While the concept of employee resource groups (ERGs) have been around since the 60s, there has been an uptick in their popularity in recent years. However, now after they are created, many employees and employers alike are left wondering “well now what?”. Others are still unsure of what an ERG even is. Never fear! The following should provide some clarity.
Let’s start at the beginning. Employee resource groups (ERGs), also commonly referred to as affinity groups or business resource groups are voluntary, employee-led groups of people who share a common characteristic. Typically, employee resource groups are centered around underrepresented demographics such as gender, neurodivergence, sexual orientation, or race or ethnicity. While the focus of the ERG is around a particular identity, it is common practice - and recommended - to allow allies to become members as well.
ERGs have a number of benefits including:
1. Support system for employees - Employees are able to connect with others who are like them, building a sense of belonging in the organization. In speaking with members of ERGs and asking what their favorite part has been, the most common answer I receive is “I love getting to see and connect with other people who look like me.”
2. Opportunities for career development – ERGs are employee-led so they give those employees the chance to hone their leadership skills. Additionally, most ERGs develop mentorship programs and host educational events giving their members the chance to develop professionally as well.
3. Business impact – When ERGs are done well, they are a rich resource of information that can have a positive impact on business processes and procedures. ERGs have led to improved work conditions for employees, more inclusive environments, increased company diversity, developed future leaders, and provided answers to company-wide questions.
HOW TO START AN ERG
If you are wanting employees to start creating ERGs at your organization, I recommend hosting an ERG informational session. In this session you can explain what an ERG is and how becoming a member will benefit those who join. Before you have this session, it would be best to have a process for creating an ERG in place.
The typical process includes:
1. Employees express interest in creating a group. As I mentioned, ERGs are employee-led and voluntary. For a group to begin this process, the request must come from employees. I recommend having at least 5 interested employees before moving forward with creating a group. Having multiple will help ease the workload on each volunteer. This request is typically provided to Human Resources (HR) or an Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) office, whichever department oversees I&D efforts.
2. Employees develop a charter. A well-thought-out charter is vital to the success of an ERG. This charter will also help with garnering support for the creation of the group. A charter should include:
a. The mission, vision, and/or purpose of the ERG. This information is the foundation of why the ERG exists.
b. Specific goals that the group plans to accomplish. These goals should align to the overall company objectives as well.
c. A detailed list of each leadership position and their responsibilities.