Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month celebrates the essential contributions of this community to the success our nation. This year’s heritage month theme, “Unite Our Voices by Speaking Together,” reminds us that progress will require the voices of many different people working together toward a common goal. As AAPI Heritage month ends and Pride month for the LGBTQ community begins, the concept of speaking together resonates.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, an affinity group is defined as “a group of people having a common interest or a goal or acting together for a specific purpose.” Although work place affinity groups, now often called Employee Resource Groups, do not limit membership to a particular demographic, many people mistakenly believe that the groups are mostly comprised of minority employees and are exclusive to the interests of the group members.
Diversity & Inclusion practitioners and advocates have first-hand knowledge of how hard it can be to speak with one voice for this reason. However, affinity groups are intended to be inclusive to the needs of everyone. All employees can gain knowledge in listening and experiencing different perspectives from the diverse employees involved in affinity groups that go beyond the casual relationships that people experience day-to-day without them. There is value added to the workplace and employee’s lives.
There does not appear to be a magical common thread that pulls people together effectively. Perhaps we should look more closely at intersectionality as a way to collaborate across affinities. In a TEDxMU Talk, Hayden Kristal, who is deaf and transgender, describes bigotry as a “bubble of ignorance” and talks about the vulnerabilities individuals possessing multiple marginalized identities experience. She speculates that marginalized groups are not often supportive of each other primarily because they prioritize based on their own needs and do not want to admit that they may be excluding others. How can we work together – speak together – to change this dynamic?
At NASA Johnson Space Center, we have nine Employee Resources Groups (ERGs). The ERGs want to work together and make an intentional effort to collaborate. They try to leverage intersectionality when it makes sense to do so. In June, our Out & Allied (LGBTQ and Allies) ERG and our African American ERG have invited an African American, transgender speaker to help burst “bubbles of ignorance” that may exist regarding transgender individuals within the African American community or African Americans within the LGBTQ community. As Pride month begins, we should remember that members of the LGBTQ community may possess other marginalized identities and we need speak up for each other. I challenge you to be a diversity ally, to build coalitions, and look to intersectionality as a source of strength in creating a more inclusive workplace where all employees can thrive.