Members of underrepresented groups within a company, whether women, different ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, veterans, differently abled, parents, etc., may feel isolated at a company, lack a sense of belonging and support, and even feel as though their needs are being met. One way to support them is to create an employee resource group (ERG). While there are a variety of benefits (outlined below), there’s also been an increasing concern over the potential lack of intersectionality and creation of “echo chambers,” implying that the only people hearing the ERG’s “voice” are its own members. These concerns, while valid, don’t necessarily mean we should do away with ERGs. However, we should consider how they can evolve to best support the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.
What Are ERGs?
ERGs are volunteer-led groups of people within a company that organize around a particular shared background, interest, or issue. Most commonly, we see ERGs form around women, parents, people of color, LGBTQ, veterans, and people with disabilities. They can be run without fiscal support, but they can have much more of an impact if they are given financial support, as well as full, committed support from senior leadership.
Traditional Benefits of an ERG
There are a host of benefits to supporting an ERG at your company. Here are a few:
- Connecting with others with similar needs in order to help push innovation, both internally and externally
- Providing increased support for professional development and leadership opportunities
- Offering insight into specific business opportunities related to the ERG focus
- Expanding recruitment efforts to be more inclusive
- Feeling part of a community with others who understand various backgrounds and challenges
Leveraging ERGs to Their Fullest Capacity
A major benefit of ERGs is that they bring like-minded people together to support each other and advocate for their needs. However, this can end up being a double-edged sword, as ERGs are sometimes viewed as exclusive and alienating to others. Additionally, as we evolve as a society and are increasingly aware of our intersectionality, it becomes harder to lump people into categories. That said, this doesn’t mean we need to do away with ERGs. In fact, it’s a perfect opportunity for different ERGs to work together more intentionally. If ERGs are siloed and exclusive, they lose one of their greatest strengths, which is to share across backgrounds, ideas, concerns, etc. A great way to address this is to have regularly scheduled events across ERGs.
Starting an ERG
Typically employees will start an ERG, as there’s no point in having a resource group if no one’s interested in participating. It’s important to note, however, that they should also have absolute support from company executives. While having an ERG doesn’t have to cost anything to start, it will likely take up staff time and therefore requires support from leadership. Ideally, an ERG will have an executive sponsor—one who is not part of the ERG but will advocate on its behalf to senior leadership. Once you’ve come together as a group, we recommend the following:
- Decide what you want your mission and goals to be.
- Determine a leadership structure, so the group can live on regardless of whether people come and go.
- Write down and present the group’s mission, goals, structure and roadmap to leadership, as well as to the rest of the company.
- Find an executive sponsor to champion your group. You want someone who will be able to work with senior leadership to advocate on your behalf.
- Invite others to participate. Be inclusive by noting that friends of the group are welcome too!
- Set up a calendar of events. This should include regular times (monthly, quarterly, etc.) when you meet as a group, special events that are open to all, and cross-ERG events. One event to start with could be a kick-off event to celebrate your ERG’s formation and see who might be interested in participating in the future!