Creating a Welcoming Space for People With Underrepresented Identities in the Banking Industry
By Rose Oswald Poels
About two years ago, the Wisconsin Bankers Association board formalized a plan to build out the association’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Since then, a DEI Advisory Group has been established and meeting regularly to help drive WBA’s initiatives, including the development of a sample DEI policy for banks, the production of the Diverse Voices in Banking video series, the publication of DEI-related articles and resources for bankers, various education sessions at conferences and stand-alone programs, and the formation of a WBA Connect DEI Peer Group. The horrific, racially motivated shooting this past weekend in Buffalo, New York underscores the need to double down on our efforts and do more for our colleagues of color and from other underrepresented backgrounds who are acutely experiencing the effects of yet another act of violence and hatred.
The next component of WBA’s DEI plan is the formation of an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for bankers from underrepresented backgrounds. The ERG is designed to be a safe space for bankers to meet virtually for one hour approximately once per month in an open-forum discussion to share feelings, concerns, and frustrations as well as positive developments related to DEI. A moderator will lead each session, and group members are encouraged to bring up topics that they would like to talk about with one another.
ERGs provide a space for groups of people who share a common identity to voluntarily network and engage in employee-led conversation. ERGs also attract new employees and retain existing employees. WBA members have expressed a desire for WBA to organize a group to serve bankers statewide, as many member banks do not have the resources to offer this type of group on their own. The ERG is open to employees of banks of all sizes. Employees of small banks can benefit from connecting with people from backgrounds that may not be widely represented at their own bank, while employees from large banks that may already have ERGs can benefit from perspectives outside their own organization. The ERG is a place to share experiences, ask questions, and find mentorship.
Through this ERG, WBA seeks to support inclusivity at a statewide level across the banking industry. The first meeting will be held virtually from 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. on June 9, 2022. This meeting will aim to provide a discussion space and explore the ways the group can serve the members going forward. The first meeting will include people from a variety of underrepresented backgrounds and gauge interest in branching into more focused ERGs.
Our organizations benefit when we bring our authentic selves to the workplace, and I am excited about the ways this ERG will help bankers from underrepresented backgrounds build high-trust relationships and thrive in their careers. I encourage bank leaders to invite their staff to sign up to participate in this opportunity by filling out the form.