Forming any organization presents challenges and can result in great rewards. In this article, Disability:IN Connecticut Board member Marc Dupont of Sikorsky describes the experience of starting a Disability ERG at Sikorsky. Disability ERG’s raise the profile of employees with disabilities and can support employees who have disabilities, caregivers of people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. Marc’s article gives an unflinching picture of the entire experience.
Marc Dupont, an active member of Disability:IN Connecticut’s Board, is an engineer, award winning disability advocate who is active in the area of education, a mentor for disability talent in STEM careers and a passionate believer in the power and talent of individuals with disabilities in the workplace.
Creating and Growing a Disability ERG
The Sikorsky Employee Resource Group for staff with disabilities, called Able and Allies (or A&A) traces its beginnings to 2012 when I started becoming involved with organizations committed to supporting people with disabilities. One of the organizations was hosting a career fair, I let the corporate HR office know of the event, and I was asked to consider forming a group. This informal group is now a formal Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky Employee Resource Group or “ERG”.
This transition to an ERG has been challenging yet very rewarding. The toughest task is finding coworkers committed to the mission and willing and able to volunteer their time. Our ERG still has just a few staff heavily involved – fewer than 6.
In spite of our numbers, we have made positive change within the company through educational events and improved our community involvement with events for students. Several of us are involved with the USBLN Rising Leaders program and are looking at expanding mentoring opportunities with Disability:IN Connecticut.
Early on, the Sikorsky Diversity and Inclusion manager encouraged me to expand the ERG scope to include staff acting as caregivers and staff with children with long term care needs. This expansion while at first daunting was pivotal in attracting several very committed members ready to assist with our mission.
Communication of our existence was and is still is a priority. To do this, two of us take turns running educational webinars for someone with a disability or acting as a caregiver. These webinars while helping the attendees, also publicizes our group’s existence and mission.
What has proved to be very valuable for our ERG, is the outside membership activities of several members; involvement in charities or organizations that are relevant to our mission. This has given us access to webinar presenters as well as a network to approach for staff members facing issues within our group’s scope.
The challenges the staff we are supporting make it very difficult for those staff to devote time to an ERG. Often a disability or caregiving responsibilities require a great deal of time leaving very little discretionary time to devote to ERG activities. This impacts not only our ERG, but events that involve multiple ERGs. Other ERGs have a stronger social component. That exists within the A&A ERG, but it is not the priority.
Another very important element is committed Executive Sponsorship. In our case, our Executive Sponsor has taken on the task of driving the reorganization of A&A for the LM Corporation. This is being done to develop a cohesive corporate vision and gain efficiency. A dedicated executive is required to undertake such an effort.
All ERGs at LM have a business plan that includes among other things a Mission Statement and Vision. This has proved helpful especially as we start our reorganization process. The development of these highlights participants’ thoughts as to what each wants the ERG to become.
The A&A ERG and the support LM provides shows commitment to supporting the staff that must deal with difficult daily challenges. If your organization has a similar group, I encourage you to join and assist; if it does not have a group like this, consider starting a new team. The rewards are well worth the time.