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'I was living as a straight man at work' - The importance of company Pride networks

In partnership with myGwork.

2021-09-02

Words: Louise Sinnerton; Images: Supplied

Chad Smith set up the first Employee Resource Group at Fitch Group and tells Louise Sinnerton from myGwork about how it became the catalyst for employees to start up six other groups within the business.

Chad has always worked in marketing and joined Fitch Ratings five and half years ago as a Director in Business & Relationship Management, and in 2020 was promoted to Senior Director of Global Marketing Operations at the Fitch Group level. In the interview process for the role, he decided he would only be open throughout. “I was closeted in previous jobs and decided I wouldn’t take the job if they wouldn’t want me as I am”.

When Chad was in his early twenties, he said far fewer junior employees would come out or were out at work and after being in the closet in previous roles this wasn’t something he wanted to live again.

“When I was in my early twenties people being out at work just wasn’t the case. I was living as a straight man and having to change that narrative for yourself and the people in your world around you is really hard. You don’t want people to feel like you’ve been pulling the wool over their eyes, you’re just trying to figure yourself out.

“I was in the closet at work even after I had come out to myself.” Things changed for Chad in a past role with a very supportive manager to who he felt comfortable coming out to. He slowly came out at work and then joined their Pride network. Understanding what a difference having a Pride Employee Research Group (ERG) at work made, led Chad to found the very first ERG at Fitch two and a half years ago. This is known as the Fitch Pride Network, or FPN.

Chad Smith set up the first Employee Resource Group at Fitch Group

Chad had a diverse background growing up; born in Hawaii and living there until he was nine, then living in Seattle, with a Black father and White mother who went on to divorce. These experiences have all given Chad a unique worldview. “I may have had more exposure than most people in the US to different backgrounds and cultures. That has given me emotional intelligence and a lot of those experiences have given me the knowledge and expertise to navigate the world as it is today.”

That understanding gave Chad another drive to start a Pride Network when he joined the Fitch Group, although the catalyst was a simple conversation over coffee.

A more junior associate came up to Chad at work and asked if there was a Pride network when at the time there wasn’t one. “We initially didn’t have the groups as it felt like there wasn’t a desire from employees. I went to HR and they told me the groups are employee-led so there has to be that desire or demand there. I said, ‘hold that thought’ and invited some colleagues out for drinks after work to see if we wanted to start one.”

There were twelve people at the beginning including the Global Head of Analytical, which is a visible high-level position internally. The network was started with Chad as Global Fitch Pride Network Chair. From the initial twelve, it has grown to over 400 people with nine chapters all over the world. “All of that from a water cooler conversation, is how it started.”

A large part of the Pride Network at Fitch Group is the allies, “Allies showing up and doing work on our behalf is really powerful. They are a huge part of the network.” From this first network, six other Employee Resource Groups were formed using the Pride network’s organizational structure, with Chad there every step of the way to help.

Chad Smith at New York City Pride

40% of Fitch employees are now members of at least one of the company’s ERG groups. “All of our ERGs are indispensable. I'm not sure how we would have got through 2020 without that support.”

The ERGs also mean Fitch Group’s siloed businesses are actually speaking to each other a lot more and employees’ networks and communities can be broadened. With three main businesses the ERGs have helped people to understand how big the company really is. That opportunity to talk to one another has been hugely welcomed, particularly during the pandemic.

“In 2020 the company really leaned on the ERGs and a lot of the work they had done, in the wake of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement for example. Now it’s much more of an integrated business resource group rather than the sort of “after school club” that it started as,” says Chad.

The Pride Network is involved in the company’s hiring practices and the next task for Chad is to take all of the work they have done over the past two and a half years and push it up into HR and the D&I strategy.

“We worked really hard during a turbulent time to help with messaging and how to reach out to employees. Now it is about going back to where we started and being more of the support and visibility for employees that we started as”. There is a new global Head of D&I to help take on this work of how all of the ERG’s work will be integrated into the fabric of Fitch Group.

An employee-led group that started from the bottom up, proved there was a need and demand for Employee Resource Groups at Fitch Group. Chad has now spent two and a half years at the helm and he's starting to think about succession plans.

“I would love others to have the experience that I have had. It’s really important to make plans so others in the businesses can have this opportunity too. There are so many skills that can be learned here, so the conversation for me is about how we can get new people into these rooms and get them the same level of exposure that I have had.”

Fitch Group is a proud partner of myGwork, the LGBTQ+ business community.