June 12, 2023

Employee Resource Groups: Definition & Implementation

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways:

  • Employee resource groups (ERGs) are internal organizations focused on creating a more inclusive workspace for underrepresented groups in the company.
  • Effective ERGs can promote inclusion and belonging, attract diverse talent, and build professional networks.
  • They can also help companies make positive changes in their workplaces and external communities.
  • Successful ERGs require clear purposes, goals, and support from the company to promote employee engagement and belonging.

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What is an employee resource group?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led internal organizations that focus on creating more diverse, inclusive workplaces. They also go by affinity groups, business resource groups, or business network groups.

Most ERGs revolve around shared, underrepresented identities in a company or industry. While focus areas differ from company to company, some of the most common include:

  • Ethnicity.
  • Gender identity.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Religious affiliation.
  • Military status.
  • Disability.
  • Mental health.
  • Caregiving.

Although a major component of ERGs is spreading interest and awareness about their struggles, they also act as the infrastructure to put company diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals into practice.

For example, they can help educate others in the organization, promote allyship, improve employee-focused business practices, and help get more diverse people into leadership positions.

What are examples of ERGs?

What are the advantages of employee resource groups?

ERGs can promote organizational inclusion and belonging, attract diverse talent, build professional networks, drive position workplace changes, and benefit external communities.

Promotes inclusion and belonging

ERGS build strong company culture by allowing employees to openly discuss their interests, identities, or concerns in a group setting without fear of repercussions. By connecting employees of similar backgrounds together, these groups can foster safety and reduce feelings of isolation.

In addition, the visibility of ERGs can boost your workplace’s cultural competence and acceptance of varying employees’ lived experiences, backgrounds, and abilities. As a result, employee retention and engagement increase while turnover decreases.

Attracts diverse talent

ERGs are crucial for recruiting Gen Z, the most ethnically diverse generation, as they showcase your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in meaningful work. Advertising what groups are available on your job descriptions and throughout the recruitment process boosts candidate interest and may set you apart from your competition.

Builds professional networks

ERGs allow employees to expand their network to different teams and departments. As a result, employees develop contacts they can turn to for assistance or collaboration on company projects.

Members can also develop their external networks through ERG-sponsored events. Not only does this support employees’ career development, but it also can build their sense of community and belonging. In turn, these networks and experiences can help employees contribute to your company’s bottom line. 

Drives positive workplace changes

ERGs are frequently the driving force behind workplace improvements to physical and mental spaces. For instance, they can establish gender-neutral bathrooms, put up Braille for the visually impaired, or institute employee assistance programs (EAPs) to help immigrants obtain permanent residence status.

Additionally, executives and DEI commitments can look to them for advice before instituting significant workplace changes. This kind of reverse mentorship allows employees much lower on the organizational chart to have a voice in major company decisions.

Benefits external communities

Through community volunteering or charity events, conferences, or workshops, ERGs have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their communities. Beyond making their communities more inclusive places to work and live, they help promote and build a positive reputation for your brand.

In addition, ERGs can help improve their company’s products or services for underrepresented groups. For instance, a clothing company’s Body Inclusivity ERG may suggest adding sizes for different heights or weights. By expanding its target market, the company can increase sales and benefit communities in the long term.

What are the challenges of implementing employee resource groups?

A lack of leadership, member recruitment, unclear purpose and objectives, and lack of company resources can make implementing an ERG challenging.

Lack of leadership

Without proper governance and leadership, ERGs are disorganized in their actions. When there is a lack of oversight, groups may have conflicting expectations with executives, making their change efforts ineffective.

Member recruitment

ERG member recruitment requires more than a single flyer on the company bulletin board. Even if company higher-ups and DEI committees want to implement an ERG, make sure starting one is of interest to the employee population first. Otherwise, you risk isolating employees from the group and counteracting DEI initiatives. The ERG fails before it even starts.

Unclear purpose and objectives

ERG members cannot affect positive workplace changes if they do not outline clear goals. Moreover, if employees are unsure of the group’s intention, it can have the opposite effect of excluding employees on the very issues or identities it stands to represent.

Lack of company resources

ERGs cannot sponsor events, recruit members, or enact change without support from the company. Lack of company resources can also stall recruitment efforts since members volunteer their time without compensation from the company.

How to implement an employee resource group

Maximize the benefits of ERGs and avoid implementation challenges by following the steps below:

  1. Survey the company and advertise.
  2. Identify purpose and goals.
  3. Align with company DEI initiatives.
  4. Provide organizational support.
  5. Set regular meetings and activity cadences.
  6. Evaluate its effectiveness.

1. Survey the company and advertise

ERGs require collaboration between employees and executives for maximum effectiveness. Most employee engagement platforms, such as Motivosity, have survey tools you can leverage to gauge employee interest and pinpoint which ERGs will be the most effective in the organization.

Following this, advertise the groups with the most employee interest across company communication channels and develop a roster of employees. HR departments or DEI committees may have to facilitate the first few meetings to get started. However, after this, ERGs should be free to run themselves so members can feel safe to talk openly without feeling scrutinized by the company.

Check out how to create surveys through Motivosity below:

2. Identify purpose and goals

Once ERG members choose a leader and governance style, they should develop a mission statement with an overall purpose and short- and long-term goals. For example, an LGBTQIA+ group’s primary purpose may be to educate employees about issues facing their community with a short-term goal of increasing ally membership by 5%.

ERGs are most successful when they tie their purpose to key performance indicators (KPIs) to track their progress. Performance management software, like Leapsome’s Goals, can help ERGs keep track of their day-to-day progress while ensuring it aligns with their mission strategy.

Leapsome's create new goal window shows you can create either a business or personal development goal to measure progress toward overall business or career path objectives.
Leapsome’s goal-setting modules can help your ERG create, track, and collaborate on its goals so you can measure its effectiveness and company impact over time. Source: Leapsome

3. Align with company DEI initiatives

Your executive team, HR department, or DEI committee can work with ERGs to transform DEI aspirations into realities. Because ERGs have committed members, they can carry out changes to improve your DEI metrics.

For example, if your company’s objective is to increase the number of people of color in leadership roles, your ERG groups can assist you in finding eligible internal candidates who belong to these communities. They can even source their external networks and encourage the appropriate talent to apply.

4. Provide organizational support

ERGs need access to funding, communication channels, and company endorsements to be successful. Ensure they have a set company budget plan activities, support their communities, and recruit new members.

Similarly, allow ERG members time from their work duties to participate in meetings, activities, and event planning. Employees should not have to sacrifice their professional or personal time to support the group and enact meaningful workplace change.

Moreover, listen and implement appropriate ERG suggestions in the workplace, as long as they align with company values and can improve employees’ feeling of workplace belonging. Doing so gives the groups legitimacy and increases overall employee satisfaction.

5. Set regular meeting and activity cadences

ERGs should plan weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings with agendas and clear objectives for their members. Members should work together and decide on the best schedule for everyone. Your company should also provide both physical space and time away from work duties to facilitate the meetings.

Although the meetings are great opportunities for members to express concerns, group leaders should also schedule times to plan activities, events, or company-wide educational materials. In doing so, they can balance open and supportive conversations with bigger-picture goals, like advocating for changes with your company’s senior leadership.

6. Evaluate its effectiveness

Mark times to look back on the effectiveness of your ERGs monthly, quarterly, or annually. Use their KPIs as a quantitative representation of how well they are meeting their goals and impacting workplace culture.

Another way to measure ERG effectiveness is to survey members and the rest of the employee population. How satisfied are employees with the ERG? Does it fulfill its mission statement? Depending on the results of the surveys, your ERG can either stay the course and build upon its successes or change tactics to improve.

Ideas for employee resource group programming

Once you’ve implemented an employee resource group, let them be creative and develop programming aligned with their mission statements. Although some may have plenty of ideas to start with, others may need inspiration.

Some ideas to consider include the following:

  • Professional development workshops: Connect ERG members with professionals in a topic or field to help foster upskilling.
  • Cultural events: Plan a company educational event around a cultural one, such as black history month.
  • Volunteering: Reach out to your local community and offer members’ time or support, such as fundraising.
  • Book clubs: Choose a book that aligns with your ERG, discuss its points, and share with members and the company.
  • Lunch and learn outings: Dine at a restaurant of choice and use it to share the cuisine and history of group members.

For ERGs to be successful, they need the support of the entire company and employee population. Taking this action can lead to positive changes and increase the happiness of your employees within your organization.

If you’re unsure if an ERG suits your company, explore our Employee Engagement Software Guide for solutions to start surveying your employees.

Featured Partners

1 Kudoboard

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2 Assembly - Employee Engagement Software

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3 ClearCompany

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Strengthen employee-manager relationships, track morale, and celebrate milestones. ClearCompany Employee Engagement helps you implement a high-touch employee engagement strategy to foster connectedness, culture, and belonging while maximizing your company’s talent. Improve your company's ability to retain talent by making your people feel heard and valued.

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