When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, it resulted in isolation for many who can't go to work and are avoiding social gatherings.
Prior to the pandemic, members of the John Deere Rainbow Employee Resource Group (ERG) had used in-person social gathering to build networks within the company for sharing and communing opportunities, said Deb Shaw, a Rainbow ERG member and senior facilities engineer.
"Suddenly, with COVID, getting together with friends in the area could affect your ability to go to work," Shaw said, referring to the possibility of catching the disease and spreading it to others. "As many in the LGBTQ community are social folx*, the isolation being felt in the community was palpable."
To address the issue, leaders of the Rainbow ERG came up with the idea to start a new virtual social network. Those who wanted to participate were divided up into 10 groups of seven, then a facilitator was assigned to each group. The facilitator put the meetings together and created ice breaker questions, Shaw explained.
"One of the topics that was all over the media and work and home and schools was COVID," Shaw said. "So, the facilitators decided to not bring up COVID directly, but instead asked for positive thoughts around the current situation. If a member brought up negativity surrounding COVID, we would very much allow them to vent or share their experiences. The whole point of the socialization was support."
These efforts helped result in the John Deere Rainbow ERG receiving a 2020 Out & Equal award for Belonging During COVID. In the award announcement, Out & Equal noted that in addition to the virtual networking sessions the John Deere Rainbow ERG continued educational efforts by helping launch the first-ever LGBTQ Awareness Online Course to teach employees how to recognize challenges, display empathy, learn inclusive language and be an active ally.
Other highlights included shifting from in-person volunteer events to giving campaigns and pivoting to a virtual Pride month with external speakers, podcasts, "Well-Meaning" Wilma videos, and the Rainbow ERG's first ever Ally Week. Further, Region 3 members curated virtual presentations for their employees in their local languages. The Rainbow ERG also joined other ERGs in supporting the John Deere Black Employee Resource Group (BERG) in conversations on racial justice to company leaders.
As for the virtual networking sessions, what did the groups talk about?
"We shared a lot of neat books, tons of recommendations on junk TV to documentaries to educational shows, movies, family/pet photos, hobbies and self-care ideas," Shaw said. "But most of all we shared a common belief of treating others with respect and humanity."
* Folx is an alternative spelling of the word "folks" and is meant to be a gender-neutral way to refer to members of the LGBTQ community.