In our socially distanced world, building connection is a priority, especially without a physical space to mingle. Here’s a look into Employee Resource Groups if your organization wants to explore this avenue to bring people together.
So...what exactly are ERGs?
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are groups where people who share the same interests come together. These are typically founded by core members who organize participation from aligned individuals, empowering and providing support to people rallied to a common topic, identity, or circumstance. There are a range of ERGs: from ones that contribute to professional and personal development in the workplace, to those that gather volunteers for a cause, to affinity clubs that unite those who share similar hobbies. Popular ERGs include those that involve racial minorities, LGBTQ alliances, and working parents.
Why create an ERG program?
There are many reasons for supporting ERGs. Let’s see if any of these match with the goals of your organization:
For a sense of belonging
ERGs open up a forum for employees who share a common identity to gather and support one another. Members are more likely to feel less alone, as they can engage with each other on relatable topics. Through these groups, there’s an avenue for leaders to hear directly from specific identities about their needs and experiences. As a result, employees feel tied to the broader organization as feeling heard fosters a sense of community at work. ERGs also help new employees feel welcome and connected to others at work.
Discovering leadership potential
What better way to identify future leaders than through unofficial roles? ERGs allocate opportunities broadly in a less formal way and diversifies those experiences. Having ERGs as part of your culture also encourages initiative-taking for those who wish to start and lead an ERG of their own.
Visibility and DEI representation
ERGs are often a considerable commitment to an organization’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity efforts, giving everyone a voice. With the unique perspectives of ERGs, products and services benefit from education and awareness of a particular cause, making the organization’s external brand more inclusive.
A word of caution: while the benefits are clear, the work is often complicated and challenging. Take a note of these so that your organization can prepare and evaluate the intricacies and resources you’ll need to support your ERGs.
Working volunteers too hard
A lot of the time, those who are involved in ERGs are underrepresented individuals. They’re trying hard to make their voices heard or championing a passionate cause, such as women’s rights or visibility in the workplace. Leaders have to be aware of putting the onus on the people to gather resources instead of actively supporting them with comprehensive strategies. Don’t let the intention of building a more inclusive company lead to frustrated employees or them burning out. It’s a miss when enthusiastic employees find themselves working a “second job” after work as diversity champions or a part-time event coordinator.
Be mindful of intersectionality
ERGs are typically developed around one single identity category, for example, people with disabilities. Therefore, ERGs can elevate some experiences while possibly ignoring others in the group due to a homogenous set of identified problems instead of considering different experiences within the group. Lack of intersectionality is a significant problem in the DE&I space when raising specific issues of awareness.
Remember why ERGs exist
Say you’re into knitting and you’re choosing between two job offers. And wow, there’s actually a knitting club at Company B! That may just sway your decision. But even though ERGs can help with talent attraction, beware of dictating which ERGs are worthy of forming just to toot your horn externally. ERGs should exist to create the impact people wish for.
Balance alignment and support with autonomy
While ERGs might align with many organizational values and goals, the purpose of ERGs is to push the envelope and create inclusive, safe spaces for people to bond.
That’s why it’s essential that ERGs feel supported and elevated by leaders to maintain their meaning. Management can offer onboarding and documentation for the groups and outline a clear budget, tools, or organizational support. Consider mapping out executive sponsorship roles, where leaders provide mentorship and networking opportunities and are invested in the success of ERGs.
Listen, listen, listen
What are the pain points and goals of ERGs? They’re likely different for each person and group. When your employees have the determination to come together, enable them by listening first. As organic conversations and relationships flourish, the patterns and requests of these communities will surface, and it’ll be time for your company to take a stance or commit to broader action.
When groups go wrong
ERGs aren’t for everybody. They’re mostly volunteer-led, and you can imagine how that may lead to conflict. Recently, big four company Deloitte has shifted away from having ERGs, citing groups straying off course. Organizations are realizing the harmful potential of groups forming that are clearly out of line, exclusionary, or not in the spirit of the wider organizational culture. An effective way to mediate these situations is to establish formal validation from leadership to signal public support and to regularly document the boundaries for a safe environment.
Psychological safety and a sense of belonging are often overlooked. Building a strong network of ERGs is one way to help build connection and inclusion, especially in our increasingly dispersed way of working.
To truly empower and support ERGs, stay away from the top-down approach. Provide the autonomy to define their group’s goals and member participation. Most importantly, help them achieve success by respectfully listening and supporting them with resources.
Want to measure employee engagement? See how an intranet does just that