By Cooper Nelson
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups designed to foster inclusivity and a positive workplace environment. These groups are created by and for employees and are voluntary. One of the first employee resource groups formed in the ’70s at Xerox. It arose in response to the racial tensions of the ’60s and was known as the National Black Employee Caucus.
ERGs can be a channel for seeking support, lobbying for meaningful change and creating a workplace that makes employees feel welcome and valued by their colleagues.
ERGs can create inclusive, progressive workspaces. According to an executive brief produced by Boston College Center for Work & Family, “The ERGs with the most traction and interest tend to be those ERGs that are closely linked to business strategy. When employees perceive their efforts as directly impacting business outcomes, they are more likely to get involved.”
ERGs set their own agendas and work to inform the company of their mission and goals. ERGs frequently conduct meetings, host activities, recruit members and advocate for change.
By creating or joining an ERG, employees might:
Business management also might use ERGs to further company goals and initiatives. In fact, companies that demonstrate genuine care to their employees tend to have higher retention rates, showcasing the potential benefit of these groups.
Creating an employee resource group can produce many benefits, including:
ERGs can also be beneficial to upper management. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, around 70% of respondents relied on their ERGs to build a workforce that reflected customer demographics. This can help businesses market to certain populations more effectively, as well as personally understand the pain points of their client base.
Additionally, these groups can provide critical feedback on the needs of specific demographics of their own workforce, such as working parents, employees of color and LGBTQ+ employees.
ERGs can be a great catalyst for meaningful change in the workplace. However, ERGs have limitations. The groups don’t have the ability to strike or make demands about policy or working conditions.
ERGs can also contend with internal issues, especially if group members don’t share the same vision.
At some organizations, low employee engagement may prevent ERGs from forming in the first place. Or, alternatively, too many ERGs can develop when employees feel unsure where they fit or where they should focus their time.
There’s no established formula for creating a successful employee resource group, so this may lead to trial and error on the part of ERG members, which may create internal conflict.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you should start an ERG:
These questions are important not only to determine whether an ERG would be a worthwhile use of your time, but also whether it would be the correct forum for your ideas, concerns or shared experiences. While ERGs are great for many things, they are not perfect for every situation.
You may want to speak with HR, other employees or even someone currently pursuing or having recently graduated with a business degree with an HR certificate. These people can potentially share perspectives on what you’re trying to achieve and whether an ERG is the best way to succeed.
If you decide that an ERG is the right choice for you and like-minded colleagues, it’s time to start taking steps toward creating a group. These steps include:
After these steps, it’s time to plan meetings and activities. These will largely be determined by how your workplace is set up — such as whether you’re remote or in-person — as well as your group’s needs, goals and so forth. Scheduling for a group can sometimes present challenges, so try to be as flexible as possible in the early days. Once you become more established, you should be able to pick up a rhythm.
Understanding and addressing employee pain points is a critical way to retain talent, and it’s a crucial role played by HR managers. Learn more about human resource management on our blog!
You may be able to look around at your workplace, or even your school, and find examples of ERGs. Some ERGs could be:
The existing ERGs might inspire you when starting your own. Using successful ERGs as a template until you get more established is a great way to get the ball rolling.
You can divide ERG activities into four categories: career or professional development events, cultural education events, community events and business development events.
ERGs can be a wonderful asset for internal career and leadership development. Common opportunities include:
ERGs can be a great resource for empowering company culture. ERGs are often beacons of inclusion and support, which helps strengthen employee bonds to their company and each other. Culture events pioneered by ERGs can include:
An ERG isn’t limited to company reach. In fact, some ERGs focus on their communities at large through initiatives that highlight their company’s commitment to the community. Opportunities that might exist in your community include:
ERGs also might help advance your company’s success. These groups can provide input on new products or services, or even act as test groups before a new product rolls out. Both business leaders and employees can get a lot out of ERGs when these groups are leveraged in this way. Other commerce activities for ERGs may include:
Whether you’ve been involved in ERGs and are now looking to start your own, or you’re coming to this concept for the first time, employee resource groups are a great way to motivate like-minded employees around you to advocate for change and create workplace support groups.
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