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Employee Resource Group: ERG Guidelines & Best Practices

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Setting up DEIB programs that are effective and impactful is a top priority for many chief culture officers and HR managers. To do this successfully, many organizations are favoring the use of employee resource groups. In fact, according to the Sequoia Consulting Group’s 2021 Employee Experience Benchmarking Report, 40% of companies have now established an Employee Resource Group, a 9% increase from the previous year.

In today’s post, we are going to define ERG and explain the benefits of creating an ERG group in your business. We will also share a few examples, guidelines, and best practices to help you launch your own initiative and foster a diverse and inclusive workplace.
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What Is an Employee Resource Group (ERG)?

Before we take a deep dive into the topic, let’s break down the basics: what is an ERG and what does ERG stand for?

As we mentioned in the introduction, workplace diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives are on the rise. The aim behind these initiatives is to create a working environment that benefits all employees, regardless of gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic background, and mental and physical ability, among others.

One DEIB initiative that organizations are embracing in increasing numbers is the use of employee resource groups, also known as ERGs. These are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve to foster diversity and inclusion. Participants all share a common characteristic, such as gender, race, ethnicity, veteran status, religious affiliation, or lifestyle. The groups offer a chance to network and socialize, work on professional development, and raise awareness of relevant issues.

The concept of an ERG group is not new. In fact, these groups have been around since the 1960s when black workers at Xerox formed a group in order to find a solution to racial tension in the workplace. However, they have grown rapidly in popularity over recent years due to the increasing awareness of personal identity in and out of the workplace. As a result, these groups can be a great way to build inclusive environments that drive diversity and equity in the workplace.

What Is the Purpose of an Employee Resource Group?

Each ERG group has its own specific purpose and goals. However, there are a number of common drivers:

  • Employee resource groups create an open forum for employees who share a common identity. They can get support from each other, build a community, and create a sense of belonging.
  • ERG groups help you establish a clear line of communication between managers and minority groups so that employees can voice concerns when needed. This helps you develop an inclusive company culture.
  • A multicultural employee resource group can help you develop cultural competence in your company and reduce workplace discrimination. This, in turn, reduces your chances of claims relating to disparate treatment or adverse impact.
  • A diversity and inclusion employee resource group can help you foster a diverse workforce and promote positive diversity management in the workplace. This improves your reputation, increases retention rates, and helps you attract top talent to your business. The right DEIB strategy can also help you reduce gender bias in recruitment and have a positive impact on customer relations and your ROI.
  • An employee resource group can be a great tool to improve employee engagement and create a shared sense of mission and purpose.
  • The right group can also help you encourage your employees to work on their professional development. This is especially true if you align group goals with your mentorship programs and leadership opportunities.
  • Finally, a safe space for employees from a range of social backgrounds can help you nurture an environment based on fresh perspectives and the exchange of ideas. This can lead to creativity and innovation which can help your business develop and grow.

Employee Resource Groups Examples

Employee resource groups come in all shapes and sizes. They are generally created by motivated employees who want to build a sense of community within your organization.

Common examples of an ERG group include the following:

  • Women’s network
  • ERG groups for people of color
  • An LGBTQIA+ network
  • Veterans employee resource groups
  • Groups for people with disabilities
  • A mental health advocacy group
  • Latinxs employee resource groups
  • A young professionals network

Think about your workforce for a moment. What groups could your employees potentially create? Which could benefit your workforce culture and help your employees feel more included?

Once you’ve done that, take a look at a couple of examples of well-known ERG initiatives launched by a few big brands. Perhaps they might inspire you or your employees…

Ernst & Young Professional Networks

E&Y currently has more than a dozen ERGs and employee support groups. The company embraces diversity and encourages employees with common interests to advocate for key populations.

For example, there are groups for working mothers, veterans, cancer survivors, and speakers of French, amongst many others.

According to Karyn Twaronite, EY Global Vice Chair of Diversity & Inclusiveness:

“When organizations build a culture that values all dimensions of diversity – one that provides equitable opportunities for people to grow, learn and advance – it creates an environment where everyone thrives and where people can experience a true sense of belonging.”

Women at Microsoft (W@M)

Women at Microsoft (W@M) is perhaps one of the greatest ERG success stories to date. The initiative aims to empower and inspire women to break the glass ceiling, both within the company and the wider community.

According to the group’s website:

“Women@Microsoft’s mission is to attract, retain, and develop women around the world. From sparking girls’ interest in technology, working with women-forward organizations, and providing networking, mentoring, and other professional development resources, Women@Microsoft works to break the gender gap in technology and empower women to bring their whole selves to work.”
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Starting an Employee Resource Group

If you are considering starting an ERG corporate group, there are a number of elements you need to consider so that it is a success.

The first step is deciding what sort of group you want to create:

  • Diversity groups that foster a sense of belonging amongst minority groups in your organization.
  • Affinity groups where employees with similar lifestyles or interests can get together and socialize.
  • Professional development/mentorship programs where employees can share their knowledge and skills to help their peers develop their careers.

The next step is aligning the goals of your ERG with the overall objectives of your company. What does your company care about as a brand? Supporting the local community? Promoting equality and diversity for all? You also need to plan and identify benchmarks for success, including long-term goals and potential challenges.

The third step is getting the right support. If the employee resource group is going to be a success, your senior managers need to buy into the initiative. This is especially true for your HR department as your recruiters can help spread the message at the onboarding stage

The final, and perhaps most important step, is communicating your initiative and building your team. Create a solid strategy and communication plan. Find the right leaders for your group and make sure they are able to commit. Present your ideas to the general workforce and encourage employees to participate. Make sure you are clear about the goals and mission of your employee resource group. You could even hold an event to generate interest and excitement! This can be a great way to build membership.

Employee Resource Groups Best Practices

We are going to end this post by looking at a few best practices to help you get the most from your ERG employee resource group. These tips will help you build an ERG group that provides true value to both your employees and your business as a whole:

  • Make sure you give your employee resource groups the autonomy to define what their group is. Never dictate. This includes the scope of the group, who is eligible, and what success means.
  • Also, make sure you provide groups with the right tools so that they can track and measure their success. This might include road-mapping templates, budget tracking tools, support in setting up metrics, or a platform for communication. For example, a good place to start might be sharing ideas for KPIs, such as those included in Factorial’s free diversity metrics eBook.
  • Encourage your employees to establish clear ERG goals and ERG guidelines.
  • An ERG group should ultimately give underrepresented voices an opportunity to communicate with each other and with leadership. Encourage your employees to promote accountability and transparency. They can do this through feedback and open communication.
  • Employee resource groups are both top-down and bottom-up. This means that although the groups are created and managed by employees, senior management still needs to be on board. If you can, offer funding and invite all employees to participate. After all, the main purpose of the group is to promote diversity and inclusion at every level of your company, not create further divisions.

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