Commerce's newest employee resource group focuses on veterans.
Commerce Bank has a variety of employee resource groups, or ERGs, to foster inclusivity and build community. These groups offer opportunities for people to connect, share their experiences, raise awareness of important issues and support good causes. Ultimately, these groups serve to help Commerce team members feel connected to a community and nurture their sense of belonging.
In recent years, the bank has launched ERGs for women, the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color and young professionals. In November 2022, Commerce introduced a brand-new ERG, SALUTE, geared toward veterans.
Colton Olinde, a commercial marketing strategist for Commerce and one of the Kansas City co-chairs for SALUTE, notes that the new ERG isn’t only for those who have served in the armed forces. “The primary focus of SALUTE is on veterans, of course – anybody who has been a service member or is a current service member,” he says. “But it’s also for people with friends or family members in the service, and for people who don’t necessarily know any veterans personally but are passionate about veteran causes. It’s welcoming to all. Ultimately, we want to create a good environment for people and work toward some of the great goals that we’ve set out.”
Olinde is a veteran himself, having served as a U.S. Army reservist for eight years, which included a deployment to Iraq. He was one of the first people to get involved in developing SALUTE. “The first step was to define our purpose, which is to create an inclusive, dignified and diverse space for team members with a passion for supporting all military veterans and their families,” he says. “We worked closely with our partners on our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team to make sure we were getting it right and building something that will be of real value to team members and to the bank.”
One of the goals of SALUTE, Olinde explains, is to help veterans get comfortable at Commerce. “We want to help people who have just recently left the service and are still settling into their new positions in the corporate world,” he says. “One of the questions we ask ourselves is, ‘What can we do to help make that transition a lot easier?’”
Jimmy Brown, a senior account manager and veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, has also been involved in the development of SALUTE. He believes it will prove value to team members with loved ones in the service. “People who have a family member overseas often deal with unique challenges,” he says. “This ERG can help team members with those issues and really be a good resource for them. We’re creating a safe space for people, so they can interact with other team members who have similar backgrounds and experiences.”
Olinde says an important part of SALUTE will involve volunteering with nonprofits. “We’re going to do a lot to support veterans in our communities – partnering with organizations that address homelessness, mental health issues, and other challenges that often impact veterans,” he says.
ERGs like SALUTE contribute to Commerce’s strong culture as well. “It’s an incredible benefit the bank offers,” Brown says. “The culture at Commerce is such an important part of the work experience here, and SALUTE will play a role in sustaining that culture. We’re really embracing a mindset that will help veterans feel very comfortable. I think we can grow our current team member base to include more veterans who will really bring a lot to the organization.”
Felecia Hogan, a senior vice president and Commerce’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, says SALUTE is another significant step toward creating a more inclusive workplace and community for military veterans. “Organizations can learn from those who served in the military because working together as a team is at the heart of everything they do,” she says. “At Commerce we are intentional with the support we give our veteran teammates, and that includes employment and development opportunities leveraging the rich experiences and transferable skills veterans bring into the workplace from their time serving in the military. The passionate employee team behind SALUTE is leading efforts to bring Commerce and the military community together by helping educate leadership and teammates on the unique challenges veterans face in returning to civilian life and cultivate advocacy for charitable efforts that support veterans in the communities we serve.”
SALUTE will also help people connect with mentors. “Sometimes veterans want another veteran as a mentor, someone who has a similar background experience and has made the transition from the military to a corporate career,” says Brown. ”That all connects back to the purpose of SALUTE, which is to create a space where those kinds of relationships can be found.”
SALUTE has initially launched in Kansas City and St. Louis, and organizers want to expand it into other Commerce markets over time. The launch date of November 10 was timed to be in proximity with Veterans Day, which holds a special meaning for both Olinde and Brown.
“Veterans Day means a lot to me,” says Olinde. “It’s interesting, because when I was growing up, I thought of veterans as older guys who served in Vietnam. But today you have younger people like me and others who served in Afghanistan or Iraq, and that’s the face of many veterans now. It’s very personal for me, because I have a lot of friends who went through the same ordeal I did and became veterans alongside me. It’s a great day to recognize all who served.”
Brown appreciates that SALUTE will provide even more recognition to deserving people. “Veterans Day is once a year, and it’s an opportunity for people to thank veterans for their service,” he says. “SALUTE is our way of offering thanks on the other 364 days – it will give people an opportunity to feel gratitude throughout the year.”
Ultimately, Olinde hopes that SALUTE will reinforce to veterans that Commerce is a great place to start or continue their post-military careers. “The culture here at Commerce really resonates for someone who may just be getting out of the service,” he says. “By that I mean, there’s a strong sense of camaraderie and a personal feel to the environment that is reminiscent of the culture people feel in the military. It’s very welcoming, and we want people from all backgrounds to be part of the Commerce community.”