“After several decades, ERGs are still an effective strategy to help all employees feel a sense of equity and belonging at their workplace. The most effective employee resource group programs often have a few attributes in common” –Forbes
Employee resource groups are a critical component of a successful diversity initiative. In this article we will cover what are ERGs, why they are important to your organization, and the six steps you can take to get started—the ABCs of ERGs.
What is an Employee Resource Group?
Employee resource groups (also known as ERGs or affinity groups) can have various purposes, but mainly aim to bring employees together and create a safe space to connect and raise awareness. They are particularly important because they create a sense of belonging and can improve company culture.
Catalyst defines ERGs as “voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objective.”
ERGs are formed around specific identities that can be characterized by demographics, sexuality, ability, or purpose. Your ERG efforts should match your company or organization. A larger company may be able to support several ERGs while a small company may want to start with just a few.
ERGs can have catchy names that match your company culture or brand. Here are ideas on different types of ERGs:
- Caregivers or Parents
- Culture or Belonging
- Large companies: different ERGs for different races
- People with Disabilities
- Remote employees
- Women in Leadership
Why should my company have ERGs?
1. ERGs Benefit Companies
There is a business case for ERGs. They are an important piece of attracting talent, developing employees, creating belonging at your organization, and building community relations through service, education and awareness.
In a survey of millennial applicants, 70% of Gen-Z respondents were 70% more likely to apply for a company that had ERGs, and a majority of Gen-Y respondents felt similarly. Across generations, over half indicated that the presence of ERGs in a company also positively affected their decision to stay.
2. ERGs Benefit Employees
One of the biggest benefits of ERGs is their power to connect people across physical offices, remote offices and organizational groups—they can bring together employees at different levels, across departments and build a sense of community and belonging across the entire business. (Forbes)
ERGs also create value for employees in multiple ways:
- Connect with colleagues
- Meet people from different departments and leadership levels
- Learn and grow professionally and personally
- Share culture, values and experiences with others
- Develop leadership skills
- Service and giving back to the community
How to create an ERG
Ready to help start an employee resource group at your organization? Here are 6 steps you can follow to get started..the ABCs of ERGs:
Assess employee interest
Before you create an ERG, you’ll want to assess the interests of your employees. Send out a company poll or survey and see what your team cares about.
If you want to create a group based on demographic information, you’ll need to determine if your group would be large enough to support the ERG. If it’s not, we suggest a more generalized ‘Culture’ or ‘Belonging’ ERG.
Buy-in from Executives
A great next-step is to secure executive buy-in to ensure the new group is successful. While some ERGs may start as grassroots efforts, those that have the support of company leadership can be more impactful for employees. Many companies with executive-supported ERGs offer executive sponsors for each ERG, permanent program budgets, allocated work hours for employees to participate, open lines of communication to support business decisions, DEI goals and company initiatives.
Culture Amp suggests, “In your next executive leadership meeting, come prepared to make your case. Explain the group’s purpose and share qualitative and quantitative data from employee experience surveys and employee demographics to prove you have an internal need for such a group. Next, make a plan for how the ERG will run, then request a budget to support your target activities. You will also need to identify an executive sponsor and any other ongoing support your employees will need to make the ERG and drive internal change.”
Call for members (and allies!)
Begin advertising your group and gather members. Personally reach out to specific employees if you know they are passionate about the particular causes or interests. The best ERGs provide opportunities for allies to get involved too, with a goal to build awareness, connection and belonging. An ally is anyone, regardless of their identity, that cares about the group’s cause and mission.
Employees can belong to several different ERGs. The more people actively involved, the more impact the groups can have for the business and company culture.
Set a date and host a kick-off event or meeting to solidify the group mission and steering committee or leadership group.
Define the group mission and charter
Start with a clearly defined mission and charter that your leadership team and members agree on. A clear purpose will guide your group. Some important areas of focus for a variety of groups include belonging, recruitment & retention, internal and external awareness building, impact on business decisions, community engagement, intersectionality and career development.
There are no rules. Your group can be whatever you and your members want it to be. However, you may get higher engagement with a strategy of meetings and events throughout the year that follow the 4C Operating Model.
Introduced by Dr. Robert Rodriguez of DRR Advisors LLC in 2008, the 4C Operating Model can serve as an ideal framework to utilize when planning corporate events and activities. In his book, Latino Talent, Dr. Rodriguez states that “while ERGs have grown in sophistication, the methods their leaders use to measure effectiveness, contributions and progress have not.” The model includes calendar events and activities balanced in four categories: career, community, commerce and culture.(Diversity, Inc Best Practices)
- Professional development trainings
- Networking events
- Educational partners
- Roundtable discussions
- Volunteer initiatives
- External service projects
- Scholarship programs
- Support community non-profits
- Future product development
- Improving mentoring programs
- Focus groups
- Revenue-generating activities
- Cultural Festival Celebrations
- Newsletter spotlights
- Company culture initiatives
Future impact and growth
Is your ERG making a difference? Measure your impact by tracking metrics like engagement and membership growth. Tailor your metrics to suit the specific needs of each individual ERG.
To increase awareness and impact, you might consider collaborate with other ERGs in your organization or in the community to co-host events or community service projects where your interests all align.
Grow and adapt over time. Your ERG program should evolve as the demographics of your workforce shift and employee needs change over time.
Director, Women's Leadership Institute
Nicole Carpenter has been a part of the Women's Leadership Institute since its inception in 2015 as a member of the Advisory Board. In 2017, Nicole moved over as an integral part of the WLI team. In addition to the Women's Leadership Institute, Nicole continues to advocate for women as an author, speaker...