Diversity & Inclusion

Affinity groups: good for employees, good for business

When Tanuj Gupta joined AstraZeneca in 2006, he didn’t know many of his coworkers. “When I found out there were Employee Network Groups, I thought it was a great way to meet more people within the company,” says the executive director of external medical relations. And it was: “I met a fantastic group of people and got involved in the core activities of the group.”

In 2007, those people asked Gupta to help lead the group, the South Asian Network, and he continues to do so today.The South Asian Network is one of AstraZeneca’s 16 Employee Network Groups (ENGs), which include several ethnic groups, an Eldercare ENG, a Military Support ENG, a Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual ENG, and a Special Needs Advocates ENG. (Incidentally, the groups with the highest memberships are the Women’s, African-American, and Chinese-American ENGs.)

“The benefits for the employees are several: opportunities to support one another and to share information, identify needs and produce programs and initiatives to address them, [and the] opportunity to grow personal and professional networks,” says Margaret Rivera, AstraZeneca’s senior manager of diversity. “ENG membership offers opportunities for public speaking, leadership, management, and multi-level interaction. Some managers have recognized these development opportunities and included ENG activities in employees’ performance plans, and ENG leaders have been recognized and rewarded for their work.”

But there are many business benefits for employers as well, she says. “Employee Network Groups can enhance recruitment, retention, and development of our workforce, and help drive aspects of the overall diversity strategy,” she explains, adding that the groups “also provide insights into the needs and wants of certain segments of the marketplace and provide information and support to the communities where we do business.”

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt that the affinity groups enhance AstraZeneca’s reputation and help drive employee engagement, Rivera concludes.

Flexibility and inclusion are vital

Most of AstraZeneca’s ENGs meet during lunchtime; on average, they meet bimonthly and more often when they are planning a major event, Rivera says.

Group activities include participating in volunteer opportunities in their communities outreach, holding network events internally and externally, developing mentoring programs, hosting lunch’n learn programs on a number of topics, and creating companywide forums on topics such as emerging healthcare issues.

“Your level of participation is up to you,” Gupta says. “At the lowest level of participation, you can be on our mailing list and receive notification of upcoming events and community service activities. At the highest level of participation, you can join our core team of leaders and help plan for 2008 and 2009.”

Membership in each group is voluntary and open to all employees. “Anyone can become a member of the South Asian Network, you do not have to be South Asian,” Gupta says.

And such people do join ENGs. Take Marian Caroselli. A member of the Clinical Quality Management department, Caroselli joined several ENGs, but is most involved in the Hispanic Network (HiNAZ).

“As a non-Hispanic, it has provided me with the opportunity to participate in a culture dear to my own heart and one of growing importance to the U.S. in general,” Caroselli says. “Within my work life I interact solely with those in my department. In a company the size of AZ this makes it easy to become myopic due to the intensity of our own day-to-day activities. Through an ENG such as HiNAZ, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about AZ as a whole while working with like-minded individuals to establish a strong affiliation between AstraZeneca and the Hispanic communities both inside and outside of AstraZeneca.”