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.
d. Processes for the group such as election procedures and voting methods.
e. A complete list of any rules that will apply to members such as who is eligible for membership or leadership, how often communications will be sent, etc.
f. A detailed budget needed for activities and events.
3. Select an executive sponsor. Having an executive sponsor to champion the goals of an ERG is invaluable. When building their ERG, employees should consider who in senior leadership may be sympathetic to their cause. They can then go present their idea and charter to the potential sponsor and request they fill the role as sponsor. This sponsor would provide the ERG advisory support and a direct line of communication to senior leadership.
4. Senior leadership reviews request. With their charter in place and their executive sponsor chosen, the interested employees are now equipped to present their request to senior leadership for review and approval. The sponsor should assist in garnering support from their peers to approve the request.
5. Launch the ERG. Once approval has been received, it’s time to officially launch the group! Be sure to communicate the new group to everyone in the organization via multiple internal channels such as email and employee website. It is also useful to have a launch event. At the event, the ERG leaders can outline what the group is and how members will benefit from joining. They should also be sure to announce when their next meeting will be and any upcoming events they have in the works. This will help recruit new members.
6. Establish metrics. Once the ERG is created, it is important to measure your progress. This will help ensure the group can continue to exist down the line. Metrics may include membership numbers, attendance at events, employee survey data.
ERG Goals cannot be accomplished without support from senior leaders
HOW TO LEVERAGE AN ERG
In recent years, many ERGs began as social clubs. And while building a community for employees is a benefit of employee resource groups, there is so much more value they can add if they are given the opportunity. The first step in setting an ERG up for success was in the charter development phase. The charter details the purpose of the group and outlines specific goals for them to work towards. However, these goals must be supported by senior leaders.
Senior leaders should:
1. Attend ERG events. Senior leaders attending events will help increase attendance from other employees. It is important to role model the behavior you want from your employees
2. Provide financial support. Just like any other department, group, or initiative, ERGs will need a budget. It is important that senior leadership provide them the resources they need to orchestrate the activities they’ve developed. Additionally, consider compensating your ERG leaders. ERGs that work to improve the business require a great deal of time and energy on top of their normal workload, therefore, it would be appropriate to compensate them for their efforts.
3. Give access to data. If you want employee resource groups to impact your business at a deeper level, they will need access to data. For example, if you want their help recruiting more diverse employees, they will need to know where you are currently recruiting from and the demographic breakdown of attendees. Another example is employee survey data. With this, they can offer suggestions on how to improve the environment (i.e., policies, procedures, practices, physical environment) for employees like them.
All in all, ERGs have the possibility to be hugely beneficial to individual employees and to the overall business when done well. Instead of just creating one impulsively, it is important to take a thoughtful approach and to ensure they have the resources and support they need for success. From there, the sky is the limit!
Want help establishing your ERG program? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 30 minute consultation today!
Yours in partnership,
Chief Consulting Officer, Co-Founder