October 2010

In this issue:

Video Gaming Drives Home Safety Lessons

Workplace disasters and fatalities have multiple causes and seem hard to predict and foresee. But most—oil spills, explosions, fires, chemical spills, combustible dust—can be traced to some breach of human, technical, and organizational defenses. At a recent meeting of the ORC Networks Western OSH Group, representatives of Alcoa shared how they developed a cutting-edge safety training tool to help shore up the human element in those defenses.

Alcoa SafeDock, developed by Alcoa with Etcetera Edutainment, uses gaming technology to simulate hazards in a loading dock environment. "As a leader in safety, Alcoa searches for pioneering ways to reinforce its safety messages with employees," said Jamie Mackay, manager, Sustainability & EHS Management Systems, Alcoa. "When we look ahead to tomorrow's generation of employees, we know that they will be used to interacting through computers and will have grown up in the era of video games, the Internet, and virtual environments. What we need to do is apply the lessons learned more aggressively and consistently by constructing a sustainable process to pass on our institutional knowledge about historical fatalities to the next generation."

Alcoa SafeDock is being developed to supplement, not replace, existing classroom safety training at Alcoa business locations. Unlike traditional training, Alcoa SafeDock lets the participant get behind the wheel, virtually, in simulated scenarios. "Because it's a virtual environment, everyone ultimately walks away injury-free — despite the error traps and latent conditions embedded in the training tool to represent potential hazards one might encounter in a real-life scenario. The game essentially helps the player develop a better understanding of how to identify hazards and respond accordingly," said Jeff Schuldt, senior vice president, Etcetera Edutainment.

Another program allows electricians-in-training to visualize what happens when you make a mistake while working with something that's energized. "Visualize, for example, an employee not wearing protective gear when hit with a 35,000-degree Fahrenheit electrical arc. It's a more powerful way to learn than watching a PowerPoint presentation", Schuldt said.

The OSH Group and Western OSH Groups are ORC Networks for corporate Health, Safety, & Environmental leaders. The OSH Groups help companies manage their programs more effectively, meet critical compliance obligations in global operations, and control workplace risks. For more information, contact Judi Freyman, or visit our EH&S web pages. Online demos of Etcetera Edutainment's video game training can be found at

How the Dodd-Frank Act Will Impact Financial Services—And Beyond

In an interview published August 10, 2010, in Diversity Executive magazine, Nita Beecher, leader of the Employment Law & Litigation Group, explained some of the implications of the new legislation.

The law requires that nine federal agencies with oversight responsibility for the finance sector set up an office of minority and women inclusion which will establish diversity standards for the companies it regulates. " 'What's a little tricky is ... all federal contractors already have an obligation under [Executive Order] 11246 to ensure that women and minorities are given a fair opportunity to participate in the workforces of federal contractors,' Beecher said."

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) requires government contractors to submit affirmative action plans annually. One as yet unanswered question about the Dodd-Frank Act is whether similar or other reporting will be required.

But the main thrust of the legislation is to ensure that qualified women and minorities have the same opportunities in the industry as white men. Some of the controversy over the bill stems from the fear that quotas will be imposed. "'…whenever women and minorities are called out in regulations, there are people who believe that quotas are being required,'" Beecher noted.

"'This is not a zero-sum game,' she explained. 'I believe, and I think the government believes, and I think people in diversity believe, that there are barriers out there that are very difficult for women and minorities to overcome. Those barriers are difficult to dig out, unconscious bias being one of the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's] favorites right now.'"

"I see this as an opportunity to work with these companies that have traditionally not shown a lot of progress on how they can take a lemon and make lemon juice out of it. This is an opportunity to develop more individuals, to create more diversity of thought within organizations, and perhaps [to] save us from another economic meltdown by having people who have a broader view of the world in the organization to perhaps make better decisions."

In addition to the new law, employers in all industries are being challenged by OFCCP to show that their outreach efforts are producing results in terms of representation of women and minorities. "Beecher said there has always been a little competition between diversity and compliance functions, but the new legislation offers both sides an opportunity to work together — in conjunction with talent managers — to accomplish the ultimate goal of a more diverse workplace."

Nita Beecher leads ORC Networks' Employment Law & Litigation Group (ELLG) and the Global Workplace Compliance Network and co-leads the U.S.-based diversity group, the Workforce Opportunity Network. She works with employers to audit their equality, diversity, and compensation programs for effectiveness and compliance with legal requirements. Ms. Beecher has more than 25 years' experience in labor and employment law, particularly with class investigations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

Preliminary Study Results Show Employee Resource Groups Evolving and Thriving

Fears that employee resource groups (ERGs, aka affinity groups, employee networks) might become irrelevant in the supposedly post-feminist, post-racial generation of the millennials are proving unfounded, according to a new study by Mercer's Global Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion practice area (formerly part of ORC Worldwide). The study found that many companies are experiencing a resurgence of enthusiasm for ERGs—both those organized around traditional affinities such as race and gender and newer groups that are self-consciously inclusive, such as multicultural and multigenerational groups, or that are based on common interests such as the environment.

Companies are committing substantial resources to ERGs, both in money and in time spent by diversity staff and executive supporters. Median annual budget for ERGs reported by participants was $3,429 per every 100 ERG members; many companies are spending well into six figures every year. Perhaps even more impressively, companies are applying significant staff time to making the groups effective. On average, companies have 1.4 employees (FTEs) dedicated to the management, coaching, and coordination of their ERGs, not to mention the time spent by executive sponsors and others who coach and train ERG officers, meet with the groups, participate in events, and so forth.

What is to account for this renewed enthusiasm for employee resource groups? Some attribute it to the personality of millennials, who seem to be very comfortable working collaboratively and using the social media that allows ERGs to expand across geographies. Others tell us that they have invested considerable effort in communicating with new hires and tenured employees about the group and have seen membership rise as a result of increased exposure. But the most important reason ERGs are enjoying such a renaissance seems to arise out of a natural evolution in their raison d'être.

When ERGs start out in most organizations, they tend to focus on mutual support for the members and, sometimes, education of the organization about the members' culture and/or how they experience the workplace. Over the years, mature ERGs have expanded their activities to make substantive contributions to the success of the business, by providing insights to the market, teaching colleagues the nuances of doing business in various locales around the world, acting as brand ambassadors to their communities, or polishing the company's reputation through community service. The more the groups get involved in solving real-time business problems, the more visible they become in the organization, and the more excited employees become about participating.

While this pattern seems to hold true in a variety of organizations and industries, the study has found some difference in practices depending on location. ERGs are a newer phenomenon in Europe and other parts of the world, and it remains to be seen whether they follow the same maturation curve. It is possible these groups may leapfrog their American cousins, learning from their experiences, and we can expect that they'll develop distinctive strategies and practices as they respond to the cultures and business needs in their own home regions. One of the most exciting prospects for global companies will be to see how the networks in different parts of the organization can collaborate to expand their reach and influence.

The Employee Resource Group Survey has been partially underwritten by Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. For more information about the study or to request a copy of the final report, contact







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