Employee Resource Groups for LGBTQ Staff Are Driving Productivity, Creativity and Profit

Diversity and inclusion are becoming a bigger part of the footwear industry conversation, both in terms of marketing to consumers and internal operations, as corporations work to increasingly create a sense of belonging and community on the inside.

This year saw greater visibility of LGBTQ-identifying people in marketing campaigns, Pride products — some for the first time — and involvement with charities serving those constituents. It comes as the LGBTQ community celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and gay equal rights movement.

But the initiatives are not just a matter of top-down business strategy.

For many of the companies that are engaged with the community, the development was organic — often driven by staff through employee resource groups (ERGs), which are voluntary networking units composed of employees with common interests and backgrounds.

One such group was created at Boston-based Converse in 2015. “The Converse Pride Network has made the company feel smaller — I’ve gotten to meet more people and build a family within the building,” said Elspeth Macmillan, associate product line manager of footwear and Pride Network board member.

In addition to its work internally, the LGBTQ employee network has helped shape the brand’s special Pride collections over the years. “Whatever consumers see online or on the shelves was in some way touched by our Pride Network, from production ideation to creation to marketing to storytelling,” Macmillan said.

For 2019, the brand introduced its first trans shoe as part of its Pride collection. “The idea came last year when we brought in a group of youth from a local LGBTQ+ organization (OUT MetroWest) to customize their own sneakers,” Macmillan added. “Some members were proudly marching around in trans flags, and given the challenges the community faces today, we knew we had to create something.”

At Nordstrom, the retailer currently has an LGTBQ group and other ERGs and is launching three more for Latinos, Asians and parents. And next year, the Nordstrom One Community program will expand beyond the corporate level to throughout the entire company.

Ian Alexander, senior manager of program management and RFDS tech operations, joined Nordstrom five years ago and said that its PLUS (People Like Us) employee resource group is critical to the company’s vitality. “It’s also important that we’re able to leverage the ERG not only as a support network — but as a force for change, inclusivity and creativity at Nordstrom,” he said.

Under Armour, Reebok, Adidas, Brooks and Bloomingdale’s are also among the companies with dedicated ERGs for LGBTQ inclusion at the corporate level. These employee groups have been drivers in leading activism, charity, volunteerism, education, product development and messaging.

And research shows there are other advantages as well — it’s good for staff and it’s good for business. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, 31% of U.S. employees feel engaged in the workplace, and that translates to 17% higher productivity, 21% higher profitability, 40% lower absenteeism and 59% lower turnover.

Below, members of LGBTQ employee resource groups at Converse and Nordstrom share their experiences.

Ian Alexander, Nordstrom

Senior Manager, Program Management, RFDS Tech Operations

FN: Why do you participate in the LGBTQIA ERG, and what do you hope to achieve?
“It’s really important to me that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA, myself included, have a community and support systems accessible to them. I joined PLUS [People Like Us] because I wanted to be a positive influence in the workplace, be an advocate in and out of Nordstrom and help make change happen.”

How has it changed your experience working at the company?
“Being a part of PLUS has not only reinforced the reasons I decided to come to Nordstrom five years ago, it’s also made my experience here even more rewarding — knowing that the company is willing to make the statement that creating these identity-based resource groups is important and is the right thing to do for our employees.”

Has the group contributed to any company changes or new corporate initiatives?
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to have ERG members with bold ideas — and an executive team at Nordstrom that’s equally committed to identifying and implementing ideas that make the company a more welcome and inclusive place for our employees and customers. Together, we’ve partnered on creating gender-neutral bathrooms at our corporate headquarters; championing signing onto the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act; removing gender from our appointment booking for stylists; allowing customers to choose (rather than being assigned based on gender); creating LGBTQIA Ally badges for employees, leaders and the executive team to display and create safe spaces.”

Elspeth Macmillan, Converse

Associate product line manager of Converse Footwear and Pride Network Board Member

Why do you participate in the LGBTQ ERG, and what do you hope to achieve?
“I participate in Converse’s Pride Network because there once was a time before Converse when I didn’t feel comfortable being out at work, and no one should ever feel that way. I hope that our efforts with the network create visibility, acceptance and empowerment for LGBTQ+ employees, and that we help educate our coworkers and continue to encourage them to be informed allies.”

How has it changed your experience working at the company?
“In my day-to-day job, my involvement definitely played a role in my getting the opportunity to work on Converse’s annual Pride collection. I work on the men’s footwear team, and my manager knew I was on the Pride committee, so he fully supported my taking the lead on Pride 2019. I work with a few other LGBTQ+ designers, and together we created this year’s Pride footwear collection. It’s important that the collection has continued to be created by and for the LGBTQ+ community, and that our company fully supports these efforts to create visibility and acceptance both in and beyond our building.”

Has the group contributed to any company changes or new corporate initiatives?
“We meet regularly and create transparency around Pride initiatives, and provide a united 360-degree view on how our commitments can best come to life — whether it’s internal events, ongoing community partnerships or external Pride campaigns. We are a global brand, with a global audience. I feel proud that Converse continues to support and normalize ‘the other’ by spreading visibility and love, even if it means one sneaker sole at a time.”

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