At the beginning of 2022, the African American Employee Resource Group (AAERG) at Cleveland Clinic changed its name to the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group (BHERG).
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“It was an unspoken understanding that if you were a person of color, then the African American Employee Resource Group represented you. But we really wanted to make sure our name reflected the Black caregiver at Cleveland Clinic in totality, no matter what their background,” says Louie Hendon, Administrative Director of Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute’s Sleep Clinic and co-chair of the BHERG.
The new name better reflects the full array of Black caregivers at the healthcare system, who may identify as African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and many other races and ethnicities.
New name, same mission
Discussions about rebranding the employee resource group began in the summer of 2020 amid social unrest following the death of George Floyd. For more than a year, the ERG’s 20-member steering committee considered several new names before landing on the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group.
The mission of the BHERG remains the same: It provides a network that supports the professional development of Black caregivers at all levels and works with management to advance the inclusion, retention and career mobility of Black individuals. The BHERG is one of several employee resource groups at Cleveland Clinic committed to serving a diverse cross section of caregivers, patients and the community at large. They are sponsored by and collaborate with Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provides the strategic direction for the initiatives of our employee resource groups and location-based diversity councils,” says Diana Gueits-Rivera, Interim Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Members of our ERGs and diversity councils serve as ambassadors and change agents who help us drive inclusion, equity and diversity efforts across the organization.”
Programming that makes an impact
The BHERG offers numerous programs and events to achieve its mission, including:
- Caregiver Development Workshop Series – Now in its ninth year, the Caregiver Development Workshop Series is the flagship program of the BHERG. More than 500 caregivers have participated in the six-month program, which provides professional development knowledge and skills for employees to increase their career mobility. Monthly meetings include sessions on resume writing, interviewing, career tracks at Cleveland Clinic and more.
“We don’t want our Black colleagues to feel stuck. We want to ensure they are moving up the career ladder and reaching their full potential,” says Cinnamon Dixon, Director of Strategic Workforce Planning at Cleveland Clinic and co-chair of the BHERG. “Mobility is possible, and the BHERG wants to foster that.”
- COMMIT Program – The Community of Mentors Mobilizing and Inspiring Talent (COMMIT) Program facilitates the professional development of Black caregivers in management roles. The six-month program includes monthly didactic and experiential sessions on topics such as accountability, communication, innovative thinking and team leadership. Facilitators serve as mentors and coaches to participants, offering guidance beyond program completion.
“Black leaders tend to be at the entry level of leadership roles, so this program helps to increase mobility,” says Dixon. “In addition, leadership can be a lonely experience. You may not see a lot of leaders who look like you. In COMMIT, not only do you see leaders who look like you, but there is also a familiarity and a level of relatability in terms of our experiences.”
- Black Male Mentoring Program – In 2021, the BHERG launched this pilot program to connect Cleveland Clinic leaders with Black, male caregivers who are interested in professional development and future leadership roles within the healthcare organization. The program provides professional guidance, skills development, networking opportunities and sponsorship of these future leaders. The 2021 cohort included 10 mentees, three mentors and three executive-level sponsors.
“Mentoring is a big part of our responsibility as an ERG,” says Hendon. “We need to mentor one another, as well as others throughout the enterprise who might feel stuck or unsure where to go for guidance and support.”
These programs have had a measurable impact on Black caregivers. Since 2019, 247 caregivers have participated in the Caregiver Development Workshop Series and the COMMIT Program. As of April 2021, 26% of participants were promoted within Cleveland Clinic.
“That’s a big deal for us,” says Dixon. “We want to make sure our activities are helping to both retain and move people forward.”
The BHERG will offer several events in celebration of Black History Month, including two lunch-and-learn programs – one on emotional health and another on financial literacy – and a panel discussion with Black leaders at Cleveland Clinic.
In addition to developing programs, members of the BHERG also serve as a resource for the healthcare organization and its leaders. For instance, when Cleveland Clinic joined OneTen, a coalition to train, hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next decade, leaders approached the ERG for input and to help develop apprenticeships.
“When there are opportunities for us to share our experiences and our perspective – and for others to really understand the Black voice – that builds community as a whole,” says Hendon.
Dixon and Hendon offer advice to healthcare leaders on how to foster inclusiveness and build community:
- Be open to dialogue. “During the social unrest, our leaders were open enough to say to members of the AAERG, ‘We don’t know your experience. Help us understand,’” recalls Dixon. “It was huge for us that someone cared to listen, because many of us wanted to share our stories and experiences.”
- Measure your impact. “It’s one thing to have activities and events, but it’s important to see the data, specifically around retention, promotion and number of minority leaders,” says Dixon. “At the end of the day, how did you truly make a difference in someone’s life? How did you create an inclusive culture where everyone feels engaged and important?”
- Be intentional as a leader. “When it comes to inclusion, you have to be intentional. It can’t be something you think will just happen. It won’t. We migrate toward what we are comfortable with,” says Hendon. “Being uncomfortable as a leader is the best way to grow as a leader.”