Webinar on Frontline Employee Engagement with ERGs
Key topics: Frontline Employees at Amtrak, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Amtrak, ERG Management – Amtrak Team Structure, Events and Activities, Challenge and solutions of engaging with Frontline Employees, Future of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at Amtrak, Insights for Diversity Managers
Frontline Employee Engagement with ERGs: Webinar Transcript
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Hello everyone! Thank you for joining Teleskope’s webinar on Frontline Employee Engagement with ERGs. I'm Priyanka Gujar and I lead Marketing at Teleskope. Teleskope is an Employee Community platform and it enables Employee Resource Group management, Mentoring, Employee communication and a lot more. Today we have with us Joshua Dantzler from Amtrak. Thank you, Joshua, for taking time out for this webinar and if you could just give us a quick introduction.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Yes, thank you Priyanka. Hello everyone! My name is Joshua Dantzler. My pronouns are he/him and his and I'm the Senior Diversity Inclusion Belonging Specialist here at Amtrak.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Awesome. Thank you. So, to begin with, the topic it's Frontline Employee Engagement with ERGs. So, just to understand what do you mean by Frontline employees at Amtrak? You know, how are they different from corporate employees? What percentage of the workforce are Frontline employees? And also, you know, do they have specific challenges when it comes to inclusion and belonging. If you could just shed some light on that Joshua.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Happy to. So, as you mentioned what are frontline employees at Amtrak are also known as our agreement covered employees and so those agreement covered employees are group of folks who are covered and governed by collective bargaining agreements. So, examples of these folks could be Assisted Passenger Conductors, Coach cleaners, Service attendants, Redcap employees, employees who open our baggage, and of course like Ticket agents and things. So, these folks again are covered by collective bargaining agreements and they work on our frontline, they're engaging with our clients and our customers, they're engaging with our communities.
At the end of last year, we were able to see that our agreement employees represented about 83% of our workforce. So, a majority of our workforce. We employ over 20000 folks, and so big, obviously, percentage of our workforce 83% is our agreement employees. With this subset of employees, in this workforce, they aren't tethered to an office like myself or they're not tethered to a 9 to 5 kind of schedule. They don't have access to being on computers all day or being on devices and they're really working to help move our people where they want to go and connecting folks to communities.
So, with that in mind, duty does call. And so, when we talk about our challenge or we think about challenges related to respect to the inclusion and belonging, oftentimes their hours and their shifts and some requirements don't always allow them the flexibility or the opportunity to participate in some of our programs and initiatives. But we're working on that and happy to share a little more later on in this webinar.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Thank you Joshua. So, the second part of you know the
topic which is Employee Resource Groups. So, now that I understand, you know, 83%
of your workforce is frontline employees. So, basically your Employee Resource Groups are for your Frontline employees. So, could you let us know you know how the journey of Amtrak began with respect to Employee Resource Groups? A brief overview of the ERGs. That would be great.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Yes, and so I love talking about ERGs, our Employee Resource Groups are near and dear to my heart. I get to manage them and I love the work that they do to really connect, contribute and build community throughout our company. You're right, we're on a journey. We're been on this journey since 2020 and so we knew as a result of listening sessions that took place then, and Employee Engagement Surveys that went out, and the result of what was happening in the world, that we knew that we needed to implement Employee Resource Groups, to really have these groups started and established, so that employees could again connect, contribute and build community.
We knew from those results, and from those surveys and from those feedback, not just corporate but agreement too, that there was a desire for a more connected and collaborative workforce, there was a desire for inclusivity and there was a desire for allowing voices to be heard. And so, our ERGs do that. They're all voluntary. They're for employees, by employees, led by employee teams, which we'll speak about a little bit later or I can speak about a little bit later but they're so great and you know they're growing.
We started the first 7 in 2021 and then added another one in 2022. And so, in this two-year time, 8% of our workforce is comprised of Employee Resource Groups and so that's from the east to the west to the northeast down south, and so really doing the meaningful work to really build community.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Yeah, that's great and you know it's just been about two years since you started your ERG journey, right? So, how did you all get the you know the word out for Employee Resource Groups in the company? How did frontline employees know about what will happen and how they could be involved?
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: So, a strong partnership with our communications functions at Amtrak. So, a lot of communications but also being able to leverage existing programs like New Employer Orientation. So, all new employees go through a New Employer Orientation and it's so great to be able to have that New Employer Orientation to give a first introduction to ERGs at Amtrak, to give a first introduction about our programs and what takes place so that, you know, folks can find out about it, know about it and excited about it. Once they are excited and they know what's happening, when we re-tell them about the event or when we introduce a new event or initiative, they'll already know it and they already know that ‘Hey, I heard this in orientation and now I actually get to see one of these events or one of these ERGs put on something that I could be a part of and participate in.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That's awesome. So, they join the workforce, they know about ERGs and that's where they’re already engaged from the start. The next question is about the team that manages Employee Resource Groups. You know, we understand it's like 20000 employees. So, what kind of team takes care of just the ins and outs and you know managing the events. Like you mentioned ERG leads are like voluntary positions but like the DEI team and this kind of structure. So, what are we looking at in terms of team structure.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Yep. So, I'll start first with the Diversity Inclusion & Belonging team. We are a small but mighty team of passionate professionals led by Georgette Butcher, who's the Director of Diversity Inclusion and Belonging at Amtrak. She reports to Jody Moore, who's the Senior Director of Inclusion and Culture. But on Georgette's immediate team, the team that I sit on, there’s myself who manages our ERGs, and then we have two managers and then a specialist who supports not only our team but also Employee Engagement.
Thinking about our ERGs, specifically about how they manage themselves, how they lead, they're comprised of 6 leadership positions. And so, we knew that it would be great to have 6 strong, core positions to lead these ERGs. So, that consists of a Chair, a Co-chair, a Vice Chair, a Communications Coordinator, a Treasurer, a Membership Coordinator and an Event Coordinator. Now those 6 folks, they have committees to support them and their work that they do. But the positions of the leadership teams are 6 positions. And each ERG is sponsored by Executive Sponsors and Executive Sponsors are members of our Executive Leadership Team or our Senior Leadership team, so our ELT and SLT. So, we have folks all the way from our CEO to our CFO or our Chief Human Resource Officer who are executive sponsors to our ERGs and their leadership teams.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That sounds great. I mean it's a really solid structure in place that you have there. And I was wondering do you have tools and technology that you have used because, you know, frontline employees, connecting with them would be kind of more challenging than just connecting with employees who are in specific
office locations, right? So, how did you all navigate those waters?
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: So, you mentioned earlier you know we're on a journey and some things were quick to us in our journey. One of those things was the administrative burden that comes with managing and leading ERGs. We shared earlier that they're voluntary at Amtrak, independent of any department. And so, with that voluntary role, how could we help alleviate those burdens, those pain points of managing ERGs.
So, we procured Teleskope and we're so happy that we procured Teleskope. We procured it this year, so in April after going through, you know, the RFP process and after going through a full integration we were able to now launch our ERG platform through you all at Teleskope. And so, we've been able to see truly benefits already. You know, even right now, you know in the short months that we've had, we'll be able to see an increase in membership and increase engagement from our employees because of the benefits, specifically even around not having emails per se. And so, we know that our employees, who are frontline, often don't have email or access to emails and so they're able to use a dummy email feature that Teleskope provides so they can still check into an event, they still can RSVP to do something, they still can see what's going on and that awareness can then translate to participation which can translate to engagement. And so, you know, having sourced and procured Teleskope has been a really good advantage to us and we look forward to really being able to see you know how we can continue to utilize it in the years to come knowing that we now have this tool and technology to our advantage and at our fingertips.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Yeah, that's great. Thanks Joshua. So, I was just wondering if, you know, you've had ERG events or engagements or initiatives that you had this year maybe some success stories that really stood out in connecting with frontline employees?
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Two come at the top of my mind and I'll take us back to June you know, I said we launched Teleskope back in April and June we're able to see, you know, that impact right there. And so, we have a lot of Heritage History months that happen throughout the year particularly around the summer. The summer is a busy time for us at Amtrak, as I imagine for many of you as well. And so, you know two events that we saw a great impact, one was Juneteenth and so our APR which is our Black and African-American and Allies Employee Resource Group, APR was able to host their third Juneteenth program. But what was different this year was that it took place at different agreement worksite locations in addition to being hybrid and so, we were able to see you know participation. Meeting folks where they are. So, where those frontline employees are, we met them there. We were able to have food, we were able to showcase on the screen, that was taking place virtually so that they could participate in the hybrid fashion. And so, you know, having that happen throughout our worksites and having throughout the network was really great and able to you know participate and do that.
The second that comes to mind is our Pride event. So, our Express Pride, which is our LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group and allies they were able to partner with other Amtrak internal partners to sponsor Pride events that took place in both Washington DC and Chicago, Illinois. And so, we were able to have a pre-pride party. So, the group had ‘Prarbeques’ so Pride-Barbeques where they were able to serve over 300 employees at both agreement facilities and was able to talk about Pride, to showcase the events that were taking place those particular weekends, to introduce them, to showcase themselves and the group as a resource for those employees to bring visibility, right. Visibility is so important and so it's important for those employees to know that their employees will identify with them and can identify with them and support them and or are allies to them. And so, it was great to, you know. grill some hot dogs, grill some hamburgers, grill some veggie dogs and to have folks, you know, partake in that experience and to meet them again where they are.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Yeah, that sounds like fun and you know, you mentioned you know, the Frontline employees have long work hours. So, this this is kind of like an oasis for them to actually just connect with you know each other as well. One of the challenges you mentioned, you know, in the first few questions was just getting that time on their calendar, right. Because they work different hours sometimes. So just wondering how is Amtrak navigating that challenge?
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: You know, it is a challenge and we're constantly looking at solutions to that challenge. One solution that we have seen is communication. It’s so important that we're able to communicate with their day managers their supervisors early and often. And so, that communication is something that we've been trying to model and trying to do. And thanks to Teleskope, we're able to see you know a true insight through our Global Calendar, our Global Feed calendar of what's happening, what's going on, whether initiatives are taking place, maybe not in the next week or two but maybe in the next month or the next two months.
And so, we're getting in that habit and the routine and having communication again with those managers, having communication with those supervisors, having communication with our Labor Relations team, really giving them insight and awareness, so that they can then provide their employees flexibility, understanding and availability when they can. Of course, it's not going to be the only solution and it is not the a one and done approach and again we're looking at things and figuring out others short and long-term solutions from a policy standpoint. But we do know that communication has served us well. Being able to talk to those day managers and being able to be in community with them and let them know things that are taking place early and often.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Yeah, that that makes sense and yeah, I just wanted to understand from you, you know, you'll have just begun, it's been two years since your ERG program began, but what does it look like for the future and what kind of impact are you looking to create with the power of Employee Resource Groups?
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: So much. We're looking forward to the future. I get excited thinking about the growth that's already taking place these past two years and the growth that I know that will already take place. And so, you know we mentioned at the top of the call that 8% of our workforce is a part of ERGs. In the next five years, that's going to be double, without a doubt. And so, you know my main focus is not just about increasing participation, because participation is important, but increasing active participation. And so, you know that is something that is near and dear to my heart how can we not only have them involved but also active.
Our ERG leadership team positions are open to all employees. Our only requirement is that you are in good standing with the company. And so, it doesn't matter if you are a Senior Director or a Station Manager, you can be a leader within our ERGs. And so specifically, Phil Martin, for the past two years served as an Assistant Passenger Conductor which is a Frontline employee position. Phil has since transitioned to now training Assistant Passenger Conductors but Phil is our Chair for our Employees with Disabilities ERG. And so, you know, we have participation or we've had participation from a leadership team standpoint from leaders who are frontline and so I want to see that increase. I want to see those leadership positions increase. I want to see more for our employees again not to become members of our ERGs but involve the leadership positions, through initiatives being driven and supported by them. And I know that that once they are active in our ERGs and engage with our ERGs, that will only translate to being active and engaged on their day job and active and engaged in Amtrak, a place where they not only want to stay but also grow their career as well.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That really sounds truly inclusive, you know, the way you’ll have structured and involved everybody. So yeah, I just wanted to know if there are some last thoughts that you want to leave our viewers with, especially, you know diversity managers like yourself. Some pointers from what you've learned at Amtrak.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Yes, so, you know just want to really re-emphasize the importance of communication. Begin that communication now, you know, begin that communication with your employees, begin that communication with their day managers and be able to see you know what you can do and what can happen in regards to little steps that can that can include them into your strategy into your employee resource groups initiatives.
Begin that conversation but also think about how you can leverage existing things and resources and platforms that are already occurring. And so, I've shared how we leverage our existing New Employer Orientation, we've also leveraged other corporate initiatives like our Safety Fairs and our HR Roadshows. So, find out ways you can leverage things to get the word out to meet them where they are.
It's so important to be visibly there and to show up so they can see you see what you're doing see the things that that you're working on. And then keep trying. It's a trial and error and so that's what we're doing here at Amtrak. We're trying things, we're seeing what's working, we're assessing what we're doing, we're doing feedback surveys and we're looking at our metrics but we're trying and we know that through trial and error we're going to be able to really carry and be great and get to a great result through that. And so, I wish you all on your journey and support you all as you look at, you know, how you can engage with your Frontline employees through ERGs.
Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That's perfect, Joshua and I'm sure the viewers learned a lot, especially those who are just beginning their journeys and are really inspired by, you know, where Amtrak is and where it's going to be five years from now as well. So, thank you once again for sharing your knowledge as well as taking the time out today.
Joshua Dantzler [Amtrak]: Thank you so much, Priyanka