Employee Resource Groups: What They Are and How to Build One

March 15, 2022
6 min

Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace means evaluating and addressing bias in hiring practices, rooting out toxicity and prejudice within each team, and establishing new policies and processes to support employees from underrepresented backgrounds. But none of this can be accomplished without listening to people from those underrepresented groups and ensuring the organization honors their thoughts and feelings with action.

To accomplish this, many businesses have established employee resource groups (ERGs). But what exactly does this entail, how will it impact your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and what can you do to ensure your ERGs are successful?

Today, we’re delving into all of the above.

What Are Employee Resource Groups?

Employee resource groups are employee-led groups comprised of people who share a characteristic or experience. These voluntary initiatives are usually developed to support people from historically underrepresented or underserved groups. For example, an ERG may be composed of LGBTQ employees, team members of the same race or ethnicity, employees with disabilities, neurodivergent employees, or team members who are women, parents, or veterans. In some cases, ERGs may also be open to allies.

ERGs usually exist so people from similar backgrounds, lifestyles, and experiences can discuss shared challenges, foster a sense of community, and help create change within the organization through advisement and advocacy. These safe spaces allow underrepresented employees to talk about obstacles to DEI that they experience both inside and outside the organization, without fear of judgment or retaliation.

What Can Employee Resource Groups Do for Your Business?

Here are just a few ways ERGs benefits organizations:

  • Cultivate community
    No matter how welcoming or inclusive your culture is, it’s not unusual for people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds to feel uncomfortable or out of place — especially if there aren’t many other members of their diversity group in their department or team. This can significantly impact the employee experience and make it more challenging to retain diverse talent. An ERG, however, gives employees an opportunity to connect and develop relationships with peers who share similar lived experiences.
  • Uncover organizational threats to DEI
    Implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotyping aren’t always obvious to people who aren’t on the receiving end of those behaviors — especially in organizations early in their DEI journey. ERGs can help leadership teams better understand the issues holding them back from meeting their DEI goals, so they know what to address.
  • Develop agents of change
    ERGs are excellent places to ignite the fire that leads to significant change because they empower diverse employees to share their concerns and advise leadership on solving issues. In some ways, these groups are incubators for DEI initiatives and can create new foundational pillars upon which you’ll build and scale a more diverse organization.

How to Create Successful ERGs

Unfortunately, not all ERGs are successful. Here are a few things you can do to ensure your ERG benefits underrepresented employees and helps you meet your DEI objectives:

  • Get senior leadership on board
    Like any other initiative, it’s essential you gain executive buy-in to be successful. It’s crucial that senior leaders are supportive of ERGs, receptive to the ideas and proposed strategies that come out of them, and committed to change. It’s also vital that executives allocate resources to groups, such as a budget for professional development programs.
  • Identify the group mission
    Ask employees what they want to achieve from their participation and create a mission statement. For example, an ERG might exist to broaden the organization’s understanding of race and ethnicity and foster more equitable growth at every level of the company.
  • Establish a clear structure
    Every group needs at least one person who will act as the leader and represent the group to senior leadership teams. It’s also a good idea to outline and document all roles and responsibilities and determine meeting frequency early on.
  • Encourage participation
    Once you’ve founded an ERG, promote it across the organization to ensure everyone who may want to participate is aware of the group and has the option to join. Include information about ERGs in onboarding materials, regularly share teams’ efforts in company meetings, and announce meetings via email and other communication platforms.
  • Be mindful of emotional labor
    Remember, while ERGs have a clear business case, they’re there to give people from underrepresented groups a place to connect and feel supported. But DEI is a team effort, and the burden to create and effect change should never be left to underrepresented groups alone. Additionally, voluntary work within ERGs can quickly become tedious and exhausting, which is why some organizations are considering compensating members for their participation.

Employee resource groups can be a tremendous asset to an organization if you set them up for success. By investing in ERGs, you can help ensure diversity flourishes within your organization, retain your valuable diverse talent, and help your company overcome roadblocks to DEI.

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