How an Affinity Group Can Help Your Career
What’s an affinity group? Affinity groups bring together people with something in common, such as their background, identity, or interests. In the workplace, this could mean many things—a group for African American employees, for working moms, for women, for LGBTQ+ employees, or all sorts of other categories.
Sometimes, affinity groups are referred to by other names, including working groups, clubs, networking groups, or employee resource groups (ERGs).
Often, they’re associated with diversity initiatives. The idea here is that simply by having a group geared around a particular background, a company makes it clear that it’s welcoming to other people in that group. These groups, too, can work to improve problems—a women’s working group, for instance, might prioritize having more women in leadership roles or might brainstorm programs for women returning to the office after a maternity leave.
5 Reasons to Join an Affinity Group
If your company has affinity groups that are relevant to you, it’s certainly a good idea to join one—or consider starting one, if that’s something your company encourages. Here are some benefits you’ll gain from participating.
1. Connect with your community. Feel like there aren’t many people who are like you in the office? An affinity group is a place to meet and form relationships with colleagues who have a similar background/identity. Your peers may understand challenges and be able to offer advice and practical tips in a way that other colleagues or your direct manager cannot.
2. Deepen relationships and find mentors. Affinity groups are also a great opportunity to broaden your network, including forming friendships, adding people on LinkedIn, and meeting potential mentors. You may also connect and partner with people in similar communities beyond your company.
3. Gain knowledge. Participants in your group come from all areas of the company—that means interacting with people with very different job titles and responsibilities from your own. Not only can you learn about what people in other departments are working on, but you can get a glimpse of other leadership styles, too. This knowledge can be valuable.
4. Find leadership opportunities. Affinity groups often put on programs, arrange events, and invite speakers. You can lead up this efforts, which is a very visible way to show leadership and make your name known throughout the company. You may also find yourself using unfamiliar skills in an affinity group—for instance, maybe you’ll be responsible for writing newsletter updates for the group, while in your day-to-day work, you write code. Think of affinity groups as a potential source of professional development for you, depending on how you participate.
Plus, affinity groups sometimes steer or recommend company policy—that brings us to the next big advantage of joining an affinity group.
5. Implement changes and improvements. Do you want your company to ramp up minority hiring? Create a better transitional program for workers returning to the office after family leave? In an affinity group, you can do research (for instance, looking into how other, similar companies handle maternity leave) and make recommendations to the executive team. That is, instead of feeling frustrated or complaining about something at the office, you may be able to improve the situation!
If you’re on the fence about joining—or starting—an affinity group, keep these potential advantages of participation in mind. If you’d like to start an employee resource group that does not already exist at your company, reach out to people who might also be interested in forming the group, and then connect with your human resources department for help getting started.