What is an Affinity group?
Affinity groups are valuable for organisations because they can improve morale and increase employee retention. Understanding what an affinity group is can help you to decide if it’s something that your organisation may benefit from.
Affinity groups are composed of a collection of individuals that share a common identity characteristic or interest. They may share a social identity or ideology, a shared concern for a particular issue or a common role, skill or common activity. Typically, what unifies an affinity group is a characteristic that is traditionally under-represented which can often make these groups feel isolated.
What are examples of affinity groups?
Here are just a few examples of what an Affinity groups might focus:
- Physical or mental ability
- Sexual orientation
- Race and/or ethnicity
- Family structure
Affinity groups are employee-led and because of this, these groups can create significant change in the workplace. These groups promote diversity and inclusion as well as creating safe spaces to network, access resources, mentorship, training, and professional development.
How do you form an affinity group?
1. Decide the focus of the group
will your group represent the LGBTQIA+ community or do you want to create a group for racial minorities? Maybe you have a large population of women in the organisation and want to have a space where they can host networking events, trainings and share their experiences with one another. Select one group to represent and start from there.
2. Get buy-in from suitable group members
Next, you want to identify potential members in the organisation. Reach out to them whatever way you’re comfortable and tell them about your idea and see if they’d be interested in joining. It’s okay to start small, the more your group becomes established, the more members you will acquire.
3. Pitch your idea
You will want to get buy-in from senior leaders and find an executive sponsor. This is someone who is a member of the senior leadership team that might have an interest in the group and will advocate on your behalf to bring your group’s agenda to the table. For example, if it’s a women’s affinity group you might ask a woman who sits on the leadership team to be your executive sponsor.
4. Decide the role of members
Not everyone will have the same level of availability or capacity to commit to the group. It's a good idea to have someone who chairs the meetings and follows up on actions, someone to lead the group, someone to manage finances and another to organise events and communicate them to the company.
5. Research your limitations
You may not have much of a budget to work with if you are in a small organisation, and everyone will have different levels of availability. Keep in mind what your group can and cannot do.
6. Host your first meeting and get started!
Once you have your members, your executive sponsor, and group roles have been assigned you’re ready to get going! Host your first meeting, welcome members, agree on your mission, purpose and vision and start planning events for the year.
What makes a good affinity group?
1. Make it remote-compatible
When you can host meetings and events that suit both in-person and remote workers, particularly if it’s a global organisation you will have a wider reach if it’s remote compatible.
2. Give it time
Affinity groups will not grow or be successful overnight. It takes time to nurture the group and give it sufficient time to grow and get the word out there. Don’t try to do too many events at once. Start out with one event each quarter and see how well it works and adjust if needed.
3. Keep ownership with the members
Affinity groups are employee-led programmes so make sure that it stays that way. The members should be the ones making decisions and have control over its activities as opposed to the organisation.
4. Look beyond the group
You might think about whether there is a way for your affinity group to serve the wider organisation as well as the members of the group so that everyone benefits from its existence.
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