent ERG to help support her faculty, many of whom are working parents themselves, she said. “It makes me happy that we’re creating a culture where working parents feel taken care of.”
Over and over, leaders at every launch event spoke to the multiple benefits Employee Resource Groups bring to the organization and its employees.
“Diversity is one of our core values at Stanford Medicine,” said Megan Mahoney, MD, executive sponsor of the Asian and Pacific Islander ERG. “Creating and nurturing an inclusive work environment ensures the best possible care for all patients.”
“We need all of us and all of our different backgrounds,” said Karen Frush, MD, chief quality officer and an executive sponsor for the Stanford BEAM TEAM & Allies ERGs.
Chief Information Officer Eric Yablonka jumped at the chance to become an executive sponsor for the PRIDE & Allies ERG. At his previous employer, he underwent extensive diversity and inclusion training, but was unable to sponsor a group due to high demand. “It is very important for senior leaders to sponsor and give voice to our employees and their communities, and to be inclusive and engage all across SHC,” he said. “ERGs allow us to reflect, understand and honor the attributes of our teams that we value.”
“ERGs are essential to promoting employee engagement,” said Chief Nursing Officer Dale Beatty, DNP, RN, executive sponsor of the LatinX ERG. “They develop future leaders and attract a diverse, high-performing, engaged and inclusive workforce.”
“As an organization, we have blind spots. There are things we don’t know,” said Quinn McKenna, Chief Operating Office for Stanford Health Care. “These groups create a forum to bring up more voices. To make a good place a better place.”