Associate Impact Groups (AIGs) at Arvest Bank: A Blueprint for Transformative Employee Resource Groups that Promote Diversity, Equity, and InclusionFebruary 08, 2024 • Posted by Dustin Bro
By: Rachel Jessen, M.Ed., SHRM-CP, aPHR (NOARK Inclusion Committee Chair) with contributions from the Arvest People Team and BAAM! Associate Impact Group
Over the past several years, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have gained increased attention as an effective tool for organizations desiring to implement thriving DEI initiatives. Research into the role of Employee Resource Groups on employee wellbeing shows that organizations with active ERGs perform better because they foster an open, tolerant, and understanding environment in which self-expression among workers is more likely. Overall, current research demonstrates that ERGs are an excellent way of promoting inclusion within an organization (Human Resource Management International Digest, 2019). Other researchers focusing on Social Identity Theory in connection with Employee Resource Groups highlight the positives of ERGs including the elimination of hierarchy for participants, equal status among all members (Connelly & Kelloway, 2003, as cited in Welbourne et al., 2017), less inhibition at meetings because of a lack of fear of repercussions from those with more formal power, and the more formal governance processes that do exist tend to be relatively horizontal and run by group members (Welbourne et al., 2017). Many HR professionals are looking to collaborate with their employees and organizations to implement ERGs in their workplace but lack clear direction about how to get started.
Headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, Arvest Bank is a community-focused bank with branches spanning four states including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas. They are the largest bank in Arkansas with over 1,700 employees in Northwest Arkansas alone. In 2019, Arvest began implementing new DEI initiatives and one of the most important facets included establishing their own version of ERGs. Because their employees are known as “associates”, they decided to call their employee resource groups “Associate Impact Groups” or “AIGs”. They now have eight AIGs with unique names created by their own associates:
1. ArBilities and their allies (Individuals with Disabilities)
2. ArPride and their allies (LGBTQIA+)
3. ArVets and their allies (Veterans)
4. BAAM! and their allies (Black and African American)
5. Dreamcatchers and their allies (Native American)
6. HOLArvest and their allies (Hispanic and Latinx)
7. InspirAsians and their allies (Asian and Pacific Islander)
8. WOW and their allies (Women of Work)
The eight AIGs were formed through a consensus of identifying associate and community affinities that would help them expand their cultural awareness and enhance associate belonging. The AIGs were launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the high utilization of Zoom. Through the years, more in-person AIG engagement has come about. Zoom use is still very prominent since it allows them to connect with more associates. The organizational model for AIGs has recently expanded and now includes the Executive Sponsor, AIG Chair, Co-Chair, Membership Lead, and Regional Communications Lead. Ensuring the AIGs have the proper support is critical to maintaining the energy and quality of programming that delivers results and a sense of pride for everyone involved. And Arvest’s DEI initiatives benefit from the leadership of Arvest’s Chief DEI Officer Cinthya Allen.
In 2022, Forbes magazine named Arvest as one of The Best Employers for Diversity largely due to the success of their AIGs. This award confirmed to Arvest associates that their work to support, engage, and believe in the power of an inclusive workforce matters. The recognition unleashed a level of energy and commitment by their AIGs by reaffirming their employees represent an organization committed to all associates and communities.
In honor of February as Black History month, we asked associates involved in Arvest’s Black and African American AIG (BAAM!) to share more about their experiences and the work they are doing. One of the group’s goals is to proactively educate associates about the rich tapestry of the Black and African American culture. They work collaboratively with leadership to build an inclusive and equitable workplace. Beyond the workplace, BAAM! actively involves its members in various community activities, fostering a sense of shared responsibility. Additionally, the group enhances knowledge through impactful educational webinars, ensuring a well-rounded approach to making a meaningful impact on multiple fronts. Here are a few examples of BAAM! work:
• Hosts a monthly DEI learning collective series called “Time to Talk” with sessions that offer associates the opportunity to learn about the Black and African American experience in a safe and welcoming environment.
• Partnered with Human Resources to update the dress code to include natural hair to increase inclusivity by updating the Arvest dress code policy to remove subjective terms and added emphasis on inclusion by stating, “Arvest prohibits discrimination and cultural insensitivity on race-based hair styles and texture, and the right to keep hair in natural, protective styles.”
• Sponsored the Crown of Hope in Northwest Arkansas, an organization that supports cancer patients, by purchasing 200 wigs that met crucial need for Latina and Black hair.
• Donated culturally supported books and purchased classroom supplies for three teachers at Scholormade Unified Academics in Little Rock, AR.
• Donated money to support the Boys and Girls Club food program of Oklahoma and Missouri.
• Conducted a winter HBCU Clothing Drive for students in need at the Langston University Tulsa campus.
• Led a Coffee Break discussion on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) where they outlined the importance and the impact of the CRA.
• Educated associates on the history and traditions of Juneteenth.
We also asked Arvest associates involved with BAAM! to share how this employee-led group has affected them on a personal and professional level. BAAM! Co-Chair L. Redmon feels group members can use their creativity to bring awareness to issues and topics regarding the Black and African American community. Redmon shared, “It has been very fulfilling to hear our associates challenge their personal biases, make connections from past and present marks in history, and envision ways we can help make our world more inclusive - all while celebrating #BlackExcellence. I have been able to network with senior leadership, gain advice on how to tackle difficult situations, all while gaining a few friends along the way. My communication and strategic skills are put to the test monthly with our membership meetings and plethora of events BAAM! is working on throughout the year. It's safe to say I am changing people's lives in small ways, and I owe that to BAAM!.” Arvest associate F. Tchameni mentioned how the Arvest AIG Program and BAAM! in particular has quickly grown into a cornerstone of the Arvest culture. Tchameni feels groups like BAAM! have the ability to turn their culture into something tangible, not just as a program or group, but as a dynamic force that may transform a workplace into a community. Tchameni shared that through BAAM!, he was able to deepen relationships and share the essences of the group’s collective mission.
Arvest associate B. Shepherd shared how BAAM! has allowed her to have a voice and work toward the future in making communities unified. Other associates like M. Reese and S. Moore feel that the BAAM! AIG has provided a safe space for them to communicate their ideas and connect with individuals with similar experiences, challenges, and aspirations. Moore shared that BAAM! functions as an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity by challenging stereotypes and misconceptions. She elaborated, “This increased awareness has enriched my perspective and boosted my self-esteem and sense of identity. Additionally, BAAM!’s advocacy for equal opportunities and representation has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth. Their efforts to dismantle systemic barriers and promote diversity have opened doors for me and others like me. This has allowed me to access previously inaccessible opportunities, enabling me to reach my full potential.”
In 2024 BAAM! is launching an associate professional development program. Their goal is to provide a pathway to success for their members. These programs include business acumen, upskilling, and networking events. HR professionals seeking to implement ERGs within their own organizations can look to the work of Arvest’s AIGs as a model in how to help their employees feel supported in their personal, professional, and collective growth and development.
Learn more about the impact of BAAM! on Arvest associates at Black History Month with BAAM! Associate Impact Group. And to learn more about Arvest’s DEI initiatives and Associate Impact Groups, check out their Arvest DEI web page, through these Social Media Post links, or email eat1@eau1eav1eaw1:">eat1@eau1eav1eaw1:
Are you a human resource professional seeking to find a role within an organization committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives? Check out this link to Arvest’s career postings today to see if they have any current openings!
Resources on Black History Month:
• Black History Month: Go Beyond Ticking a Box
• The Black Experience at Work in Charts
• Black History Month: Go Beyond Ticking a Box SHRM Article February 2023
• Six Tips To Help Your Company Celebrate Black History Month In A Meaningful Way Forbes Article
• Go beyond Black History Month: How HR can Help Keep Up Diversity Initiatives All Year HR Morning Article
ERGs (employee resource groups) benefit employee wellbeing. (2019). Human Resource Management International Digest, 27(1), 45–46. https://doi.org/10.1108/HRMID-02-2019-0028
Welbourne, T. M., Rolf, S., & Schlachter, S. (2017). The case for employee resource groups: A review and social identity theory-based research agenda. Personnel Review, 46(8), 1816–1834. https://doi.org/10.1108/PR-01-2016-0004