Why Affinity Groups Matter in the Workplace

As we race towards the close of 2021, we find ourselves reflecting on why affinity groups matter and the practices that have allowed our company to continue building a more inclusive culture. Here at Online Optimism, we strive to be the marketing agency organizations want to work with, and people aspire to work for. The latter entails creating policies and opportunities that give our Optimists the freedom to make decisions that align with their personal beliefs. 

Like our newest remote work policy, specific policies we’ve instated allow our Optimists to work from anywhere in the country to best suit their needs. However, our company’s affinity groups provide an opportunity for employees and specialists to form a collective voice, regardless of location. As groups of individuals who share a common interest, purpose, and/or identity, affinity groups play a vital role in ensuring that all those feel their existence is known, their voices heard, and their beliefs, interests, and identities respected. 

Why do affinity groups matter in the workplace in particular, and what can they look like? Read on to explore how we break it down. 

Why Affinity Groups Matter at Work

According to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University, Employee Affinity Groups, or EAGs, are typically employee-led and regulated groups formed around interests, backgrounds, personal identities, and common bonds and beliefs. EAGs foster positive spaces where employees can discuss issues, form initiatives, plan events, and experience esprit de corps. 

With many workplaces transitioning to a hybrid model and digital communication at the forefront of most companies’ internal culture, EAGs still manage to transcend screens and allow employees, regardless of location, to participate. According to TopMBA, EAGs can be found in 90% of Fortune500 companies, indicating their importance in a successful business. Employees’ reasons for participating and the benefits of EAGs in the workplace vary from strengthening a sense of personal autonomy to exploring one’s identity development. 

Employee Creation and Control   

When it comes to EAGs in the workplace, they are typically created, run, and regulated by employees. For example, a member of our DEI initiative team here at Online Optimism will typically identify a need for a certain EAG, and an employee who feels a particular affinity for the group’s purpose will volunteer to lead it. Employee-run EAGs often fill the following gaps in workplaces: 

  • Voluntary Participation – As most of us know, work often entails completing tasks and fulfilling duties, whether you like it or not. EAGs are optional, and members join out of their interest and volition. Although mandatory participation in DEI-related activities should be an accepted aspect of all workplaces, EAGs bypass any feelings of obligation. Affinity groups should not be expected to take on the responsibility of DEI work but provide a safe space where employees from certain groups choose to gather and discuss such topics if they wish to. 
  • An Informal Welcome – Beginning a new job can be daunting, with new responsibilities to tackle, names to learn, and expectations to meet. EAGs, however, often offer a more personal, employee-to-employee welcome, away from handbooks and training sessions. 
  • Independent Discussion – While work meetings have a professional agenda and most office communication throughout the day revolves around office to-dos, EAGs provide a unique space where employees get to decide the narrative. 

Affinity Groups a Source of Community Interaction 

Many community sources have returned since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Whether big family reunions or gatherings with friends who think, look or identify like you, many people are yearning for a sense of community they’ve lost. 

According to Dr. Theresa Welbourne at the Center for Effective Organizations, EAGs can act as a tool to increase coping and help employees feel less isolated during the pandemic. Although many EAG meetings occur through video calls these days, providing a space where employees can associate with peers they identify with is vital to creating a sense of community within the workplace. 

Affinity Groups for Identity Development

The workplace is filled with challenges, whether a challenging project or a tight deadline. However, those who consider their identity marginalized face even more obstacles. BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ employees, for example, are often faced with navigating how their identity fits into a workplace environment. Regardless of where employees sit in this journey of workplace identity development, EAGs can foster a crucial place where individuals can express any challenges they are facing. EAGs also provide a space for employees to ask their coworkers on similar journeys questions or guide those exploring how their own identity fits into a workplace’s culture.  

General Guidelines to Observe in Affinity Groups 

EAGs are entirely personal to those who are a part of them. Therefore, employees who create and regulate EAGs are the best authority in running them. We’ve created a list of a few best practices to observe when creating or joining your next EAG. 

  • Join an EAG with the right intentions: be prepared to listen, learn about others, and be heard. 
  • EAGs often entail sharing personal experiences: respecting the level of disclosure others choose to share, and being sensitive to their vulnerability. 
  • It’s okay to have different experiences and opinions: although those who join share particular interests, beliefs, and identities, they are often not identical. 
  • Unless otherwise stated, whatever gets discussed in your EAG should remain confidential amongst its members. 
  • Enjoy yourself! Although sensitive subjects can and should be discussed in EAGs, it is a space to celebrate your shared interest, belief, and/or identity! 

Interested in Learning More About Online Optimism’s Culture? Reach Out or Read our Handbook! 

We may be a little biased, but we firmly believe that becoming an Optimist entails joining a company culture that prioritizes respect, continuing inclusivity, and celebrating diversity. Whether it’s our women or LGBTQIA+ employee affinity groups, Online Optimism promotes creating safe spaces for our employees’ interests and identities. So reach out directly to our team, check out our careers page for open positions, or read our company handbook to learn more about what it’s like here at Online Optimism!