Employee resource groups (ERGs) are defined as employee-led groups where employees can join together based on shared characteristics, interests, and perspectives. They are also a way for employees from non-minority groups to learn and become an ally. ERGs are great tools organizations can use to provide support and contribute to an employee’s personal development in the workplace. It’s also a great way to foster an inclusive environment, especially in a workplace that may be comprised of mostly non-minority groups (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment-population ratio was 58.3 percent for Blacks, 60.7 percent for Whites, 61.6 percent for Asians, 62.9 percent for individuals of two or more races, and 63.2 percent for Hispanics in 2018).
But in order for that to happen, ERG leaders need the proper resources at their disposal to ensure they’re creating a safe and positive space where employees can be their authentic selves. Building a successful ERG doesn’t happen overnight, but when it comes to establishing employee relationships with their fellow peers and the organization, ERGs can be one very successful way to do just that. Below, read what some ERG leaders and experts had to say about what makes ERGs successful and how to ensure they’re bringing inclusion to the forefront of a business.
Aimee Broadhurst, Founder, and CEO of Inclusive Space
“It’s been my experience that ERGs can actually be a catalyst for creating and bringing in DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) into the workplace,” says Aimee. “Simply because that is a way to bring employees together. It’s also a way to offer them a safe space for them to engage with their allies and helps the company be viewed as walking the talk when it comes to DEI. There are so many things that ERGs can do from a programming perspective, to be able to bring things to the communities that they are there to serve.”
Aimee adds that in order for an ERG to be effective, the main thing it needs is support. “ERG leaders need to be trained in how to do this job so that they can balance their paid day job with their passion job,” says Aimee. “It’s also incredibly important that there is leadership support from the top down, and it’s very important that ERGs have executive sponsors, who are passionate and engaged in helping the ERG leaders and in helping the ERG move forward.”
For ERG leaders looking for tools and/or training resources, Aimee’s ERG handbook could be helpful. The ERG Leadership Alliance also offers boot camps and an ERG roadmap assessment, “so that ERG leaders can see and understand where they are on the roadmap and where they need help,” says Aimee. “Companies need to provide those resources to their employee leaders while executives receive training so that they can be effective in helping their ERG leaders navigate and develop ERGs.”
Carolyn Ramirez, Vice Chair of the DiversABILITY Employee Resource Group at UC-Davis Health
The DiversABILITY Employee Resource Group at UC Davis Health was re-established in 2018 with the goal of bringing together a wide community made up of people with disabilities and their allies to develop resources and provide a safe, peer-supportive environment. It began with five people and has grown exponentially, largely in part to Carolyn.
“We have amazing ERGs that have been around for 10, 20 years, but there weren’t any really focusing on disabilities,” she says. “I had a hip injury so I was on crutches for a really long period of time. I’ve always thought I was an empathetic, understanding person, but it definitely took me to new heights of empathy and understanding of what is it like to live with a mobility disability for a temporary period of time. It really raised my awareness that I want to continue to learn more about the variety of disabilities, especially hidden disabilities.”
Four years later, the DiversABILITY ERG is continuing to grow, learn from other ERG organizations, and succeed in its mission. But what exactly makes an ERG effective? In her opinion, a large part of it comes down to executive leadership. “An organization where executive leadership understands, recognizes, and values, employee resource groups, especially the work that they do, as its generally a volunteer basis, is extremely important,” she says.
“Another thing is to have people that want to do the work. It’s not just something that you show up to—you are there because you care about the mission and you want to contribute,” she adds. “Thirdly is having an open mind and compassionate heart. We’re all human beings, and we all have different experiences and opinions and sometimes they don’t mesh well. But being open to honest feedback and the human experience is crucial in learning from each other and growing.”
Jes Osrow, DEI Expert and Co-Founder of The Rise Journey
Founded in 2017, The Rise Journey addresses the gap in DEIBA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, Belonging, and Accessibility) and organizational development. Because of the work, she does through organizations and ERGs, Jes has firsthand experience of how ERGs can be used to bring inclusion to life. “ERGs are built upon that authentic self piece,” she says.
“Bringing inclusion to life is really saying what do we need as an employee based on this identity or this specific need? And how do we make it real? If organizations could recognize that different identities have different needs, especially in the workplace, that’s the biggest way to bring inclusion to life.”
Jes recognizes that every organization is different, making it difficult to measure an ERG’s success for a fortune 500 company versus a 20-person start-up. Nonetheless, thinking critically about what you want the ERG to do as it pertains to a specific organization and measuring those goals is a good first step. “You need to make sure that if you’re asking your ERG to propagate these ideas, you need to be able to measure it — whether that’s using an ERG software or using your employee polls and surveys,” Jes says.
Maceo Owens, Community Manager, Employee Resource Groups at KAYAK and OpenTable
“ERGs are a great way to get employees involved in diversity efforts,” says Maceo. “When diversity and inclusion efforts are driven solely by the D&I team, things rarely move. ERGs breed D&I ambassadors and help companies learn what inclusion efforts are desired from employees.”
She adds that an effective ERG is able to understand what the community desires, turn it into goals, execute, and measure it. “Regular touchpoints with members (events), regular requests for feedback (surveys and listening tours), and data-based strategy are some characteristics of an effective ERG,” she says.
And when it comes to participation, Maceo believes that leaders in the workplace should lead by example. “Leaders are the influencers of the workplace,” she says. “If they are bought in, others will be driven to participate as well. Employees don’t need permission to participate, but by seeing leaders engaging in events, in Slack, and in D&I-related projects, people are more likely to feel that it’s okay to engage.”
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.