Companies that emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) tend to be more profitable, have less employee turnover, and better employee engagement than their non-inclusive counterparts. Employee resource groups are a way to strengthen DEI initiatives from the inside out, helping workers feel valued because of their differences—not despite them.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) emerged in the early 1960s when black employees formed groups to discuss and defuse racially charged tension in the workplace. Today, the practice is more relevant than ever as workers navigate gender-based conflict, polarizing political differences, and volatile social issues.
Employee resource groups can help workers navigate many different issues. From pronouns to culturally acceptable terminology to what accessibility accommodations are within their rights to ask, ESGs foster a sense of belonging and community rarely accomplished through any other corporate culture initiative.
ERGs are critical to fostering diversity and inclusion in today’s workplace as they align work with employee and company expectations, helping workers feel more connected, engaged, and empowered in their jobs. Today, we’ll explore the anatomy of ERGs and how your organization can leverage the benefits.
Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
ERGs offer many benefits to both employees and the company as they provide essential social and professional engagement that wouldn’t be as impactful through any other avenue.
Because ERGs are voluntary groups comprised of employees (as opposed to workgroups or teams mandated by management), they create a sense of belonging and community, bringing people together who might not otherwise have adequate supports.
ERGs also provide networking opportunities, connecting workers with varying backgrounds, experience, and expertise and helping them find common ground. Mentoring opportunities often emerge from resource groups as people are naturally drawn together based on shared interests or goals.
Mentorship, especially, is a critical support for diverse employees as it helps them attain that all-important first rung on their way to management and leadership positions. Career pathways may not always be clearly marked. Still, by promoting engagement and connection through ERGs, companies open the doors to creativity and innovation, building solid foundations to help them compete in an increasingly diverse marketplace.
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Types of Employee Resource Groups
If you’re unsure where to start with ERGs, your company’s culture will lead the way. In other words, the types of employee resource groups appropriate for your organization will largely be informed by the most prevalent issues in your workforce. Here are a few examples.
Identity-based employee resource groups come in many stripes but are predicated on shared characteristics, whether it be gender, age, sexual orientation, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, parental status, ethnicity, etc. Connecting with others who share a lived experience helps group members through belonging, skills development, and generally providing a supportive environment surrounded by others like them.
Affinity-based groups, such as working parents, veterans, or groups focused on specific ethnicities, provide members with a safe and supportive space among people who share common challenges and may not otherwise connect with peers because of vastly different needs. These niche groups can share resources and find genuine empathy and community in coming together.
Mental health support groups, general wellness, nutrition, fitness, sustainability, spirituality, or any other type of interest is an excellent basis for an ERG. Coming together around a wellness-related interest strengthens the bond between coworkers while providing a forum to share thoughts and ideas they might not openly communicate with the broader workgroup.
These are just a few examples of ERGs you might find in a workplace. Others might be focused on career or professional development, volunteering, or social causes, all of which can help the company and its employees thrive.
Establishing and Managing Employee Resource Groups
Resource groups can emerge from the top down or the bottom up. Ultimately, the groups need to make sense to the employees and may self-form if employees are motivated to do so. That said, management can play a starring role in supporting, endorsing, and even funding ERGs to move the process forward.
Form a leadership team. Every ERG needs a champion and several motivated individuals. You need to ensure you have enough interest to make the group worthwhile. Employee data or pulse surveys can help you gauge interest and identify potential leaders.
Define goals and objectives. Every initiative needs well-defined goals. Keep it as simple and inclusive as possible, articulate the mission, and publish your statement on the company intranet.
Develop ERG charters and guidelines. Establish clear guidelines and charters based on the group’s goals, including outlining activities and events to advance those objectives.
Secure executive support and resources. Present your case to leadership to gain buy-in and request a budget to fund activities outlined in the charter.
Implement effective communication and engagement strategies. Recruitment is critical to the success of an ERG. Raise awareness through intranet announcements and company newsletters, or consider a launch event to introduce potential members to your cause.
Best Practices for Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups are vital for fostering a sense of inclusivity and accessibility in the workplace. To ensure that these groups are successful in accomplishing these goals, companies must strive to create a collaborative culture between different ERGs and employee networks. There may be some overlap between ERGs; occasionally, multiple groups will come together to champion a cause or idea.
Furthermore, it is crucial to measure the impact of these groups and evaluate their effectiveness to ensure continued success. For example, the number of group members and group growth strongly indicate that employees derive value from the ERG. Event attendance and newsletter open rates are also valuable metrics, as are employee retention and satisfaction.
Inevitably, employee needs will change over time, so ERGs need to evolve and adapt accordingly. At its core, the success of any ERG is rooted in ensuring every voice and perspective is valued and heard. In doing so, companies can create a culture of inclusivity that empowers employees to thrive.
Overcoming Challenges in Employee Resource Groups
We’ve learned many ways in which ERGs are powerful tools for businesses to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workplace. However, they are not without their challenges.
One of the biggest obstacles ERGs face is addressing potential biases and resistance from coworkers who may not fully understand the ERG’s purpose or value. To overcome this challenge, leaders need to educate their peers about the benefits of ERGs and create a welcoming environment where everyone has a seat at the table.
Balancing workload and time commitments for members with other job responsibilities can also be an issue. To ensure sustainability and long-term success, ERG leaders must be mindful of their members’ time and resources and prioritize impactful activities.
Finally, ERG leaders must always stay focused on the big picture and work to create an infrastructure that supports group success. By addressing potential biases, managing workload and time commitments, and focusing on long-term goals, ERGs can continue to provide value to all stakeholders.
In conclusion, establishing ERGs is an excellent way to strengthen culture, improve DEI, and provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for employees from diverse backgrounds and interests. Employees today seek purpose and want to feel that their work contributes to the company’s success and that their voices will be heard. Encouraging and enabling ERGs are potent enablers of these aspirations and, when supported adequately, will reap many benefits.
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