Dear Tech Companies: It’s no longer why ERGs — it’s how you support them.
Each story in our Dear Tech Companies series focuses on issues in the tech space and provides strategies and solutions to companies looking to invest in meaningful solutions that will drive impactful industry change and make the industry more accessible to Black, Latina, and Native American women.
Here’s a pop quiz for the new year: what connects professionals with similar purpose, passion, and experiences in the workplace?
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups that provide networking, mentorship, and opportunities for professional and personal development that might otherwise be missing from your firms. For BLNA women, they’re often one of few corporate spaces where a climate of inclusion is nurtured.
ERGs have shown up, and showed out, in the last two years. In this period of flux, ERGs were at the forefront of transforming and sustaining corporate culture and leading internal change and accountability efforts. Countless employee studies have shown that belonging is a strong driver of engagement, meaning companies that prioritize a culture of belonging for their workforce are more likely to retain their talent.
You might think ERGs are a recent phenomenon. Quite the opposite. ERGs have roots in affinity groups, which were created in response to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Over the years, these groups have evolved in scope — if affinity groups were about visibility and community, ERGs are about education, partnership, and influence. As companies think more about goal alignment and comprehensive DEI commitments, Business Resource Groups or BRGs have emerged as a powerful means to drive business.
Roughly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. Then why do only about 8% of professionals at these companies actually participate?
It could be because these companies’ are mostly comprised of white men, but we know that allyship, partnership, and leadership only strengthen ERGs’ mission. While these groups are voluntary, they should not be treated as optional by your company. Here’s three ways to make your ERGs indispensable:
- Invest in what makes ERGs great — their people.
ERGs build community, but truly incorporating them into company culture means investing in them like you would in other aspects of your business. Right now, there are clear gaps in how employees and leadership engage and invest in DEI initiatives. Black women, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities are up to twice as likely as women overall to spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work outside their formal job responsibilities.
ERG leadership is a job in and of itself. There are many ways to adequately compensate ERG leaders and facilitators for their contributions and efforts — LinkedIn announced in June that it will pay its ERG global co-chairs annually each year of their two-year term. Compensation could also look like sponsorship, access to leadership opportunities, or in-depth trainings.
2. Writing a new chapter for your business requires being on the same page.
There’s a false choice between having ERGs focus more on community building and working with them to align your corporate objectives. Singing from the same song sheet goes a long way — especially when you value ERGs as powerful mechanisms. ERGs can shape and shift company culture, and they can provide insight into product development, company processes, and your moonshot goals.
What’ll it take? Investing in ERGs’ success through sponsorship, leadership, and partnership. From working with young professionals to generate new business perspectives and strategies to supporting hiring and transition of veterans, Cognizant is leveraging its ERGs and leadership to foster collaboration and innovation across all professional levels.
3. ERGs are not a silver bullet for your diversity plans.
Let’s face it, ERGs exist for professionals to receive help and support, not to become corporate help and support. Expecting BLNA professionals to fix corporate culture while being disproportionately impacted by it is unacceptable.
Instead, listen to what ERGs need, and supplement and support their efforts with targeted, strategic, committed, and tailored DEI initiatives. Comcast works with its ERGs and mentorship program to welcome new talent, as well as help guide content, and product development.
It’s clear that the question is no longer whether ERGs are essential — it’s whether tech companies are thinking big enough to tap into their power and purpose without making them a vehicle for corporate solutions. Seeing ERGs not as checkboxes but as essential to making us better at what we do can help us convert conversations into action and insight into impact.