Sarah Cordivano
Published in

Sarah Cordivano

Recognizing and Rewarding the work of Employee Resource Groups

This is a continuation of a series of blogs that discuss Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in the workplace.

meeting room with wooden table and glass light fixture. Large window looking out on city.
Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash.

Many employees who are actively involved in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) find the experience personally and professionally rewarding. It gives them an additional sense of purpose in the workplace and makes them an active part of the company’s DEI efforts. But just because an employee finds this work personally rewarding, does not mean the company shouldn’t recognize it as well.

Why should companies reward ERG work?

ERGs bring value to an organization 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 (which can support retention). They empower employees by giving each group a collective voice to speak with decision makers and management. They support learning and development by offering formal and informal leadership opportunities. ERGs also offer a communication channel with management regarding staff needs and concerns. And very importantly, ERGs are an asset to the business by advising on inclusive products and services.

In addition to all of those benefits, organizations often broadcast the work of their ERGs in press releases to showcase how diverse and inclusive they are. ERGs are often featured in branding campaigns and during recruiting efforts to attract employees. Organizations get a lot from ERGs. So why shouldn’t this work be officially recognized and rewarded? Organizations have all sorts of creative arrangements to incentivize and reward different types of work (being part of hiring committees, writing content for external blogs, speaking at conferences). Work in ERGs is absolutely on par with these efforts because it also improves the culture of the organization and helps market the organization as an attractive place to work.

The difficulty is, however, many organizations interpret the work of ERG organizers as “passion project” work. They see ERG organizers as willing to give their free time because it’s a personal interest topic. But sadly that mindset grossly underestimates and undervalues this work. When this work is interpreted as “volunteer” or “free time” work, it perpetuates the assumption that the organization does not benefit from it in a way that deserves compensation or acknowledgement.

It is true that ERG work can be fun. Organizing and participating in a Pride parade can be a fun experience, but it’s also a massive amount of work. Having been on the organizing committee of many ERG led events, the amount of work involved puts these projects in line with large-scale organizational projects. And in the end, the organization ultimately benefits from participating in such events through the branding and showcasing it as a perk to employees.

In summary, it’s very important for organizations to recognize and reward this work. To frame it correctly, I’d suggest not to call this “volunteer” work, instead I’d put it in a context that represents the value it brings, such as “Cultural Work” as it directly benefits the culture of the organization. I am also realistic. I know not every organization is willing or able to provide cash bonuses for ERG organizers or even provide paid time for them to contribute their ERGs (though they should). But let’s explore all the ways organizations can recognize and reward ERG organizers. In general, this boils down to how an organization should recognize and value this work as strategically beneficial to employees and the organization. And in doing so, validating it.

Set them up for success

One of the most important things an organization can do to support and acknowledge the work of their ERG organizers is to set them up for success. I talk about this extensively here. In practice, this means putting processes and structures in place that help ERGs be successful and visible. This includes developing a governance structure for how ERGs are formed, organized and sponsored. It also means setting clear boundaries about what ERGs can be expected to drive and what they should not be expected to drive. This is critical to make sure ERGs don’t become the go-to team to solve an organization’s DEI problems. It’s also important to make sure they don’t become owners of critical HR processes or even legal processes such as compliance systems. That is outside of the scope of ERGs. Additionally, it’s important to provide ERGs with resources and guidance to support them including documentation on how to set their strategy, how to organize events, how to collaborate with the business and who are their key contacts. And most critical, offer them some sort of budget. This doesn’t need to be massive. But providing a budget to the ERG shows that the organization values and trusts their work. And of course it gives them the opportunity to work on more ambitious projects.

Recognize their work in formal structures

Organizations typically have processes in place to recognize and evaluate their employees. During performance review periods, organizations are giving employees the opportunity to discuss and acknowledge their success at work. Work on an ERG should absolutely fall within that scope. It’s important for an organization to communicate top-down that work within an ERG is relevant in these conversations and deserving of recognition. This will not happen organically because managers are often unsure of how to interpret this work unless it’s clearly explained. Speaking of managers, they will need guidance on how to properly support employees who are involved in ERG organizing. Offering them FAQs or simple tips will be very appreciated.

If employees set yearly objectives or set targets that are rewarded by bonuses, there should be clear communication that ERG work fits within that context. It’s even better to offer example objectives or targets that relate to the ERG work. And lastly, as employees move internally (perhaps by applying for a promotion or another internal role), their work with their ERG should be recognized as relevant. The skills that ERG organizers build (communication, project management, strategy development, leadership) is absolutely applicable to career growth and should be recognized as such.

Pay people for the work they do

The most straightforward way to reward ERG organizing work is of course to pay for it. It’s easiest to utilize an existing target-based or discretionary bonus program. Here are two companies that pay their ERG organizers for their work: Uber ($5000 cash bonus annually) and Justworks. If a bonus is not open for consideration, then another approach would be to offer an additional professional development stipend to attend conferences or training programs.

ERG time as work time

So many organizations have various programs to acknowledge activities that are not “strictly” business work as part of an employee’s paid time. This often includes professional development time (to learn new skills) or research time (to explore innovative projects). This also happens when employees are asked to serve on hiring committees or deliver trainings. It’s clear that this is work. So why does ERG work often get relegated to an employee’s “free time”? Could it perhaps be because it’s often women and marginalized individuals doing this ERG work? It is easier for leaders to perceive this work as “free.”

In the same vein of “Research Time” or “Professional Development Time”, organizations should offer some percentage of time for ERG organizers. This can vary depending on the maturity of the ERGs or how big their organizing teams are. But I’d suggest 10–20% allocated work time for the organizers of ERGs. Offering allocated work time is a clear message to employees that ERG work is work and the organization perceives it that way.

Encouraging employees to attend ERG events as a part of their work also sends the message that ERGs are an important part of the work culture.

Create opportunities for ERG organizers

Acknowledge the work of ERG organizers by offering them access to special opportunities for growth, development and networking. Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Set up a mentorship program for ERG organizers.
  • Creating networking opportunities for ERG organizers to connect with other organizers internally and externally.
  • Offer ERG organizers opportunities to participate in special programs or conferences to help them build their skills.

Give Visibility to ERG Organizers

Offering visibility to ERGs and their organizers is another important way that this work is acknowledged. Here are several ways this can be done:

  • Offer professional branding for ERG logos and feature them prominently on the intranet.
  • Invite ERG organizers to present their accomplishments to the executive team.
  • Host a video series of interviews or discussions between the ERGs and the CEO.
  • Feature blog posts and events from the ERGs in weekly newsletters.
  • Encourage ERG organizers to include the logo of their ERG in their email signature.
  • Offer ERG organizer badges to include on their intranet profile.
  • Invite ERG organizers to speak at team events or onboarding events.
  • Simply have the leadership team acknowledge and thank the work of the ERGs during an All Hands or other company event.

All of these ideas are quite simple and cost little to nothing. But they go a long way to validate, showcase and acknowledge the work of ERG organizers.

What can an ERG organizer do if they do not feel recognized?

Perhaps you are reading this blog not as a leader or DEI program manager, but as a frustrated ERG organizer who puts a lot of their energy into their ERG but does not feel rewarded for it. If this is you and your organization is unwilling to recognize the work you are doing, here are a few tips to take matters into your own hands:

  1. Ask the sponsor of your ERG to advocate for your work and help get it officially recognized.
  2. Advocate for yourself by talking about the success of your ERG in team meetings and during your performance review.
  3. Put your ERG experience in your LinkedIn profile.
  4. Seek opportunities to give talks internally or externally about the successes of your ERG.
  5. Build up your professional network with support from other members of your ERG.
  6. If all else fails, find a new employer that will recognize and compensate you for the work you do.

Final thoughts

In summary, this blogpost is not about just paying employees for the work they are doing. It’s about a mindset shift. It’s about an organization seeing the work that ERGs do, not as a fluffy community volunteer project but as valuable work that contributes to the health of the organization. If that mindset is there, then it becomes automatically intuitive to properly recognize and reward this work.

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This publication explores practical diversity, equity and inclusion guidance for driving change in a global working environment. Header photo credit: @aznbokchoy on Unsplash.

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Sarah Cordivano

Sarah Cordivano

Community Building, Equity, Inclusion and Maps. Former Philadelphian, Current Berliner. Twitter @mapadelphia & LinkedIn.

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