Join the Club?

Esi Eggleston is the first female African American general manager of the Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G). In 2003, her brands — Sure, Secret, and Old Spice — contributed over $700 million in global annual sales to P&G’s net sales of $43 billion. Beyond hard work and a willingness to relocate as needed, Eggleston attributes part of her success to active participation in the company’s Black Advertising Leadership Team (BALT), an employee networking group for African Americans in marketing.

The group was 2 years old when she joined in 1991. “I can’t even imagine being in this company if not for BALT,” Eggleston offers. “I was just a brand manager when I served as its leader between 1997 and 2000. I had the opportunity to interact with and present to a level of management I would not have had access to otherwise — including the then-president of P&G. More importantly, BALT gave me a network of people like myself that helped me enhance my performance and make a bigger difference in the business.”

According to Edie Fraser, president of Diversity Best Practices (DBP), “Sixty-eight percent of large U.S. corporations have employee networks or affinity groups.” DBP is a public-relations organization whose client list — or members, as Fraser calls them — includes top CEOs, human resource representatives, and diversity officers, representing 140 organizations like Citigroup and Coca-Cola. Members share data and resources on what is working in diversity and, according to Fraser, “then steal shamelessly from each other.

“Affinity groups are increasingly the key to forwarding a company’s diversity agenda,” continues Fraser. “There are groups for Hispanics, Muslims, women, the disabled, Italians, etc. Many are now subdivided by functional areas such as finance or marketing. Beyond networking, they work with senior management to develop metrics on diversity progress, on recruiting and retention, they identify new markets, serve as external ambassadors, and participate in sales and advertising efforts. They meet regularly with presidents, CEOs, and even the board of directors. Some firms provide financial incentives to group members who bring in new hires or contribute to successful sales campaigns.” BALT is one of more than 70 P&G affinity groups in the U.S.

Today, Eggleston is an executive sponsor of BALT, providing guidance and coaching to the leadership of a record 70 members. “BALT provides members with access to top-notch knowledge through formal training and informal, but critical information sharing. Senior BALT members offer junior members business tips from their personal insights and experiences gained from exposure to senior P&G executives. Finally, BALT partners with management to monitor when we are on or off track to deliver on recruitment, retention, and advancement targets, and recommends systemic interventions to diversity barriers. For example, we developed a recommended set of staffing principles used to help place our BALT new hires with the managers who will provide the right mix of business knowledge and development.”

John Peoples, managing partner of Global Lead Management Consulting, helps companies design and strengthen affinity groups and provides counseling on how to gauge the effectiveness of a company’s affinity