Understanding Employee Resource Groups: A guide for Organizations.
This post is part of a three part series on Employee Resource Groups. In the second post of the series, I explain how employees can start their own ERG. In part three, I explore how organizations can recognize and reward the work of ERGs.
Many companies have Employee Resource Group programs to empower and support community groups within the organization. But if your organization has not yet set up an ERG Program, here’s an exploration into ERGs and how they can work collaboratively with your company.
What is an Employee Resource Group?
Employee Resource Groups (or ERGs) are employee identity or experience-based groups that build community. ERGs are sometimes known as Affinity Groups or Diversity Groups. ERGs are generally based on building community, providing support and contributing to personal and professional development in the work environment. ERGs are typically founded by core organizers and have membership in varying size, depending on the topic of the group. Most ERGs are volunteer based though some organizations support organizers with some percentage of paid time or other recognition including leadership development opportunities. Many large companies have ERG programs including Uber, Salesforce, Amazon, Google, and more.
What is the purposes of an Employee Resource Group Program?
- An ERG Program creates an open forum for employees who share a common identity to meet and support one another in building their community and sense of belonging.
- The program empowers these groups by offering them financial support, organizational support and access to decision makers.
- The program facilitates a clear line of communication from ERGs to leadership in order to voice concerns and solve problems.
- The program seeks to advance a respectful and inclusive company culture.
What value do ERGs bring to their organization?
ERGs bring value to the company and its employees in several ways. They build a sense of community and belonging for employees by connecting people in a social and professional way and encouraging interaction between employees. They empower employees by giving each group a collective voice to speak with decision makers and management. Groups are also empowered to assemble and voice concerns as a community. ERGs support learning and development by offering formal and informal leadership opportunities and creating visibility for employees who are active. ERGs also provide a resource for leadership and decision makers regarding staff/community issues, needs and policies. And ERGs offer to the company their expertise and experiences to improve equality and equity. They can also be an asset in business decisions to make better, more inclusive products and services. Lastly ERGs support retention because employees are likely to stay with the company longer if they have built or are part of a strong community within the company and feel heard.
How should an organization support ERGs?
Establishing a strong Employee Resource Program is one way for an organization to work towards an inclusive company culture. But simply establishing a program is not enough to empower and support ERGs. A strong Employee Resource Group program should support groups to form, be visible, and create the impact the groups wish to have.
A program should offer onboarding and administrative documentation to help the groups be as successful and impactful as possible. The employer should also offer budget support and organizational support if possible. Sometimes this is done with a dedicated community manager or support role to take care of some of the overhead so groups can be more successful with less volunteer work needed.
Companies should not dictate which groups should form, who should join each group or what impact the groups should have. That should be a decision of the group, but it’s important for the organization to provide them tools to work towards and measure that success. This could include: charter documentation, purpose workshop, roadmapping templates and exercises, budget tracking tools, support in setting and tracking OKRs, a platform for communication with their group and potential members, visibility within the organization and meetings with senior leadership.
What is an executive sponsor and how can they support an ERG?
Executive sponsorship is an important part of a successful ERG program. Sponsorship from the executive team shows that the organization stands behind the ERGs and offers their support: guidance, budget, mentoring, visibility and networking to support the ERGs in their success.
A strong executive sponsor will make the success of the ERG a priority and personal responsibility but without taking ownership or taking away autonomy of the group. They will empower them and give them visibility within the community and help them work towards success. This white paper on executive sponsorship of ERGs is a great resource.
I believe sponsors do not need to be VP or SVP level. In fact, I think having a passionate leader at a less senior level can be more impactful than a very senior leader with less personal commitment. In choosing an executive sponsor, it’s important to find someone who is willing to put their own privilege and access to resources on the line for the ERG and is personally committed to the success of the group.
Which ERGs typically form?
ERGs are typically developed based on shared identities or experiences. Below is list of ERGs that typically form in organizations:
- Culture, Race and ethnicity
- People with disabilities
- Religion or faith-based
- Gender identity minorities
- Sexual orientation minorities
- Age minorities
- Parents: working parents, single parents and caregivers
You can see from the above examples that ERGs typically form from groups that are marginalized, minority or underrepresented. To learn more about marginalization, privilege and allyship, I’d recommend a few resources: A Guide for Allies, So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo and Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverley Daniel Tatum.
Why is community important, particularly in a working environment?
Psychological safety and sense of belonging are very important in order to empower employees and help them bring their whole self to work. Building a strong network or community is a very important step in creating this sense of belonging.
In order to truly empower and support ERGs, I think it’s important to give the ERG the autonomy to define the scope of their group, to define membership eligibility and most importantly, to define what success means to them. This should not be determined top down.