Employee Resource Groups foster community at Princeton

From community service projects and discussion groups to potluck dinners and bowling nights, Princeton University's Employee Resource Groups (ERG) provide opportunities for employees with shared backgrounds and interests to build communities across campus.

The University's eight ERGs —the Chinese Community at Princeton; International Employee Group at Princeton; Latino Princetonians; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Group; Network of African American Male Administrators; Princetonians of Color Network; Princeton Social Professionals; and the South Asian Affinity Group — are open to all staff and faculty.

"ERGs are a valuable resource for underrepresented communities at Princeton," said David Mejias, past president of Latino Princetonians and associate director of affiliated groups in the Office of the Alumni Association. "Professional success at Princeton is largely informed by the quality and strength of relationships. ERGs create a meaningful network of people whom one can rely on for a range of personal and professional needs."

International ERG

The International Employee Group at Princeton is one of the University's eight Employee Resource Groups, which provide opportunities for faculty and staff to build communities across campus. The international group usually meets for lunch once a month, such as this recent meeting at the Chancellor Green Café. (Photo courtesy of Satomi Chudasama, International Employee Group)

Approximately 350 employees are members of ERGs and each group has a volunteer leadership team that plans activities, which often happen during free times at lunch, and on evenings and weekends. Members say the groups foster bonds between staff and faculty in different departments, while also making members feel more connected to the University in general.

"The ERGs help create an inclusive and satisfying work environment, as well as provide opportunities for members to contribute in meaningful ways to the campus community," said Romy Riddick, director of diversity and inclusion for Human Resources.

While some ERGs have been established for years, the Office of Human Resources is working to expand the groups' role in promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. President Christopher L. Eisgruber will talk about the University's diversity efforts at an ERG town hall meeting for faculty and staff at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in Whig Hall.

"Many members of the campus community may not even know ERGs exist," Riddick said. "We want to cultivate the vital role these groups can play in supporting the University's values of equal opportunity, diversity, inclusion and respect for all."

To do this, Human Resources worked with ERG leaders during the past year to develop a cohesive strategy and structure. A framework was developed focusing on the areas of engagement, recruitment and retention; professional development; community outreach; and diversity and inclusion. From there, each group created its own organization plan with goals for programs focused on their particular areas of interest.

"We want to promote cultural awareness among our members and within the campus community," said Satomi Chudasama, one of the leaders of the international employees group and assistant director for liberal arts and engineering career counseling in the Office of Career Services. "We welcome everyone regardless of nationalities. Our group is so diverse and we are all interested in sharing and learning from each other's perspectives and experiences."

Among the group's plans for this year, they hope to host workshops on intercultural competency in the workplace and organize an international poetry night at the Princeton Public Library this spring.

For the social professionals group, steering committee member Justin Reed said their emphasis is on helping "the young and young-at-heart" have an enjoyable work-life balance. Their events this year include a Halloween hayride outing and trivia nights.

"I've made some great friends that I'm sure not sure I would have met otherwise," said Reed, a senior associate at the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO). "Being part of the group also has improved my understanding of how different departments work together. I really feel like I'm more of a member of the entire University community."


Employee Resource Groups are a way for employees to feel more connected to each other and the University in general. The groups' activities also extend beyond campus, such as Latino Princetonians' work with Isles Youth Institute at a community garden in Trenton, N.J. (Photo courtesy of David Mejias, Latino Princetonians)

As the largest group, the Princetonians of Color Network (PCN) hosts many events throughout the year. This September, it held a meet-and-greet with senior University administrators and is planning a bowling night and evening out to McCarter Theatre later in the year. In the past, the group has partnered with the Fields Center to host guest speakers on campus and held dinner-dances with other ERGs.

PCN president Marguerite Vera, associate director for class affairs in the Office of the Alumni Association, said there is a familial feeling among PCN members. Vera has been active in the group since she began working at Princeton nine years ago.

"I think people feel supported and feel like they are part of the University community in a very friendly way," she said. "New employees are welcomed to Princeton in a way that says 'I'm like you. I can help guide you to things you might need, whether it's career advice or a good hair stylist in town.'"

ERGs also are being leveraged to recruit and retain employees from diverse backgrounds, which was included as a recommendation in the recent report of the Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity. This summer, ERG volunteers helped Human Resources staff at a New Jersey-Pennsylvania job fair and the 2013 National Urban League Conference in Philadelphia.

"There is value added to members of the ERGs attending job fairs," said Naida Chipego, Human Resources staffing assistant. "They communicate directly with the individuals interested in hearing about Princeton University as an employer. They bring their personal stories and experiences, which makes working at Princeton a reality."

The groups' connections also extend to communities beyond campus, with Latino Princetonians organizing community service days at Princeton Blairstown and Isles Youth Institute, and the African American male administrators mentoring a local youth group.

"We are able to come together to contribute to the University and local community, while strengthening relationships with each other," Mejias said.

Riddick hopes that more employees will join an ERG or participate in some of their events. She noted that employees do not need to be of a certain background to join the groups.

"Employee Resource Groups are a wonderful opportunity for people to feel like they are an integral part of the University community in a way that goes beyond their daily duties," Riddick said.

For more information about Employee Resource Groups, as well as upcoming events and programs, visit the Human Resources website.