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The ABCs of ERGs: Interviewing the Leader of Riverside’s Power of Lived Experience Group

The ABCs of ERGsRiverside Community Care launched four Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) as part of our Diversity & Inclusion strategic plan. Riverside marketer Jake Donofrio met with Louie Mackie, current Chair of the Power of Lived Experience ERG, to learn more about how the POLE ERG supports employees, benefits the organization, and empowers individuals to draw strength from hardships.


The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Jake Donofrio: Hi Louie, I’m glad we were able to connect for this interview! Let’s jump right into it – tell me about yourself.


Louie Mackie: Hi Jake! I’m the Chair of Riverside’s Power of Lived Experience (POLE) ERG and a Technology Navigator for our Developmental and Cognitive Services division. I’ve been with Riverside for about six years and held multiple roles throughout my time with the organization.


Since graduating from school with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, I’ve had a driving force to work in the mental health field, help people with disabilities, and do my part to reduce the stigma that can be associated with mental health. In my free time, you can find me playing Dungeons and Dragons, trying to get back in touch with my creative side, listening to live music, and doing the best I can to work on myself daily.


JD: What is an ERG?


LM: ERGs, or Employee Resource Groups, are voluntary employee-run groups commonly formed around a shared characteristic or experience. Generally, they’re tied to aspects of gender identity, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or specific disabilities.


These groups are meant to increase cultural competence in a company, foster community for potentially marginalized populations, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.


JD: What does the “Power of Lived Experience” mean to you?


LM: When I’m talking about lived experience, I’m referring to mental health, substance use, and/or neurodivergent experiences, whether through ourselves or a loved one.


Our name originated from the fact that these are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives, and there is definitely a lot of strength and power that we can draw from our experiences.


JD: How do ERGs benefit employees?


LM: ERGs help employees form connections outside of their current team. Riverside is a large organization, and ERG meetings provide safe spaces for people of similar communities to discuss their shared experiences. POLE offers personal and professional growth opportunities, and we’re always looking to add more.


Additionally, we’ve hosted events to benefit employees. For the last two years, our ERG has arranged for a speaker to provide self-care trainings for Riverside personnel.


If someone is looking for additional help, ERG leaders know to point them toward Riverside’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) as a resource that could provide more information about support that falls outside of the ERG’s scope.

JD: And now, from the organization’s perspective, how do ERGs benefit a company?


LM: ERGs actively support diversity and inclusion. As people find and embrace new communities, the increased sense of belonging will likely help with retention efforts.


Also, ERGs provide a communication structure between leadership and potentially marginalized groups. Though ERGs are not able to amend company policies and aren’t responsible for implementing organization-wide changes, we can drive change through communication with our executive sponsor, Amie Sica, who relays our feedback to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.


JD: Are ERGs open to everyone or only available to members of a specific identity?


LM: Riverside’s ERGs are open to all employees up to the Director level. You don’t need to publicly identify with any of the groups associated with the ERGs. And if you want to attend a meeting but don’t feel comfortable talking about your own experience, that’s perfectly fine.


You are welcome to come to join us as an ally. You are welcome to come and just observe. A core component of our ERG is that everyone deserves to feel welcomed. Employees can join our meetings by emailing and expressing interest.


JD: As Chair, what do you hope to accomplish?


LM: I want lived experience to be openly accepted as often (or more!) than it is hidden.


I never envisioned discussing my mental health challenges at work when I first joined Riverside. I thought that would be inappropriate, and honestly, I was a little ashamed. One of my goals is to make sure other employees never experience that hardship.


When members of Riverside’s leadership team shared aspects of their lived experience at one of our POLE events, their candor resonated with a lot of people. We’re excited to continue taking similar steps toward demystifying lived experiences.


Really though, I just want to do right by my fellow employees.


JD: Can you share a particularly impactful moment that occurred within your ERG?


LM: Definitely! During our 2021 POLE celebration, an employee passionately spoke about how the ERG helped them find their voice and gain the confidence to speak up for themselves.


That powerful moment left a lasting impression because it truly surprised me. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the ERG was helping to facilitate that employee’s growth.


That was the first time I sat there and went, OK, this particular moment – that’s what it’s all about.


Riverside is committed to actively supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Follow the link to learn more about our ERGs. ________________________________________________________________________________________________

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