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What Great ERG Executive Sponsors Do: 5 Best Practices

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

When organizational leaders seek to advocate for improving DEI in their company, they may become executive sponsors of employee resource groups (ERGs).

What are ERGs?

  • 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, these groups are centered around underrepresented demographics such as gender, neurodivergence, sexual orientation, or race/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.

What does it mean to be an executive sponsor of an ERG?

Executive sponsors are tasked with the instrumental role of ensuring that ERGs have access to senior leadership in order to demonstrate their value and secure support, both financial and social. They also have the key role of providing mission-driven guidance to ERGs to ensure they continue to serve the overall purpose of the organization. By ensuring that they take a broader approach to reaching their goals that aligns with the overall organizational goals, ERG executive sponsors ensure long-term effectiveness for these groups.

What do great ERG executive sponsors do?

In order to be a great ERG executive sponsor, organizational leaders should demonstrate the following 5 best practices:

  1. Empower and challenge ERGs to have ambitious goals

  2. Collaborate to build psychological safety and cohesion

  3. Leverage their leadership role to show commitment to the mission of the ERG

  4. Acknowledge one’s own shortcomings and biases

  5. Emulate a culture of learning and curiosity

1. Empower and challenge ERGs to have ambitious goals

A key competency of executive leaders is their ability to visualize the long-term mission of the organization and see how to take actionable steps to achieve that mission. Bringing this competency to one’s support of an ERG is essential. Working with your ERG leadership team, set a mission for what the group hopes to accomplish and what goals and objectives need to be achieved in order to reach that mission.

2. Collaborate to build psychological safety and cohesion

While ERG executive sponsors bring sway and authority to the ERGs they are working with, they need to be sure that the team members feel comfortable and safe raising their hopes and concerns for the group. By building psychological safety, individuals will feel comfortable speaking up if they disagree and feel that they are able to make mistakes without fear of punishment. Leveraging the unique experiences of ERG members requires this openness and safety, which should be modeled from the leader, in this case the executive sponsor.

3. Leverage leadership role to show commitment to the mission of the ERG

As mentioned above, a key aspect of the role of ERG executive sponsor is the leverage and power they have due to their position at the executive level. A key best practice of sponsoring an ERG is using that power to prioritize and speak to the goals of the ERG to other executives. Modeling a dedication to DEI generally, and more specifically to your ERG, shows commitment to your fellow executives as well as the members of your ERG and the rest of the organization.

4. Acknowledge one’s own shortcomings and biases

An important best practice of any leader, but especially those working with an ERG, is to acknowledge and be attentive to one’s own blind spots and biases. These biases may be conscious or unconscious and an important step of being a leader and entering into these spaces is to be sure that you are checking yourself as well as outwardly acknowledging where you may fall short. This will signal to your counterparts your desire to learn and grow.

5. Emulate a culture of learning and curiosity

Executive sponsors should always be striving to learn more, both about the nature of their ERG as well as how to continue to help it grow and thrive. Showing its members that you know the journey is never done and that you are always working to know more will show them that you value the ERG and its mission.

Looking to learn more about being an effective ERG sponsor in your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions today and learn more about what ERGs need to thrive in your organization!


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