ERGs and Pepsi Cross Words

Just how important are employee resource groups? We hear so much about the significance of workforce diversity. There are thousands of articles that discuss how diverse teams mitigate groupthink and serve as a catalyst for creativity. If you were to toss a dart in a room filled with research of any subject, it’s highly probable it will land on a study presenting facts about how companies who support diversity and inclusion are more profitable. The benefits of diversity and inclusion programs to an organization are unequivocal; they provide an infinite amount of positive business outcomes. With so many incentives beyond just doing the right thing, why wouldn’t a company want to embrace diversity?

Recently, Pepsi fizzled flat in a failed effort to reach a diverse target audience; doing so gave us the perfect illustration of why diversity and inclusion is essential to any organization. This past week Pepsi released a commercial that received widespread backlash from minorities across the country. Without discussing the contents of the commercial, I’m confident one of two things happened that played a role into sending Pepsi in a downward spiral of negative publicity.

Scenario one, Pepsi didn’t consult with any of their employee resource groups, most often referred to as ERGs. Unfortunately, in some organizations ERGs are dusty participation trophies. Companies hold them high and proud when someone asks about their coordinated efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. In this scenario, Pepsi attempted to reach out to their minority customers, but declined to weigh any outreach strategy with their ERGs. Here is a relatable analogy, when you travel to a new place it’s easy to settle on the advice of someone who’s visited the area before. The better advice to accept would be from someone who’s actually living there. ERGs can serve in this type of advisory role for your organization; especially when you’re navigating uncharted territory.

Scenario two, Pepsi met with their ERGs, but they didn’t feel comfortable enough to be candid in sharing criticism. It’s also possible the ERGs shared constructive feedback and that would mean Pepsi didn’t listen. Regardless, either of these variations are bad news. While ERGs don’t represent the entire population of the diversity group they are associated with, they have a perspective based on personal experiences worth considering. Hiring diverse employees and neglecting to make them feel included is counterproductive. It’s not good enough to pretend to care; you have to show you really value their existence. The success of your organization at some point will depend on them. This scenario is similar to my wife’s affection with flowers. She loves the beauty of them, gives them a nice little vase to sit in, but she frequently forgets to give them the sunlight they need. They are only exposed to the artificial lights of the home and buying flowers to replace dead ones has become a weekly routine. Don’t expect ERGs to produce results under artificial lights; give them some real sunshine.

Pepsi showed us something we can all learn from; don’t neglect your ERGs. If you don’t have ERGs at your organization, then start one. It would be business as usual had Pepsi properly involved their ERGs around an issue closely tied to most of them. Instead they have been trending on twitter for the past week, and not in a good way. No organization is immune from this type of situation Pepsi is facing. Be proactive in identifying ways ERGs can help navigate your company into an era of growth and vitality.