Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been a hot topic for Ethos in the last quarter. Initially, many organizations hit their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives hard. However, as results took longer and longer to achieve, and employees and leaders become fatigued from running, measuring, and reporting on initiatives, interest in employee resource groups is at an inflection point.
This is extremely common. DEI is hard work. Extremely hard work. Often, the results that people expect from their DEI employee resource groups are unrealistic. Many of the initiatives they take on to improve inclusion and equity aren’t applauded because they have not contributed to visual diversity in the office. While employee resource group deliverables like culture codes, 360 feedback integration, engagement surveys, and gender-neutral bathrooms are huge milestones in inclusion and equity in an organizational ecosystem, they don’t have the punch that a lot of employees expect.
Our CEO, Alida Miranda-Wolff, has done a lot of work and research on employee resource groups and affinity groups and recently launched a blog series on best practices to build them in a company. If you’re not ready for full-on planning of your employee resource group yet, we thought we’d start with the fundamentals to help you gain your bearings.
What Is an Employee Resource Group?
To start with, what is an employee resource group? They can also be referred to as affinity groups, business resource groups, or simply committees or task forces. Essentially, there are two different kinds of employee resource groups:
- The first is a collection of employees who share similar backgrounds or personal characteristics and use the space to build interpersonal and business relationships. These groups help the individual employees find connection, support, and empathy in the organization with those who share similar backgrounds or experiences. This could be groups formed from members of the LBTQIA2+ community, African-American community, Latinx community, veterans, or parents. They can even be formed on a smaller scale, like Slack communities with individuals from the same neighborhood, people with pets, bikers, gamers, and so on.
- The second kind of employee resource group is more engaged with strategy and business outcomes of the organization. At Ethos, we help organize DEI and Inclusion employee resource groups who not only provide the connection, support, and empathy but also build roadmaps and initiatives to help guide the business to specific outcomes that lead to more inclusive and equitable practices.
Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
There are a wide variety of benefits to joining an employee resource group. First off is community. These groups provide outlets, support, and friendship for those just joining an organization. Relationships can be built. As time passes, often those you built relationships with can be supportive as you move in the organization, provide guidance on your career, and even be helpful in significant events in your personal life.
Beyond the interpersonal, however, the employee resource groups working on broader strategic initiatives provide a plethora of opportunities to grow professionally — from learning project management skills, working on executive presence, developing written and oral communication skills, strategic thinking, and much more.
Employee Resource Groups Structures
The structure of an employee resource group can vary depending on the needs of the group. If it’s a social group run in Slack, there may be no formal structure. It may simply consist of volunteers who organize outside events to better engage the employee resource group’s population.
If your employee resource group is more strategic and working toward business outcomes, we recommend a more formalized structure. Not only a chairperson or co-chairs to guide committee activity but also a leadership or c-suite sponsor to help the employee resource group and provide guidance on connection and support from HR and finance. These relationships help keep the employee resource group focused and make sure it has leadership support, especially for larger initiatives or those key results that require organizational dollars to be effective.
Employee Resource Groups Best Practices
For those employee resource groups founded on common interest and invested in the development of a community, the most important role for its members is to be inclusive, encouraging, and helpful. As new members join the organization, it’s crucial to offer these spaces to those who need connection and support, especially in the middle of a large transition like a change in job.
Employee resource groups working on broader organizational and strategic initiatives have a much harder path ahead of them. To be effective, they must not only have an effective structure so that projects can be delegated and completed but also a clear strategy and vision so that the work they do can be project managed and tied to clear strategic outcomes.
As always, if you need any assistance planning out your employee resource groups, don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]. We are happy to help you strategize how to use these groups to be effective, supportive, and collaborative. We know that building employee resource groups can be energizing but that it often can turn into fatigue and a struggle to keep the group and the organization engaged. We are happy to help you tackle these hurdles to ensure your groups are as successful as possible.