Finalist Profile: Elanco African American Network

ELEVATE finalists Laureen Lonnemon and Shermika Duerson of Elanco African American Network

Elanco’s African American Network (EAAN), a finalist for ELEVATE’s Employee Resource Group of the Year, started simply in late 2017 with just five people sitting around a kitchen table. After the company branched off from Eli Lilly and Company and became its own publicly traded company, employees who had been part of the African American Network at Eli Lilly realized they’d need to launch their own version. The group started with a mission to showcase Elanco’s commitment to diversity, and quickly grew beyond initial expectations.

One aspect they are very proud of is inclusion, welcoming African Americans and their allies. A representative of the group, Shermika Duerson said: “We need everyone to make progress on our goals.”

A wide variety of learning events, community service opportunities and important conversations helped drive engagement and growth. That initial team of five now happily counts more than 100 members, with even more participation at company-wide events hosted by the group.

One important connection they are making is sharing stories of black history in Indiana. Recent research led them to African American farm community, Lile Station. As an agricultural company, bringing that history to life really resonates. Another group member, Laurene Lonneman shared: “We get the reaction all the time. ‘Oh, I didn’t know about that!’ and we are so honored to highlight those stories.”

Their advice for others launching diversity and inclusion focused efforts? Be genuine and be sure you aren’t making it a box-checking activity. Duerson says, “I always tell people to close your eyes. This is how I want you to meet me. People overthink how to be inclusive. Take the effort to get to know people. Don’t focus on the 1% that is different. Have fun, connect with people. Simplify your approach.”

Research shows organizations with diverse workforces drive stronger business results, something the group sees in their work. Through their efforts, team members feel a sense of belonging, which helps retain talent. And the group says they’re only as successful as their leadership support. Elanco CEO Jeff Simmons signed on as their first executive sponsor, and they’ve continued to have engagement from many company leaders.

It isn’t all serious business for the group – they like to include food, drinks and fun. Upcoming activities include Black History Month events, Reverse Mentoring for executives, a speaking engagement from Kizito Kallima, a Rwandan genocide survivor and conversations about ancestry. The group is even giving away an Ancestry.com kit.

“A lot of people don’t realize how connected we are,” Lonneman said. “I grew up not knowing my biological father. I took one of the DNA tests and found I’m 30% African. I always thought I was Native American, but it turns out I’m Asian Indian.”

Duerson added: “I was shocked to find I’m 17% European, with an Irish grandmother. How cool is that? We really are more connected than we know.”

We’re certainly glad to be connected to this awesome team at Elanco. Thanks for sharing your wisdom about diversity and inclusion and forging the path for others to follow!

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