Posted by: outandequal | April 15, 2011

The Importance of Executive Champions

Kevin Jones

J. Kevin Jones, Jr. Deputy Director

by Kevin Jones | On April 14th, I had the pleasure of addressing steering committee members of the YMCA’s national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource network, YMCA GLBT.  At the end of my presentation, I was asked to talk about the importance of executive champions (two executive champions supporting the group were in the room).  Here is what I said…

By design,  executive champions bring direct access to an organization’s most senior management.  She or he should be an advocate for the  employee resource group (ERG) –gaining access to people and funding, reinforcing with senior management the ERG’s value to the organization, and ensuring recognition for the group and its issues.

An executive champion also has a responsibility to serve as a mentor to the ERG, helping its leadership team develop and execute a strategy that is aligned with the organization’s overall values.

For me, however, the most important role for an executive champion is to focus on the organization’s “coming out” process.  As I explained, for a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,  coming out is not a “once and done” proposition.

We all make decisions to be out about our identity many times every day,  determining what to share about ourselves with friends, colleagues and strangers – in line at the grocery store when asked about our family, or online when responding to a “friend” request on Facebook.

Allies of our community also must choose to “come out” all of the time.   And so must workplaces.  For employees and clients to understand that inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is part of an organization’s culture,  those employees and clients must see and hear it on a regular basis.   Adopting inclusive policies or benefits is important.  Communicating about them gives the actions impact.  Executive champions have the opportunity – and own the responsibility – for ensuring that the value that the organization places on the inclusion of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees is communicated broadly, regularly and proudly.  Making sure that her or his organization is visibly “out” about its support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is the most valuable contribution that any executive champion can make.

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Responses

  1. Kevin – indeed exec champions are key for the ERG visibility. However we often wonder ‘what’s in it for them?’
    At EQUAL! (Alcatel-Lucent’s ERG) we’ve been engaging more and more with executives throughout the company in an effort to grow this culture of inclusion beyond our US entity, but this hasn’t been easy and takes time as relationships need to be built.
    Any advices on how to get a faster buy-in from the exec teams?

    Cheers
    Jerome

  2. Thanks Jerome. You raise the other critical side to the relationship between ERG and executive champion. Inasmuch as the executive champion has a responsibility to be an advocate for the ERG, the ERG has a corresponding responsibility to make their executive champion’s experience valuable – by taking their leadership commitment seriously, by respecting the champion’s time and guidance, and through showing visible and consistent appreciation. The experience has to be enjoyable. Beyond that, however, the role of executive champion has to be one that is viewed as important to the organization by the CEO. That will almost always be the bottom line in recruiting executive champions for any group, especially when looking at operations outside the US where the local culture might be on resistant to making support for LGBT employees more visible. Senior HR and/or Diversity & Inclusion execs will be a necessary ally in helping the C-suite to buy into and communicate the importance that the company places on executives stepping up as ERG champions.

    J. Kevin Jones, Jr.
    Deputy Director


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