In the 1960s, Black employees at Xerox created the first-ever employee resource group (ERG), the National Black Employee Caucus, to discuss racial tensions in the workplace. Since then, ERGs have become increasingly more common. In fact, ERGs can be found in 90% of Fortune 500 companies today.
ERGs are employee-led initiatives that operate on a voluntary basis, promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Typically guided and engaged in by employees who share common characteristics—such as gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, interests, or lifestyle—ERGs have become increasingly relevant in response to the increasing impact of gender issues, matters of personal identity, and political dynamics. ERG inclusion extends to allies, who are encouraged to participate in supporting their colleagues.
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5 Employee Resource Group Best Practices
If your business is looking to start incorporating ERGs into the workplace, adopting these practices will guarantee the group’s success in attaining the associated benefits for your employees.
The best practices to incorporate include:
- Strong Communication
- Gaining Support from the Top
- Being Action-Oriented
- Driving Awareness and Engagement
- Measuring Success and Using the Results for Improvement
1. Strong Communication
A key factor for ERGs to achieve success lies in the willingness to communicate openly and exchange experiences, strengths, and hopeful perspectives with fellow group members. ERGs can only accomplish their goal of being safe spaces when there is consistent, unrestricted, and nonjudgemental communication.
The formation of new groups often emerges organically, driven by individuals who have discovered shared interests or experiences, or in response to arising needs within the community. This process fosters an environment in which mutual support and shared understanding become catalysts for individual and collective growth.
2. Gaining Support from the Top
In a Great Place to Work® case study examining ERGs, it was revealed that 100% of executive sponsors of ERGs said company leadership encouraged participation in ERGs, whereas only 52% of ERG leaders shared this sentiment. Additionally, 78% of executive sponsors perceived ERG involvement as beneficial for career advancement, but only 40% of ERG leaders concurred.
The study found that challenges faced by ERG leaders include a lack of budget, resources, authority, and allies. To mitigate these issues, it is recommended that company leaders should become more involved with ERGs. When business executives actively support ERGs, company culture becomes stronger.
3. Being Action-Oriented
Brainstorming ideas and writing out the great things an ERG could potentially achieve is a great start. However, given the constraints of limited resources, a strategic approach to successful ERGs involves prioritizing one or two key goals and diligently working towards their accomplishment. Be sure to reflect upon and define the ERG's mission and purpose, as these elements function as the ERG’s foundation.
While the exploration of possibilities initiates the framework, the selection and pursuit of specific goals aligned with the ERG's mission and purpose will propel the group toward meaningful and impactful outcomes.
4. Driving Awareness and Engagement
Generating interest and expanding the group’s reach can be achieved through word-of-mouth promotion. The growth of the group is facilitated through organic conversations and testimonials that spread among members and potential participants.
Leveraging the backing of the HR department becomes instrumental in amplifying the ERG's influence. Having the support of HR can help ERGs generate more support and awareness about upcoming events or initiatives to establish new groups within the organization.
5. Measuring Success and Using the Results for Improvement
By measuring success, you can determine where there is room for improvement and how to best meet members’ needs. Engagement surveys and anonymous polls can be great methods for collecting feedback, ensuring that meetings and events remain valuable to participants.
Encouraging interested employees to attend ERG events and meetings to gain the perspectives of others can also be beneficial to the group. It is crucial for the ERG to extend beyond being solely a safe space for members; it should evolve into a welcoming community that embraces allies.
Why Are Employee Resource Groups Important?
Employee resource groups play a pivotal role in constructing trustful relationships among colleagues. Additionally, they cultivate a sense of belonging, stimulate meaningful conversations, introduce innovative perspectives on issues, and drive forward innovation.
These groups serve as an invaluable support system for employees, fostering an environment conducive to personal and career development. They play a crucial role in not only enhancing professional skills but also providing a network of support that aids in individual growth and advancement within the company.
ERGs are instrumental in boosting the careers of individuals with diverse backgrounds. By prioritizing diversity, these companies ensure a wider array of viewpoints and ideas at the leadership level.
Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups serve as valuable spaces where individuals can come together, address frustrations, and collaboratively propose recommendations. The platform created by ERGs goes beyond mere convening; it fosters a dynamic environment for open discussions, problem-solving, and the generation of actionable suggestions.
Some of the benefits organizations see when developing employee resource groups are:
- Identifying and Developing Potential Leaders: ERG leaders play a pivotal role in spotting emerging talent that might be overlooked due to unconscious biases. Participants can discover opportunities to engage with mentors and cultivate new relationships with colleagues.
- Improving the Working Environment for Isolated Employees: ERGs play a vital role in fostering connection among marginalized groups and remote workers by uniting them through shared causes or interests.
- Enhancing the Physical Workspace to Benefit All: ERGs bring up suggestions for changes within the work environment to make everyone feel comfortable, such as gender-neutral bathrooms or increased accessibility.
- Creating a Safe Space: By providing an environment where everyone feels at ease sharing their experiences, ERGs establish a space where employees can come together for open conversations.
- Addressing Company-Wide Challenges: Groups tailored to focus on specific topics or issues contribute to keeping leaders well-informed about the concerns or achievements at the front of employees’ minds.
- Reducing the Likelihood of Unexpressed Frustrations: By serving as a platform to bring forth issues that an individual might find too precarious to share alone, ERGs facilitate problem-solving and contribute to eliminating toxic environments.
Adopting best practices—such as strong communication, executive support, action-oriented initiatives, driving awareness, and continuous improvement—is essential for the successful implementation of employee resource groups (ERGs) in the workplace. These practices establish ERGs as safe spaces with open communication, organic growth, and the pursuit of specific goals aligned with their mission.
The involvement of company leaders is crucial to overcoming challenges faced by ERG leaders and contributing to overall company success by nurturing relationships and supporting personal and career development.
The benefits of ERGs extend beyond collaboration spaces, addressing improvements the working environment, enhancing the physical workspace, creating safe spaces, identifying potential leaders, addressing company-wide challenges, and reducing the likelihood of unexpressed frustrations.
Ultimately, ERGs play a pivotal role in creating an inclusive workplace culture that embraces diversity and supports individual growth within the company—which, in turn, supports the growth of the company as a whole.
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