While organizations are going above and beyond in setting up Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), there is a lesser focus on delving into their actual functioning and impact especially from a critical standpoint. ERGs have been put on a high pedestal in the diversity story of organizations and hence, escape being scrutinized.
Though the benefits of ERGs on business as well as employee spirit are irrefutable, organizations should keep a check on the pulse of their ERGs to check if they have gone rogue or are affecting ERG members adversely.
Discussed below are some possible scenarios that could be playing out in your organization. Also shared are some helpful checks and measures you can enforce to mitigate damaging situations.
Just cultural camps
When ERGs are created with the sole purpose of housing underrepresented groups, they become cultural camps at the workplace. If the insights and opinions of ERGs are not incorporated in an actionable manner to bring about changes in policies, procedures or recruitment processes at the workplace, ERG members would eventually not feel valued. ERGs would be mere tokenism in such cases and eventually lead to disgruntled employees. Organizations need to ensure ERGs are tied to business goals and eventually evolve into Business Resource Groups (BRGs). ERG members should be given ample access and opportunities to grow at the workplace.
Us vs Them
If ERGs have stringent membership criteria, it limits a lot of possibilities. If they are not structured and managed well, they might turn into new silos cut off from the rest of the workforce without information flowing in or out. This can be resolved by using technology that enables easy discovery of ERGs and simplifies the ERG joining process with features such as one-click joining. The right tools can enable seamless collaboration amongst different ERGs thus, promoting knowledge-sharing. They also provide ways in which employees can view events and announcements of ERGs without being members. This creates transparency and welcomes all employees to participate in something meaningful.
Managing ERG events and activities is often a passion-led voluntary task. Many organizations do not recognise ERG-related tasks as part of regular work. Members can easily get burnt out by overextending themselves to complete ERG work. Many organizations do not pay their employees for the ERG management work they undertake. This can eventually lead to employees refraining from being active members of ERGs because the cons might outweigh the pros. Organizations must work towards compensating ERG members for their time and effort as well as weave their ERG responsibilities into business goals so that they are evaluated for it fairly.
Walking the talk
Many organizations are quick to promote their ERGs to paint a rosy picture of diversity at the workplace. However, when organizations do not support their ERGs financially or implement changes recommended by them but only use them as a marketing trend, the members will eventually see through it all. A diplomatic silence from the organization during a real-word crisis will speak volumes. An organization that has LGBTQ or Hispanic or African-American ERGs need to step up to the plate when these communities need support in the real world. Organizations should be vocal and demonstrate their commitment by supporting their workforce if they wish to participate in protests and movements.
Evaluating ERGs, studying their impact through data analytics and conducting anonymous surveys to know how the members are truly feeling is necessary to gauge the health of ERGs. Organizations should keep an eye on ERGs to check if they are alienating certain groups instead of uniting them.