King County Affinity Groups provide an opportunity for connection and impact
In July 2019, King County’s Executive Branch adopted a policy for employees to participate in Employee Resource Groups during their work time. These Employee Resource Groups, also called Affinity Groups, are led by employee volunteers, and are formed around protected categories set by local and federal anti-discrimination law. Some of the categories included are race, gender, and sexual orientation, among others.
“The groups promote equity and social justice, foster employee engagement, strengthen workplace effectiveness, improve leadership abilities, and enhance personal and professional growth within King County,” said Janine Anzalota, Equity and Civil Rights Manger in the Office of Equity and Social Justice.
Janine provides technical assistance to existing Affinity Groups, and to employees who are interested in starting new groups. She also manage the implementation of the Employee Resource/Affinity Group Policy on behalf of the Office of Equity and Social Justice. She explains that the groups each develop their own goals and actions, with the intent that these reflect and support the efforts of King County’s Equity and Social Justice plans.
“The groups established the longest are all race-based, but we have a new Military/Veterans group and an LGBTQ group that is forming,” she said.
The policy was implemented to ensure that Affinity Groups are accessible to all employees, not just those concentrated in Pioneer Square or the downtown Seattle corridor. The policy requires manager approval for employee participation, and ensures managers work with interested employees on ways to participate in the Affinity Groups while meeting their employment obligations.
Janine shares how meaningful it has been for employees to meet other people like themselves and work towards making an impact in their community. Each group is an opportunity for employees to come together from all over the county in a positive way to support goals and actions focused on equitable outcomes for groups they share an identity with.
“Employees who participate shared they have built genuine relationships with people they would have otherwise never had an opportunity to meet with,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for all the groups to come together and develop shared goals that further advance equity and social justice for the groups.”
The challenge in leading this work is finding employee volunteers interested in overseeing each group. Much of the work revolves around building relationships, but the groups require a leadership structure, charter, and development of workplans that support the County’s Equity and Social Justice Work. Although the policy allows for employees to use up to three work hours per month towards Affinity Group participation and six hours for group representatives, It can be challenging to get employees to volunteer for more work.
“There has been interest from staff across the County on gender-based and or other race-based groups, but we have more people who want to participate than we do volunteers to run the groups and stand up a leadership structure,” Janine explained.
For employees who do participate in leading the groups, the structure and ability to address inequities within their community, while also growing their professional development and contributing to their workplace, is empowering. Janine adds how Affinity Groups make a significant impact on improving workplace culture, morale, and overall belonging in the workforce.
“This is particularly important in our conversations about racial equity,” she said. “Native Americans and employees of color are underrepresented in some areas of the County’s workforce, and it is important for those employees to be able to network, support each other, and work together to develop goals and actions that support the communities they are a part of.”
This work has been ongoing for several years, as some of the race-based groups even predate the policy. The Native American Leadership Council is the longest running Affinity Group, and has been meeting for over five years. Other groups include the Asian Pacific Islander Affinity Group, the Black/African American Affinity Group, the Latinx Affinity Group, and the Anti-Racist White Action Goup.
Each one is working on a broad range of items, from building their memberships, to partnering with community organizations, to raising awareness on issues impacting their communities. The groups are open to all employees who are interested in participating. While employees who have multiple identities can participate in more than one group, the policy only provides a limited number of hours per month for employees to do so.
Janine shares that getting involved with the Affinity Groups is a chance to spend time making a visible impact with other employees who are passionate about their work, and about their communities.
“The groups all have an amazing group of Equity and Social Justice advocates who are not only leaders in their groups, but leaders in their work across the County,” she said. “These folks genuinely care for each other and want to support King County to continue to be a welcoming workplace that prioritizes Equity and Social Justice as a value and way of being.“
For more information about the policy and each groups, visit the Tools and Resources page on the Office of Equity and Social Justice website, and watch this video, below, about King County Affinity Groups.