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How affinity groups elevate us: lessons from self-isolation

May 11, 2020 - 794 views

How affinity groups elevate us: lessons from self-isolation

We need affinity groups now more than ever to help us deal with the curveballs that come our way and unite us with a common purpose.

There’s nothing like solitude to make us appreciate camaraderie. That’s why, especially during the self-isolation imposed by the pandemic, affinity groups are so important. In addition to shared experiences, they let us lean into missions that transcend the isolation of COVID-19. At a time when we need it most, they elevate us.

As I joined in on the recent meeting of our African American and Latinx Group (AALG), I was struck by the dedication, humor and show-must-go-on spirit. The monthly virtual sessions include speakers and provide updates from committees that work on recruiting and knowledge development. After the meeting, one member shared with me her enthusiasm for the community and the safe space it establishes for outreach.

We all need a tribe, especially in today’s extraordinary circumstances. But affinity groups aren’t just any tribe. They form around shared ethnicities, demographics and experiences, and then they put those common bonds to work in ways that make a difference for everyone. Several months ago, the AALG had an idea to celebrate this month’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I was moved by that openness to work together to lift us all up.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that the pandemic has galvanized our affinity groups. Both the Working Parents and Women Empowered groups have teamed up to produce and distribute webinars on home schooling. The Veterans group is persevering in its recruiting efforts through virtual job fairs. Embrace, our affinity group for LGBT+ associates and allies, has stepped up communications, hosting all-hands community meetings in the UK and Ireland and reaching out to local LGBT+ charities to find ways to help. Embrace is also grappling with COVID-19’s impact on Pride events, including the cancellation or postponement of 220 celebrations around the world, typically held in June.

The Chance to Be Part of Something Bigger

In our new study on belonging in the workplace, 60% of the 11,000 employees surveyed said affinity groups increase their sense of belonging. As we’ll all be working from home for the foreseeable future, the need to belong takes on added urgency. I’ve worked from a home office for more than six years, but the experience feels distinctly different during the pandemic’s self-isolation.

Like everyone, I value my colleagues more than ever, and I welcome any task that gets me out of the house and lets me safely social distance. (When my husband called recently to say he was at the service station and had forgotten his wallet, I couldn’t get in the car fast enough to drive it over to him.)

To be part of something bigger, however, is even more important, and that’s the strength of affinity groups. They help us to deal with the curveballs that sometimes come our way in the workplace, but their mission is to bring us together and connect in ways that go beyond our work. They teach us that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, we rock.

Self-isolation will eventually end. But you don’t have to wait until it does to expand your community. Reach out today and join an affinity group or start a new one. Because there’s nothing like purpose to raise us up.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

Maureen Greene James

Maureen is the North America leader of Inclusion and Leadership Development for Cognizant. Her professional background and...


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