How to Start an Employee Resource Group at Your Company

Ryan Barner
Jun 10 · 3 min read

Many companies are making statements/actions on recent events affecting Black people disproportionately. Many are not, leaving many Black employees feeling left out/less motivated to show up in our spaces. Many are, but are not reflecting that work internally. I feel like mine is doing a pretty good job at it (always room for improvement).

I am one of the founding members of my company’s Black Employee Resource Group. We started pretty early in our company’s history, there was no Inclusion & Diversity team yet, and our executive leadership was pretty supportive of it from the beginning and continues to be. We are in our 4th year of existence and have grown from 15 members to over 400. We have a great partnership with the D&I team and our leaders have graduated to leading global diversity initiatives at Google, Twitter, Coinbase, Twilio, Netflix, and their own companies. For anyone hoping to start a Black (or any) employee resource group at their company, here’s some of the things that helped us…a blueprint of sorts…:

  • Programming/Education: How do we educate others? How do we educate ourselves?
  • Social/Networking: How do we have community with one another? How do we build community with our peers? How do we hold the company and each other accountable?
  • Advocacy (Internal/External): What does ERG advocacy look like? What does ERG advocacy look like externally (official company statements, donations, actions)?
  • Talent (Recruitment/Retention): What’s our role in sourcing new talent? What’s our role in keeping new talent?
  • Safe Space: How do we create a safe space for our peers? How do we create a safe space for our company’s customers?
  • Advisory & Impact: What is our role in vetting policy, practices, and programs that impact Black people at our company?
  • How do we measure success?: Retention rate, % of new hires, rates of promotions, % of Execs, pay equity, employee satisfaction survey results, number of events we host/attend/sponsor, 3rd party check on perception vs other companies, # of external impressions at events

Year One:

  • Answering above
  • Identifying missions, goals, and appointing group leadership roles
  • Getting a budget from the company
  • Getting company-ERG branded items
  • Building trust within ERG
  • Building company’s trust in ERG
  • Getting executive leadership advocacy
  • Assisting company with internal/external messages
  • Creating unity amongst different ERG chapters in locations/hubs outside of HQ
  • Throwing company wide events
  • Having conversations with allies
  • Track metrics

Year Two & Beyond:

  • Constantly revisiting/reassessing goals/items made in Year One
  • Collaborating with/consulting HR/D&I to grow these efforts (relinquishing more control to people who get paid to do the work)
  • Bigger budget, donations to orgs you care about (even better, get it on an engineering team’s working plan ie, Round Up & Donate)
  • Assessing metrics and asking for more money/support

In gist:

  • make clear what you want and what’s in it for them (no incentive/no action, plus if it can be tied to the bottom line)
  • record/document everything
  • measure progress quantitatively and qualitatively
  • no owner/no work actually done
  • have a few core leaders but ensure you get help/participation from a lot of people in the group, allies, and company executives
  • work you are paid to do comes first
  • know the diversity work should not be all on you, but if you are passionate to help the company get it right, by all means do so…
  • you can do it
Here’s one of my favorite pictures from one of our many events 4 years ago. I’ve learned so much and am so honored to have done so from such incredible people. Shout out to you all.

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