At Verizon, the Hispanic Support Organization works toward the advancement of its members into management while also volunteering for fundraisers and book drives. At biotech giant Amgen in Thousand Oaks, the affinity groups sponsor lectures on health, wellness, professional development and toss in a game of bingo from time to time. And at aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney/Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, the employee network group for Asian Americans sponsored a recent heritage month event while the college hires group took a field trip to Vandenberg Air Force base for the launch of a rocket powered by a Pratt Engine. Regardless of what they are called, these groups have become an integral part of large corporate diversity programs by melding personal interests of the employees with the overall strategy of their employer. “They marry, if you will, issues of importance and concern to (the employees) with what is important to the company,” said Nadia Younes, director of Diversity and Work-Life for Amgen. where membership in its nine employee groups has reached nearly 3,000. Commonly formed at the behest of the employers, these groups play their part in a diverse workplace by creating a comfort zone for individuals of the same gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation while at the same time benefiting their careers through mentoring, professional development and exposure to senior level management. How successful these groups are can be difficult to gauge as not all have a clear-cut goal or a mission statement. Success can be defined, said consultant Peter Bye, by having a clear business-related reason for having a group to begin with; putting into place the right policies and practices to guide their actions; and devoting the resources to manage the relationships with these groups. Two-way street “The more you can create the two-way beneficial relationship the better,” said Bye, the former head of diversity for AT & T; and now president of the MDB Group, based in Livingston, New Jersey. Amgen created such a two-way street with its affinity groups that provide mentoring between executives and group leaders to make them more business savvy and learn what is important to the company. The group leaders in return let the executives know what is important to them and their fellow employees. Pratt’s employee groups act as a conduit between the constituencies and management. The newest group for women started in the fall will address aspects of work and family life, said Darold Sawyer, manager of diversity and equal opportunity programs. The company funds the employee groups, which are governed by their own board of directors. Their events, such as Asia Pacific American Heritage Month, take place at the company during work hours. The role of the Hispanic Support Organization at Verizon is less a vehicle for complaints and more for helping the company promote and advance Hispanics into management, said Louis Gonzalez, the group’s California president. The organization keeps the human resources department honest by providing seminars, workshops and mentoring programs to give necessary leadership skills that will justify promoting Hispanics, Gonzalez said. “We are trying to be part of the solution,” Gonzalez said. Professional development At financial services company Merrill Lynch, the professional networking groups evolved from hosting events to raise cultural awareness and discussing issues to helping employees with professional development and creating a coaching environment, said Garrett Gin, director of communications and public affairs for the Los Angeles area. The employees with long careers at Merrill Lynch can reflect on that experience with new workers and share ideas on how to manager their careers. “It’s become a platform to learn from each other,” Gin said. The Pepsi Bottling Group, with a warehouse in the city of San Fernando, has employee groups for African Americans and Hispanics. Time Warner Cable, which has a Chatsworth office, is currently researching starting some groups of its own. Amgen’s groups grew from three informal organizations for women, African Americans, and gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender employees. Then four years ago, the company took the step to acknowledge them, give them budgets, hook them up with executive sponsors and help with goal planning. The passion and interest was present to get the groups started but the membership lacked the infrastructure to move them into a more formal role. “Most of these groups need some sort of leg up in terms of understanding how they can operate,” Younes said. Bye was unaware of public studies gauging the effectiveness of employee groups but has seen private studies. One study, from call centers in Texas, showed that members of the Hispanic employee group had better work attendance and retention than non-members. There have been cases when companies were doing marketing events that Hispanic or Asian employee groups pointed out the lack of bi-lingual literature and speakers for the event, Bye said.