12 Jun 2024

The Impact of HBS Staff Affinity Groups


by Romanshika Singh

HBS staff members chatting and eating at Schwartz Pavilion with colorful flags from countries around the world
HBS staff members at the 2023 Community Block Party, hosted by HBS staff affinity groups. Photo courtesy Evgenia Eliseeva.

Over the past four years, staff affinity groups at Harvard Business School (HBS) have offered a safe spot for community and solidarity among employees. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in the spring of 2020, a coalition of Black staff members founded the Black Staff Affinity Group as a way to connect and share their experiences during a turbulent time. Since then, the number of employee affinity groups has grown to include the Latinx Affinity Group, the Asian Coalition for Employees (ACE), and the LGBTQ+ Staff Affinity Group (previously a longtime informal group known as Family), enjoying robust membership and support from HBS administration.

At the heart of these groups is a commitment to building community and establishing connections amongst their members. Each group organizes events and programming centered around social connections, community service, and professional development, all with the goal of uplifting members and fostering a sense of belonging and connectivity.

“We want to fully embrace individuals from varied backgrounds, cultures, races, identities, life experiences, perspectives, viewpoints, beliefs, and values and bring all people together so that we can learn about our experience at HBS and find ways to make it even more welcoming and inclusive,” said Gregory Fortier from the LBGTQ+ Staff Affinity Group.

At HBS, staff affinity groups encourage members to be their authentic selves, support academic and professional growth, and recognize that unique perspectives and experiences enrich the community and create a stronger workforce. Understanding the interconnectedness of these perspectives helps people navigate their careers and professional relationships and engender a sense of belonging and purpose within the community. As diverse individuals come together, the potential for collective learning, growth, and achievement flourishes.

“The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has really enjoyed the opportunity to partner with and support the staff affinity groups,” said Brook Dennard Rosser, associate director of strategic initiatives for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “HBS is incredibly fortunate to have such an engaged and dedicated staff community—and the value these groups provide to their members and to the broader HBS community cannot be understated.”

Many members say their affinity group participation is among the most fulfilling aspects of their HBS experience. Sharing light-hearted moments and giving and providing support for issues both big and small makes the group feel like a close-knit family. For Elisa Jaramillo, the Latinx Affinity Group was particularly important during a challenging time in her personal life. “My father died last year, and the camaraderie and support I felt [from my colleagues in the affinity group] was so rewarding. They were there for me.”

Affinity groups have also given members institutional insights and opportunities for professional growth. “We want to not only provide professional growth opportunities but also expand our members' networks. Attending events such as HBS student conferences allows members to engage with experts, participate in workshops, and gain insights that can enhance their professional trajectories while also growing their network,” said Jennifer Little of the Black Staff Affinity Group. “Participating in affinity groups can also help members become more visible within the organization. They’re able to showcase talents that they might not be able to utilize in their day-to-day jobs and gain recognition from peers and leaders. This recognition helps grow confidence and reinforce their sense of worth in the professional community.”

HBS staff members dancing at the 2023 Community Block Party
Staff members at the 2023 Community Block Party. Photo courtesy Jennifer Little.

Celebrations are also an important aspect of affinity group connections. In partnership with diversity offices across the University, Central Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging hosted a Welcome Block Party last summer featuring music, dancing, and food from a variety of local vendors. This event was a true highlight for staff members at HBS and beyond, many of whom mentioned the importance of showcasing and celebrating the unity, strength, and presence of diverse communities across Harvard.

"It's about bringing everyone together. What makes me proud is seeing everyone grow and come together over the years,” said Jaramillo. “Partnering with group leaders has also been rewarding. Showcasing unity to our community emphasizes that we are an important part of the [HBS] community. These moments are truly heartwarming and special.”

Staff affinity group leaders are quick to note that all meetings and events, like the Asian Coalition for Employee’s Diwali Night and upcoming LGBTQ+ Pride events in June, are open to all, which is key to cultivating an inclusive HBS community. “Allies act as bridges to the wider community and help to dismantle stereotypes and promote empathy,” said Jeanne Po from ACE. “By advocating for affinity group members, allies often amplify unheard voices, which leads to more effective advocacy. Their active participation ensures that creating an inclusive, diverse, and equitable environment is a shared commitment, which is essential for building a supportive and thriving community.”

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