What are Employee Resource Groups (ERGS)?
Employee resource groups are employee-organized committees within a workplace, made by employees who share similar experiences and hope to accomplish a common goal. There are groups created by and for marginalized communities; people with disabilities; people with shared race or ethnic backgrounds, religion, gender identity, or sexuality. These groups can speak in solidarity about issues they encounter in the workplace. ERGs are also referred to as affinity groups, as create a sense of belonging in their company.
Employee resource groups empower members to advocate for their needs and the needs of others. With proper support from management, ERGs can promote company inclusivity, jumpstart DEI initiatives, attract new talent, and more. Internal changes, however, depend on the mission of the group and its support system.
Starting an ERG
If you are interested in starting an employee resource group, first find members who would like to participate. The group should establish its purpose for coming together. Examples:
- To network with other Black or Latinx professionals and share resources
- To address the gender wage gap you’ve noticed in your company
- To offer support to new parents in the workplace
- To practice religious or cultural traditions together, rather than individually
Groups can work alongside their leadership to revise company policies, or they could simply create a comfortable, safe space to talk. Both efforts are valuable in the workplace. With proper support, ERGs can leave a lasting impact on the company’s culture.
- You’ve got interest in the group
- You’ve discussed your purpose
- Next: Presenting and planning
Seeking Executive Support
Now it’s time to get your leadership on board. You will need to request to speak with upper management or attend one of their meetings. Not everyone who is interested in the ERG needs to show up, but you should absolutely hold a full list of names. Solidarity is the most effective approach to this task – so you want to include your leadership team in your planning. If your group challenges the views and policies of leadership, you should carefully consider your language and proposal. Present your ERG’s purpose for coming together in a positive manner, highlighting solutions, and leaving critiques to a minimum until a later time.
- “BIPOC employees in this organization have experienced more microaggressions during this tense political time. Our group is discussing possible solutions for this problem, and we would like management to be part of this conversation.”
- “Employees who practice Islam have not felt recognized in this workplace. We would like to create spaces for prayer as well as educate others about our faith.”
- “We are a group of bi-lingual employees who use our languages to serve the company’s non-English speaking clients. We believe we should get certified and compensated for our language skills.”
Keep in mind that you are advocating – not attacking. Being too fixed on problems makes it difficult for management to be receptive. They may shut down before you can gain their support. Being solution-focused is easier on the ear, especially at the first meeting.
What does supporting ERGs look like?
Leaders should participate in planning and implementing. The details include:
- Where and when the group will meet? Is this paid or unpaid time?
- Who would the group like to have present for meetings?
- Will the group assign roles and responsibilities?
- Consider bringing in an expert, consultant or mediator (if needed)
- Break down goals into tangible actions
Many companies are implementing DEI initiatives into their business plans, and it’s proven to be beneficial to all – with proper support. This could mean making adjustments to your organization’s budget. Allow some funding to go towards the group’s advancement. Space and time should be set aside for group meetings, training sessions, and events. Lastly, consider the morale of the group. How can you celebrate when they accomplish a goal or create meaningful change? How can you uplift them when plans fall through? Genuine support for ERGs is providing time, money, and ongoing encouragement.