As part of its commitment to creating an experience of belonging for all staff, the New England Center for Children (NECC) has established several Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to provide a dedicated safe space of support, community, and learning for employees.
The five ERGs – Black & Brown, International Staff, Pride Alliance, Wellness, and Working Caregivers — were formed after they were identified by staff via a survey as areas in which they would appreciate unique support. ERGs are a pipeline for employee feedback as a way to improve the work-life balance at NECC. Each ERG has a leader or co-leaders who act as a liaison between the group and the DEI Department, schedule meetings, facilitate discussions and initiatives, and receive ongoing training for professional development.
Each ERG also has an executive sponsor, an executive team member who provides insights about organizational strategy and assists the group in breaking down organizational barriers and fostering collaboration; raising the visibility of ERG across executive leadership; champions the group and encourages other executive participation in ERG-sponsored initiatives; provides informal coaching and mentorship to members; and attends monthly ERG meetings.
“The groups are voluntary, based on similar life experiences, identities, or challenges in the workplace,” said Fatou Njie-Jallow, director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). “The benefits are belonging, inclusion, support, engagement, and a safe space to learn and practice allyship. The groups align their purpose and objectives to the organization’s larger diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.”
Black & Brown
Lead: Zalika Tyrell, clinical residential program coordinator
Sponsor: Kaaron-Marc Dick, director of information services
According to ERG lead Zalika Tyrell, the Black & Brown ERG was created for the Black and Brown community at NECC to have a safe space where their voices can be heard.
“I decided to lead the Black & Brown ERG because as a member of the community myself and with the experience of working as a direct care staff for over three years at NECC, I believe that Black and Brown staff could greatly benefit from having a space to share ideas for growth with individuals of similar background and lived experience,” shared Tyrell.
Tyrell shared that because ERGs are staff-centered and function as an outlet for staff to shed light on their day-to-day work environment, it will help lead to solutions for improvement, not just within the Black and Brown communities but across all groups at NECC. “I am hoping that our ERGs will foster community, cultural awareness, and humility as we navigate the workplace and interact with staff and students of varying backgrounds,” she said.
Tyrell added that in addition to sharing ideas and experiences, members of the Black & Brown ERG will also have engaging activities and educational article and book reviews pertaining to the community. “We also plan on inviting special guests to foster stimulating discussions as the meetings continue throughout the year,” she said.
Lead: Taranpreet “Taran” Kohli, level 2 teacher, ITT 3
Sponsor: Meghan Reidy, director of compliance
The International Staff ERG is designed to assist staff who come to NECC from outside the United States. Taran Kohli said he jumped at the opportunity to lead the group, as he identifies as international staff, having come to the U.S. as an international student five years ago.
“I can relate to this group and have some ideas I can bring to the table,” Kohli said. He explained that the group would not only assist international staff on an immediate basis upon arrival but lend support as it’s needed. “It will cater to the cultural differences and try to fill all the gaps between the organization and staff. I want to make sure everyone feels welcomed to this great organization.”
Kohli sees the group serving three specific purposes: assisting staff upon arrival with any immediate needs to ensure all staff feels equipped and comfortable in their new home; during the “settling in” period to ensure all staff is faring well, which may require the organization of events in which international staff can meet others and make friends; and as a model to ensure best practices by gathering feedback, whether positive or negative, from international staff and sharing that with the executive sponsor and DEI Director to influence any changes that may need to be made.
“NECC caters to a diverse group of people,” said Kohli. “It could be difficult for some people to come up with their ideas or problems if there isn’t a good structure where they’re sure to be heard or meet others with similar backgrounds and ideas. I believe ERGs can serve as a comfortable place for staff.”
Leads: Kaya Chokshi-Fox, Behavioral Health Technician, School Street, Kiah Lyons, level 2 teacher, ITT
Sponsors: Nicole Gardenier, MS, CAGS, BCBA, LABA, executive director of ACE®, Maureen Kelly, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA, assistant clinical director
The Pride Alliance ERG is a resource group that values safety, transparency, and support for the LGBTQ+ community. It allows individuals to feel comfortable and confident with their identity and expression.
“This group offers a safe space to learn and practice allyship,” said co-lead Kiah Lyons. “This is incredibly important for NECC’s LGBTQ+ community. As support for the LGBTQ+ community within society ebbs and flows, support for this minority group must remain persistently solid within our organization. Everyone deserves to feel safe and heard within the workplace, and this employee resource group is giving our LGBTQ+ community a chance to be heard. It gives NECC a chance to listen to its people and make choices and changes according to our needs.”
Chokshi-Fox shared that the group would start small but hopes they can help make the NECC work experience “the best it can be” for the organization’s large LGBTQ+ population, which is why she took on a leadership role. “I believe our ERG, in particular, is fundamental,” said Kaya Chokshi-Fox, who co-leads the ERG with Lyons. “I know I am not the only person who has experienced being ostracized at my place of work for the sole reason of how I identify and whom I love. At NECC, I have felt the potential for a real sense of belonging, and that is something I want to grow and share.”
Leads: Diego Coyle Diez, core shift manager, Brewer Lane, Taylor Collins, MS, BCBA, ITT program specialist
Sponsor: Amy Geckeler, MS, BCBA, LABA, executive director of global consulting
Mental and physical health are crucial elements of a successful employee. The Wellness ERG aims to create an environment where staff can express concerns and work together to develop a viable solution to benefit all staff.
“Our group wants to find out what is challenging employees and come up with potential solutions,” said co-lead Diego Coyle Diez, who decided to help create and lead the ERG because he wanted to be part of the solution in helping spread wellness among NECC staff.
Coyle Diez believes that the Wellness Group is essential because while every company has its challenges, NECC staff might face more than most due to the nature of the job. “These challenges take a toll on employees at NECC, and if not targeted, they can become a negative aspect of working. By providing a safe setting in which employees can express these challenges and work together to find potential solutions and awareness, we can hopefully bring a sense of relief to everyone,” he added.
Coyle Diez shares that while the group’s goal is serious, the fun will still be involved. “I want the group also to have some fun aspect,” he said. “I want to determine what events and activities staff would enjoy and make them happen.”
Leads: Lauren Himmighoefer, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA, LABA, speech-language pathologist, ITT, Kim Ruscitti, Associate Director of Communications
Sponsor: Heather Morrison, MS, BCBA, LABA, director of administration
The Working Caregivers ERG initiative is intended to help NECC understand and address how to make the workplace one where caregivers can have the same career opportunities as non-caregiving employees.
“The Working Caregivers ERG was developed to provide a network of support and resources to fellow employees who face the unique challenges of being a working caregiver,” shared Himmighoefer. “It is an avenue for us to build solutions, advocate for needs to advance in the workplace, and contribute to the success of NECC’s mission and core values.”
The primary goal of the ERG is to create a space where all working parents and caregivers feel seen, heard, and supported by NECC’s administration and policies. However, the group isn’t just for parents; it’s designed to support anyone in a caregiving role (e.g., aging parents, spouses, grandparents, siblings, etc.). As parents of young children, the women know firsthand the challenges all parents and caregivers face when balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, and they felt compelled to represent others who may share similar experiences.
“It is essential that the workplace is equitable for everyone, no matter their circumstance or affiliation, and ERGs are one step toward NECC creating that balance for its employees,” said Himmighoefer.