Connecting Innovators through Inclusion Resource Groups

published

03.22.2022

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The past two years of remote working have challenged us all to find new ways to connect, not just to solve problems but to get to know our colleagues on a personal level. This kind of connection is important both to our quality of life and our satisfaction at work: According to a 2020 global Qualtrics study, a sense of belonging is the top driver of employee engagement, ahead of factors such as trust in leadership and ability for career growth.

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One way that NI employees continue to stay connected is by participating in Inclusion Resource Groups (IRGs). These employee-led groups center around members of historically excluded populations. We have groups for women; Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and LGBTQ+ individuals; veterans and active-duty service members; and people with diverse abilities. Each group’s membership is open to all employees who support its mission, whether they belong to the represented community or are an ally of the community.

IRGs create safe spaces for members to find common ground. For example, our Asian & Pacific Islander Network (APIN) recently hosted an event for members to discuss workplace issues and experiences that are unique to their community. At the same time, IRGs foster allyship and inclusiveness among all employees. APIN hosted an open session on recognizing and responding to anti-Asian discrimination, which has increased in many communities during the pandemic. And to help all NI employees understand different cultures and points of view, APIN invited all employees to a virtual Diwali celebration in October 2021 and a virtual tea tasting for Lunar New Year 2022.

“Driving inclusion is close to my heart and a personal mission. It gives me a great sense of purpose to be able to play a part in this for the Asian and Pacific Islander community,” said Abha Budhraja, principal engineering project manager and cochair of APIN.

NI employees picked up boxes of Diwali treats and logged on for a virtual celebration hosted by the Asian & Pacific Islander Network.

Our IRGs have expanded quickly over the last five years, growing from one group in the United States to eight groups with about 1,000 total members worldwide with support from the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) team. And we’re expanding many of our groups to more global sites this year.

This growth has been grassroots and employee-driven since the beginning. When Courtnee Mathis-Crystal joined NI in 2018 as a business analyst, she started looking for groups that would help her meet and connect with her new colleagues.

“This was my first corporate job. Groups are how I like to connect with people outside of work, so I searched for something similar,” said Mathis-Crystal. “There was a women’s network, but when I asked around about LGBTQ+ groups, I didn’t really find anything.”

Courtnee discovered that her colleague Justin Brady-Joyner, principal program manager for DEIB, was building out a new DEIB function at NI and, as part of that, was working to formalize an IRG program that would expand upon the women’s network. Together they formed a Pride group to connect LGBTQ+ employees and allies, along with IRGs for Latinx employees and veterans. The level of interest showed them that this type of group had the potential to foster belonging among other historically excluded populations at NI.

“I was so excited about this potential that I eventually went to our head of HR and asked if I could make it my job to grow these groups,” said Mathis-Crystal. “She agreed, and today I’m working on expanding the global reach of our IRGs under the direction of our Global DEIB Director Kazique Prince.”

While the IRGs’ formation and growth has remained a grassroots movement, Courtnee and the DEIB team have worked with the groups to create a consistent structure. Each IRG has a mission statement, executive sponsor, and leadership team. And all are focused on uniting people around the “Four Cs”: Culture, Career, Community, and Commerce.

Culture: Fostering inclusion and belonging

In October 2021, the Pride IRG marked National Coming Out Day—a day to demonstrate support for LGBTQ+ people choosing to share their lives openly with others—by hosting a Virtual Coming Out Day panel. More than 200 NI employees gathered online to share or support their colleagues’ coming out stories, while also honoring those who are preparing to come out or are not ready or in a position to do so.

“Coming out is a deeply personal choice and a continuous process, and looks different from person to person,” said Brady-Joyner. “Sharing our personal stories was an incredibly powerful experience that brought us all closer as friends and allies.”

Other IRGs also use awareness and heritage events as occasions to bond around shared experiences or to help others learn from diverse perspectives. The Black Inclusion Network (BIN) celebrated Black History Month in February 2022 by holding weekly empowerment conversations with experts around mental and nutritional health in the Black community. And BIN uses Juneteenth as an opportunity to teach all employees facts about racism and Black history.

Serges Lemo, Cate Prescott and Veronica Jordan-Matlock bike with the Black Inclusion Network as part of the 2021 Juneteenth Social Ride tour of Austin’s Black History landmarks.

Career: Driving personal and professional belonging

NI’s 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy outlines goals for diversifying our workforce and leadership and cultivating a sense of belonging. IRGs will play an instrumental role in helping us achieve these goals, notably by bringing a DEIB focus to our professional development.

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, the Women’s Network hosted a series of Break the Bias events across the globe to help NI employees identify unconscious bias and reeducate themselves to be more inclusive and eliminate gender equality gaps. The group held Career Development Journey panels where several of NI’s women leaders shared their experiences and advice and honored the women that helped them along the way. Our Latinx IRG held a similar series for Hispanic Heritage Month in September 2021.

Community: Making a social impact

IRGs are also furthering NI’s Corporate Impact goal to advance STEM education initiatives serving underrepresented or economically disadvantaged students. Members of our IRGs regularly volunteer with our nonprofit partners such as Code2College, Austin Urban Technology Movement, and Girlstart. Their mentorship helps students learn from role models and envision themselves in a STEM career.

Archana Shrotriya and Heidi Frock teach young girls about STEM at The University of Texas at Austin’s Girl Day event.

Commerce: Inspiring insights and innovation

Lastly, IRGs have even helped shape NI’s operations and products. Salute, our IRG for veterans and active-duty service members and their supporters, has partnered with our marketing team to help reach military customers. Women's Network and Pride have collaborated with human resources on topics such as harassment training and driving inclusion for transgender and nonbinary employees. And Enable, our IRG supporting individuals with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, and/or sensory disabilities (both short-term and chronic), is exploring ways to make our software more accessible.

Members of NI Salute volunteer for the Iron Freedom Foundation Golf Classic, which raised money for the Iron Freedom Foundation to provide veterans with a support community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts.

“IRGs are not just an extra activity—they’re critical to our business,” said Kazique Prince, NI’s global director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. “IRGs further our mission of fostering a diverse and inclusive culture of belonging, where all employees feel welcomed, valued, respected, and heard.”