Maximus leaders elevate diversity, equity and inclusion through employee resource groups
In late 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maximus introduced a new leader into its ranks. Dr. Arvenita Washington Cherry came to Maximus as a director and used her experience in academia and working with underserved populations to hit the ground running to build the company's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) program.
Now, two years later, Cherry leads the program as Vice President of DE&I within the Office of the CEO. She explains how Maximus' new employee resource group (ERG) program was implemented and how she and Brian Clarke, Senior Manager of DE&I, hope to grow the program.
Where did the idea of having ERGs at Maximus come from?
Cherry: During the interview process, the topic of ERGs was discussed as being central to developing a DE&I strategy. This is something employees expressed they wanted, and some employees were working to formalize a couple of unofficial groups around the organization before COVID-19, but no formal ERGs.
We brought on Brian Clarke in July 2021 because we specifically wanted someone with experience with employee resource groups and mentorship programs in the DE&I space. We needed someone to "own" the ERGs and build them from the ground up.
Clarke: My professional career has been interesting and unconventional. You don't go to college for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many DE&I professionals are called into this work. I went to law school and really wanted to be an advocate. Throughout my career, I noticed how there was such a disparity between how people of color were being treated within the workforce. This is my fourth DE&I role since entering this specialty in 2017.
Dr. Cherry and I have really tried to be intentional in giving access and providing the top opportunities that people need to grow here but also trying to socialize the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and how it's observed. It's owned by all of us here at Maximus.
How do you create an ERG program?
Clarke: I've previously worked with companies to establish employee resource groups. It was important for me to start small. I think a lot of times companies want to start ERGs and have five or six. To support healthy growth, I wanted to ensure that there was interest first, and then I tried to assess the landscape at Maximus. I had to get buy-in from stakeholders and leaders, put together the ERG application rubric, and the Application Review Committee.
Cherry: We identified 14 different potential ERGs, but we wanted to get it right. Starting an ERG is labor-intensive and we want to set them up for success. We settled on six and launched three earlier this year through an application process: Black Alliance, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Women of Excellence (WE). We are hoping to launch another three between November and March, which will include Maximo (Hispanic/Latinx), Prism (LGBTQIA+), and VETS (Veterans). It's exciting that so many employees are engaged and that we have so many leaders who want to be sponsors of the ERGs. It's an exciting time for Maximus.
Are ERGs exclusive to employees who share a certain identity, or can anyone join?
Cherry: You do not have to share the group's identity to be a part of that group. However, it helps if you are prepared to support the topics or the challenges that come up that are related to that group. For example, we have men who are part of our WE ERG. They're not women but believe in equity for women and our allies. The group is centered around women, but employees who don't identify as women are welcome to be at the table. It's the same for any ERGs representing a particular identity or affinity. You can care about issues that are not necessarily your own.
Clarke: Becoming an allied member of an ERG allows other employees to understand and see topics through a different lens – gender, race, or other life experience. ERGs are already starting to work together on cultural conversations and other joint meetings so we can all grow together.
What do you hope the ERG will bring in the next few years?
Clarke: I'm hoping that they will bring access to voices that are typically marginalized. We've heard the cliché, "strength in numbers," but I look at how they're growing already. Launching the first three ERGs allowed us to establish a framework and a strategic vision of the different ways in which Maximus could support them.
I want the ERGs to be a place where voices are heard. Your professional self and your personal identity can be exhibited through different cultural events, workshops, and career and professional development. Those are important. In the coming years, we'll have gained so much ground that it won't be just a brand-new idea, but the groups will be interwoven into the fabric of the Maximus culture.
As we grow, we're hoping that people continue to buy in. We want to be the employer of choice for people. We're just excited about the direction. We're excited about the strategic vision and we're excited about how the company has embraced not only diversity, equity, and inclusion, but specifically the employee resource groups. And we're looking to get more involvement and to make sure that people have a place where again, they could bring the professional and the personal self to work.