It’s time to equip your company with the resources your employees need to succeed with an employee resource group. My guide will introduce you to employee resource groups and help you set up groups that empower your employees and enhance your company culture.
Just like your employees, an employee resource group has a lot to offer. Setting up employee resource groups is one of the first steps to implementing a DEI initiative for your company. Your company needs to make sure that each and every employee has their needs met. Fostering an environment in which employees can thrive is integral to your company’s overall success. Without happy employees, your company could be at risk. Therefore, in order to ensure the well-being of both the employees and the company, establishing a foundation for your DEI initiative is crucial. Through my guide, you will gain the knowledge and tools to set up employee resource groups that bring tangible benefits to your company.
Table of Contents
- Clarify your group’s mission
- Make realistic goals
- Invite everyone to join
- Support your group by allocating resources
- Introduce intersectionality
- Adopting a one-size-fits-all approach
- Treating your ERG like a one-and-done task
- Assuming what your employees need
An employee resource group (ERG) can serve a variety of different functions. At its core, it is a group of employees who make the company’s DEI values a reality. This versatile tool is an integral step to enacting positive change within the workplace and working toward your DEI goals. In fact, about 90% of Fortune 500 companies utilize ERGs to strengthen their company culture and ensure an equitable workplace environment for everyone in the company. It has become increasingly evident that change is necessary within society to eradicate discrimination. ERGs will help your company adapt and progress to a higher standard of business.
ERGs offer a support system for your employees and enhance the company culture through connection and support. Your company will probably need to invest in a wide variety of ERGs to accommodate the diverse needs of its employees. Not every employee will need the same tools to succeed in the company. Your ERGs should be equitable and geared toward the needs of your employees and the communities you serve.
The first ERGs were better known as affinity groups in the sixties that sought to address racial issues at the time. Now, employee resource groups have expanded to address a wide range of problems. In order to confront these issues and provide a safe space in the face of workplace discrimination, Joseph Wilson introduced the idea of the employee resource group in 1964.
ERGs also offer a vital opportunity to build allyship within your company. ERGs can afford employees and leaders alike the chance to understand and unite with others. By connecting employees to bridge the gaps between them, your company can foster a more inclusive and welcoming community.
The benefits of ERGs and DEI programs as a whole cannot be understated. Companies dedicated to supporting their employees no matter their background can build a positive company culture. This kind of environment will help move the company toward progress and growth. ERGs benefit employees at every level of the company. Plus, they have the potential to bring about real change and company growth when executed well. Here are just a few ways ERGs can positively impact your company.
Participating in ERGs presents employees from underrepresented groups as well as allies to come together to increase mutual understanding and achieve common goals. It creates a safe space that acknowledges the diverse identities and needs of groups that have not received the same representation and privilege as other employees. Here, each individual is able to highlight and build upon their strengths while receiving the support they need to improve their skill sets. At the same time, allies have the chance to learn and build relationships.
One of the best ways to get your employees to commit to your company is to make sure they feel connected with the company culture. ERGs make space for employees to reach out to other members and feel a sense of belonging. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 90% of the companies surveyed found that ERGs created ease and comfort for new hires. This tool in the onboarding process can positively affect retention if new hires feel supported.
Increased engagement leads to higher productivity and overall higher quality work because employees feel like they are part of a team or greater cause. Furthermore, active ERGs show that the company cares about each employee’s safety and well-being within the company and beyond. It is a way to demonstrate the company’s commitment to its employees. When employees know that the company has their back, they will have the company’s back too.
Additionally, as the pandemic continues, companies try to balance a variety of work schedules taking place in person or remotely. ERGs present an opportunity to connect with employees whether they decide to stay present at the company’s physical location or tackle their workload from home. It can be challenging to make sure everyone feels connected to the team over Zoom, but ERGs focus on building community no matter your employee’s physical location.
Amplifying underrepresented voices is often a priority of ERGs that serves the company in meaningful ways. The New York Times stated that just 4% of 3000 publicly traded companies were African-American employees. In order to open the floor to new voices, ERGs have become a place for leaders to listen to those who have either not had the opportunity to voice their ideas and concerns or have not been heard in the past.
ERGs are essential to successful DEI initiatives because they help to address the problems they see in the workforce. ERGs create a forum for employees to voice their concerns and be heard by the company. Furthermore, it makes room for new ideas and innovation that can help boost performance and creativity.
The important thing to remember about setting up an employee resource group for your company is that you have to start somewhere. Your ERGs must grow and change over time to adjust to your employee’s needs and goals. Here are a few things to take into account when starting an employee resource group at your company.
It is important to identify your group’s intention from the start. Without a mission statement, your group won’t have a direction or goal to pursue. Without direction, it is all too easy for a group to flare and fizzle out before it can achieve anything. For this reason, it is vital to assess the needs of the group and articulate your mission early. Of course, your mission may evolve over time. However, without any idea of the group’s values, members may have different expectations of the group and end up disappointed.
Make sure your employee resource group gets a strong start by setting specific goals that align with the company’s values. The key is to set realistic goals that your group can achieve. When your group is able to achieve its goals, it builds momentum and collective confidence in the group. However small each step may be, groups will tend to fall apart as members lose interest if they lack this sense of progress. Laura Folks put it best when she said, “New ERGs don’t need to ‘catch up’ to others that may be more advanced. Each ERG has a unique need and style — this should be valued and not compared.” At first, your group might start small, but every bit of change builds upon what came before it. Soon enough, you will start to see the results of your group’s efforts.
Now, it is time to get the word out there. Make sure that everyone in the company knows how they can join and support the effort. Successful ERGs are open to everyone. Even if someone does not share the experiences of the group, they can have the chance to learn and support their fellow employees as allies. Some people may be hesitant to join if they feel they don’t belong to the group your ERG is trying to support. Let them know that they are welcome to join, listen, and support their colleagues.
Once your group has participants, it is important to establish leadership and structure for the group. The structure of your ERG does not have to look like any other group. The important thing is that your structure fits the goals you are trying to achieve. Leadership and structure will help set the tone of your group while connecting members to your mission.
It is not enough to get a few people together and hope for the best. Your ERGs will need resources to support their members. Without support from the company and its leaders, your ERG will not be able to sustain itself. At first, even a small budget can make a big difference. Over time, you can make adjustments as the group grows and makes progress. There are a few options, from hiring full-time staff to the group or offering a stipend to the group’s leaders to make sure that they have the support they need to build on the group’s progress.
Too often, people that have a lot in common get pitted against each other to fight over a common goal without even realizing it. This is the best way to make sure nothing gets done. Intersectionality can bridge the gap between multiple ERGs to achieve common goals and make changes. There is strength in numbers, and connecting with other groups can help ensure the success of your DEI initiatives.
It is no secret that many, if not most, DEI initiatives fail. In order to set up your employee resource group for success, avoid these common mistakes.
Not all employee resource groups will look the same. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or template for your ERGs. It is crucial to recognize the unique qualities of the members in your groups to design tactics and structures that fit their needs. Your ERGs, as well as their approaches and goals, should be just as diverse as your employees. Though they may all fit under the umbrella of your company and align with its values, each employee resource group might have an entirely different structure or approach to the way they tackle the issues their members face.
Make sure your group is flexible and able to adapt to the needs of the group. ERGs require attention and commitment to continue to flourish. Without constant willingness to adapt, your ERG will not be sustainable enough to survive. Be flexible with your approach and continue to check in with the group and its members to make sure that the group meets their needs.
The surest way to decrease engagement in any ERG is to assume what your employees need. Because each group and each employee is unique and has a diverse set of needs that may be vastly different from you or their colleagues, never make assumptions about what they might need to succeed.
The best way to find out what your employees need is simply to ask them. They will know the problem much more intimately and will have insights into solutions that may never have occurred to you had you not asked. That is okay. Learning about the reality of what your employees face on a day-to-day basis should be at the heart of your ERG. It is the reason these groups were founded in the first place. Step back and take this opportunity to listen and learn from them.
Implementing ERGs is vital to the success of your company’s DEI initiatives. You cannot discount the impact that the sense of belonging and inclusion ERGs bring to your company culture. Successful ERGs are as diverse as the people they serve and ensure that everyone feels welcome within the broader company culture. ERGs offer multiple benefits to both the company and its employees by cultivating inclusive company culture, making sure that diverse voices are heard, and increasing allyship among members. By developing a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in the company, ERGs help create a workplace in which everyone can thrive.
About the Author
K. Edwin Bryant is a highly respected senior pastor, professor and academic, published author, and corporate strategist with a passion to advocate for underrepresented communities.
Dr. Bryant has a Ph.D. from Macquarie University, Sydney, AU in Ancient History: New Testament and Early Christianity. Currently, Bryant is the COO of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Senior Pastor and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Mount Pisgah Church, chairman of the Board for Tehillah Music Group, and an adjunct professor of the New Testament & Early Christianity.
He uses his leadership and influence to pry open spaces of white privilege and create pathways of equality and belonging for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
In Dr. Bryant’s book ChaRIOT: The New Cultural Conversation, he confronts difficult conversations to help non-blacks reinterpret public responses to oppression imposed on and experienced by the black community.
Dr. Bryant currently resides outside of Dayton Ohio with his wife and children. When he’s not working on a multitude of projects or catching up on trending events; you might find him watching Netflix (especially the Blacklist) or hitting the piano inspired by artists such as Robert Glasper, Moonchild, and Corey Henry.