Over the past year, we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes committed against Asians and Black Americans. This violence and injustice have brought intense unrest – to which even the workplace hasn’t been immune. Many businesses are now waking up to realize they need more aggressive commitments to create inclusive and equitable spaces. Organizations are now facing pressure from consumers and employees to take a definitive stance on civil and social rights - issues that many companies had previously kept silent on. In doing so, people sent a simple message to companies: do more.
While many companies had existing D&I initiatives already in place, last year’s events prompted many companies to double down on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts that meaningfully support marginalized employees. These initiatives have included hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, instituting bias awareness training programs, implementing DEI surveys, embracing inclusive recruiting practices, and - not least of all - establishing employee resource groups.
Employee resource groups have become a popular and powerful way to foster community and connection for marginalized people. Employee resource groups also empower folks from underrepresented groups to collectively advocate for improvements to the workplace experience. In this article, we’ll walk through what ERGs are, why they are critical to improving DEI, and how you can help start one at your own organization.
What are employee resource groups?
Employee resource groups (also known as ERGs or affinity groups) are voluntary, identity-based communities formed by employees in a company. ERGs can have various purposes, but most aim to give employees a safe space to connect and raise awareness about issues facing their community - both within the company and society at large.
Employee resource groups are often formed around specific identities that can be characterized demographically, like race, gender, sexuality, or ability. For example, a given company might have an ERG for employees who are Black, Latinx, LGBTQ*, veterans, disabled, and so on. ERGs can also exist for employees in specific roles, such as working parents or remote employees.
At Culture Amp, our employees have started quite a few ERGs, including:
- Camp Carebears - An ERG aimed at empowering employees with caregiving responsibilities so they can be sustainably successful
- Camp Culture - An ERG for celebrating the different employee experiences that broaden our collective understanding of race and ethnicity
- Camp Out - An ERG intended to create a space where our LGBTQ* employees can bring their authentic selves to work
- Women of Culture Amp (WoCA) - An ERG created to amplify the voices of women at Culture Amp
Every organization is different, so look at the makeup of your employees and gauge their interest in forming an ERG. After all, your employees will be the ones to lead the ERG. For any ERG to be successful and meaningful, their passion and participation will be necessary.
How do employee resource groups benefit organizations?
As stated above, ERGs can promote DEI and a sense of belonging by providing a safe space for people from marginalized communities to come together with like-minded individuals. But, that is by no means the only benefit to having ERGs. ERGs drive value to employees in multiple ways, and these benefits can trickle down and ultimately strengthen the overall organization. In fact, employee resource groups allow employees across the organization to:
- Meet and connect with new colleagues
- Be an active voice for change
- Learn and grow professionally and personally
- Share their culture, values, and experiences with others
- Contribute towards a more open and human world of work
- Give back to the local community
From a business perspective, ERGs are a vital piece in attracting talent, developing employees, building community, and fostering belonging at your organization. Plus, they empower employees to create a more inclusive culture through education and awareness.
How to create an ERG
Ready to help start an employee resource group at your organization? Here’s our step-by-step guide to founding and maintaining an ERG:
1.) Gauge employee interest
Before you set out to create an ERG, you need to ensure you have enough employee interest to make your efforts worthwhile. If the group you’re looking to create is based on demographic information, you can use employee demographic data to determine if your target population is big enough to help with the upkeep of an ERG. You could also gauge interest for founding a new group using an employee pulse survey or asking for a show of hands during a company all-hands.
2.) Get executive buy-in
Once you know your employees are interested in creating an ERG, you’ll need to secure executive buy-in to ensure the new group is successful. In your next executive leadership meeting, come prepared to make your case. Explain the group’s purpose and share qualitative and quantitative data from employee experience surveys and employee demographics to prove you have an internal need for such a group. Next, make a plan for how the ERG will run, then request a budget to support your target activities. You will also need to identify an executive sponsor and any other ongoing support your employees will need to make the ERG and drive internal change.
3.) Define the group’s mission
Before you launch your group, you’ll need to give it a clear purpose or mission. This mission statement should be one to two sentences that clearly and concisely share what the ERG is for and why it matters. For example, the mission of Culture Amp’s Camp Culture ERG is:
“Camp Culture celebrates the different Camper experiences that broaden our collective understanding of race and ethnicity. As a diverse community, and together with our intersectional activists, we are united in service of ensuring equitable growth and opportunities.”
This third step is easier said than done, but once you have your finalized mission, write it down and make it publicly available on your company intranet. This statement will hold your members accountable and act as a north star for all of the group’s initiatives.
4.) Recruit members
At this point, it’s also important to consider whether or not allies should be allowed in an ERG, as folks will have different opinions on the matter. Once agreement is reached, it’s time to find members.
To start, you need to raise awareness for the upcoming ERG. To do so, advertise the group in all-hands meetings and company newsletters. You can also host a kick-off event to drum up internal support and catch the attention of workplace allies. Lastly, you can personally reach out to specific employees if you know they are passionate about particular causes or if they’ve previously expressed interest in creating a similar group. These employees might be good candidates for an ERG leadership committee too.
5.) Host a meeting
Once your ERG is up and running, it’s time to host your first meeting as a group. You can review your mission statement, create goals, decide on causes to support, brainstorm company events you can throw, and share any relevant articles, topics, or media that would promote engaging discussions. There are no rules. Your group can be whatever you and your members want it to be.
That said, when an ERG gets to a certain size, it can be beneficial to nominate or vote on a leadership committee to keep meetings organized and to hold everyone accountable. Be sure to set a “term” length for these leaders and regularly vote or shuffle the leadership team so your employee resource group can welcome new leaders and benefit from an influx of new ideas and perspectives.
6.) Maintain organizational support
Just because an ERG is employee-led doesn’t mean it doesn’t need organizational support. Work with your senior leaders to define how your company will support your group, its initiatives, and its members. For example, you can get “support” in the form of a budget that allows you to purchase swag, throw events, host interesting speakers, support local causes, or even compensate your ERG leaders - a model that is rapidly gaining popularity.
The time to invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion is now
Sadly, you won’t see the results from your diversity, equity, and inclusion work appear overnight. Improving DEIB and driving behavioral change takes time. That’s why it’s crucial to start laying the foundation for a more diverse and equitable workplace now so that your business and employees can reap the rewards sooner than later.