In today’s work environment, diverse perspectives, inclusion, and a sense of community are essential. In fact, more and more companies are understanding diversity as a powerful competitive advantage. By leveraging the unique strengths of each team member and supporting historically marginalized groups, we can all go further, together. In this post, we’ll explore how Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) create intentional space for diverse groups, support employee well-being, and add value to the company.
Read on to learn: Why are ERGs important? How can you start an Employee Resource Group in your workplace? Or, how can you and your team improve the effectiveness of ERGs in your organization if they already exist? We’ll cover the answers to these questions, and more, as we explore Employee Resource Groups best practices and research.
Keep reading to learn how ERGs can enhance your corporate culture – including:
- How Employee Resource Groups can bolster recruiting and retention efforts
- Ideas for ERG networking events, mentorship programs, and other professional development activities
- Ways that ERGs contribute to diversity and inclusion in the workplace
- Examples of companies and professionals who have benefited from ERGs
In this post, you’ll find:
- What is an ERG?
- Why ERGs are important in the workplace
- Competitive advantages of employee resource groups and other DEI efforts
- ERG best practices, tips, and actionable ideas
What are Employee Resource Groups?
An Employee Resource Group is an employee-organized, company-sanctioned group that unites the organization’s workers who share similar backgrounds, characteristics, or experiences. An ERG may serve a variety of purposes – including networking within the organization, offering professional development opportunities, providing social and emotional support, and advocating for change within the organization.
Many ERGs are formed around various aspects of diversity, such as race, age, sexual orientation, gender, veteran status, etc. For instance, it’s common to see ERGs for Black or African American employees, Hispanic/Latino employees, LGBTQ+ employees, and so on. Many companies offer ERGs for a wide variety of groups. These might include ERGs for parents, ERGs focused around interests and hobbies, and Employee Resource Groups geared toward volunteering or practicing wellness habits together.
With origins in the 1960s and 1970s in response to the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements, Employee Resource Groups – sometimes called affinity groups – are now a strong and impactful presence in the corporate world. The first official ERG was a Xerox corporate group for Black employees. Today, some prominent companies that have successfully implemented ERGs or related groups include Geico, The Home Depot, Twitch, EY (Ernst & Young), Mattel, Caterpillar, and many others across industries. Read on to discover how Employee Resource Groups can benefit your organization.
11 Key Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
While they may take some time to organize, active ERGs can result in a wide variety of benefits to employees and employers. ERG benefits can range from bolstered recruitment and retention efforts to stronger employee bonds and improved communication.
1. Diversity and Inclusion
ERGs contribute to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, offering platforms for underrepresented groups to share, recognize, and voice their concerns and needs. Employees from historically marginalized backgrounds may find inclusion and belonging in ERG groups, leading to an enhanced sense of well-being and community. Many ERGs also offer professional development resources, which can be especially important for people from underrepresented groups who may not have received equitable access to these resources in the past.
Additionally, ERGs can boost cultural awareness and understanding among employees. Through company-wide activities, trainings, and advocacy initiatives, employees – even those outside the group – can learn, listen, come together, and break down stereotypes.
2. Professional Development
One major function of many ERGs is to provide its members with ongoing opportunities for skill-building, leadership training, and mentorship.
With many ERGs offering these professional development opportunities, these groups can become a pipeline for future talent and leadership development!
3. Networking Opportunities
Employee Resource Groups offer employees a chance to connect across departments and roles. These networking opportunities can lead to organic conversations, enhanced connection, and smoother inter-departmental collaborations.
If you’re looking for event ideas for your employee resource group, consider organizing a:
- Casual networking breakfast before work
- Lunch and learn panel session with internal or external speakers
- “Speed-networking” style event, with a bell ding prompting everyone to switch conversation partners every 10 minutes
- Coffee hour, with participants randomly assigned into small breakout groups
- Game night, to spark conversations and friendly competition!
4. Cultural Competence
Through their presence and their initiatives, ERGs can help educate the broader employee base about different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. This education can lead to a more culturally competent and sensitive workforce.
For instance, your Hispanic Employee Association may wish to host a company-wide festival celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. This event could provide a fun day for employees and their families, while also educating participants about various Hispanic cultures, histories, foods, dances, music, and more. Together, attendees can learn how to celebrate other holidays and cultures respectfully as well as gain understanding that can have a ripple effect throughout the community.
5. Business Insights
ERGs can offer unique perspectives and ideas that can be leveraged as a competitive advantage for your organization. In fact – according to McKinsey & Company, a whopping 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs! Below are just two examples of how insights from ERGs have informed business decisions and product developments:
Microsoft’s Disability ERG
Microsoft offers a variety of ERGs, including one for employees with disabilities called Disability at Microsoft. Among other goals, this group works to ensure that the company “embeds accessibility and disability inclusion into all we do at Microsoft.” As part of these efforts, Microsoft has a neurodiversity hiring program and other disability hiring initiatives. An annual one-week “Ability Hack” also challenges employees from across the country to build opportunities for people with disabilities through technology.
Amazon’s Black Employee Network
Called BEN for short, Amazon’s Black Employee Network focuses on professional development, mentorship, and recruiting. According to Amazon, “In 2018, two members of the BEN leadership team raised a business idea, which then became their full time jobs.” Their idea: launching a Black haircare store, called Textures & Hues, on Amazon.
The company notes, “The concept came out of BEN meetings and led to a plan approved by leadership, new roles for the two BEN leaders, and the creation of a team to support the work.”
6. Recruitment and Retention
One of the major Employee Resource Group benefits we love: when it comes to recruitment and retention, ERGs can be a huge selling point. By helping employees feel valued and understood, ERGs can contribute to an emotionally healthy workplace where people want to come work – and stay.
In fact, the Society of Human Resources Management notes that “bonding over shared experiences can help combat the Great Resignation.” Furthermore, a Glassdoor Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey found that 76% of job seekers say a diverse workforce is important to them when evaluating companies and job offers.
7. Enhanced Employee Engagement
Participation in ERGs at work can boost employees’ sense of community and belonging. Over time, this can lead to improvements in overall employee morale and engagement.
In fact, a McKinsey & Company study found that 66% of ERG members said their ERG is effective at community building. When employees feel they have a network of caring community members at work, it can lead to smoother communication, more seamless project flow, and a “plugged-in,” responsive workforce invested in each other’s success.
8. Safe Spaces, Support, and Guidance
Employee affinity groups offer safe environments to share experiences, find common ground, seek advice, and support one another. With many ERGs welcoming people from marginalized groups, these safe spaces can be especially important for employees to find solace in.
Ensure your ERG is a welcoming and affirming place by creating opportunities for both casual and structured dialogue. If needed, engage your HR department or an external consultant to help guide sensitive conversations. Additionally, you can share anonymous surveys with group members to gather authentic feedback and see where improvements may be needed.
9. Community Engagement
Many members of Employee Resource Groups find meaning through spearheading community outreach initiatives and philanthropic activities. This can be a doubly beneficial activity, as it serves as both a networking opportunity for members and helps the community at large. To spark inspiration, below are just a few ERGs making a positive impact in their communities:
Levi Strauss: SAWUBONA Youth Project
The ERGs at Levi Strauss regularly tackle volunteer projects across the globe. SAWUBONA, the company’s Black and African ERG in Europe, partnered with an organization to empower children in Africa through sports. Through a variety of educational workshops and basketball camps, their first project focused on teen pregnancy awareness and drug prevention for children age 8-16.
Aramark: Leaders & Employees of African Descent Holiday Toy & Clothing Drive
A holiday toy and clothing drive can be a meaningful way to help people in your community. Members of Aramark’s Leaders & Employees of African Descent (LEAD) ERG partnered with the Urban League of Philadelphia to deliver more than 200 toys and winter clothing to children and families in West Philadelphia. Aramark notes that toys were collected from donation drives at a local bank park, university, and the company’s headquarters.
Diverse perspectives within ERGs can drive innovation and new ideas. For instance, at an ERG event serving single/solo parents, employees might bond over a shared frustration for men’s restrooms lacking a changing table. Men might share how inconvenient it is when they cannot change their little one in a restroom. All might agree this perpetuates a societal idea that changing youngster’s is “a job for women” since the women’s restroom is where the changing table is located.
If the company operates dining or retail establishments, this could lead to an employee-led review of how these physical spaces are (or aren’t) inclusive of single parents, leading to innovations in future store layout that could include nursing areas and other family-friendly selling points for customers.
11. Policy and Change Advocacy
ERGs can be instrumental in shaping company policies to be more inclusive, advocating for positive change within the organization. After all – we are stronger together!
There are many ways in which Employee Resource Groups may advocate for change – and often, this starts by simply realizing there is a shared issue or challenge that needs addressing. From there, advocacy can happen through a variety of steps – including research, surveying employees to gauge interest and sentiment behind an issue, gathering support, and engaging in a conversation with leadership.
To be a strong and supportive leader, it’s important that those in executive roles take seriously the concerns, goals, challenges, and ideas brought to them by ERGs. Whether an ERG is advocating for enhanced parental leave policies, pay equity, scholarship funds, or something else – listen with an open mind, knowing that there is a coalition of support behind the idea and the group.
Best Practices for Establishing and Supporting ERGs
Are you thinking about how to start an Employee Resource Group at your company? Forming an ERG may take time and energy, but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. To ensure the best experience:
- Prepare your plans and budget. Using this post for inspiration, determine who the ERG will serve, what its goals are, a vision for the types of initiatives and activities the group may pursue, and how you will recruit members.
- Detail the resources, both financial and non-financial, that organizations should allocate to support the ERG(s) effectively. This might include a budget for networking events and refreshments, honoraria for speakers, training resources, and more.
- Seek support from company leaders and executives. Use the Harvard Business Review article “How to Secure Support for Your ERG’s Initiatives” as a guide.
Over time, it’s likely you will need to shift gears, re-prioritize, and expand or redefine your goals for the ERG. After recruiting members, hosting events, and debriefing via survey or conversation, you may realize a desire to change the group’s goals or activities. Note that ERGs can (and should!) grow and evolve along with their members. As long you have a basic structure and plan in place, aim to find a balance between organization and flexibility, to best serve all involved.
Ready to Empower Your Team with ERG Initiatives?
In this post, we reviewed what Employee Resource Groups are and the ways in which they can benefit companies and employees. Research from McKinsey & Company notes that while effective ERGs are “key to inclusion at work,” it’s important to “get them right.” Their advice? “Ensuring clear communication about the ERG’s purpose and goals, aligning each ERG’s activities with the corporate DEI strategy, and lending sufficient organizational support to ERG leaders.”
If you’re seeking unique ERG activities aligned with your DEI goals, look no further than Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training! We offer top-rated engaging, live programs loved by teams at Google, Coca-Cola, UPS, The Home Depot, and many others. Explore our DEI training and virtual team building programs – then reach out below to learn more and speak with our team!
For more resources, explore more blog posts on how to support your Black employee resource group, ways to make sure your Pride ERG is inclusive and intersectional, and ideas on how you can use your voice to promote diversity and inclusion as an employee.
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