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Employee Resource Groups: Everything you need to know

Updated: Nov 26, 2023


Members of an Employee Resource Group

If you are looking to understand the A to Z of Employee Resource Groups (ERG), you have come to the right place. Deep dive into all things ERG - from basic definitions to Employee Resource Group Management strategy. Let’s get started.


What are Employee Resource Groups?


Employee Resource Groups (ERG) or Affinity Groups are employee-governed internal communities created within organizations to provide a space for employees with common interests or backgrounds to connect with one another. Employees can choose to be part of one or more employee resource groups. These groups convene physically or virtually for events or discussions. Employee Resource Groups provide an avenue for employees to bond beyond work and share their thoughts and experiences about topics that they are passionate about.


What is the history of Employee Resource Groups?


Employee Resource Groups have been around for a long time. The earliest documented Affinity Group was introduced at Xerox Corporation in the 1960s. Since then the breadth and depth of ERGs has increased tremendously. They began as networking spaces but grew to offer meaning and sanctuary to underrepresented communities. In the 21st century, Employee Resource Groups are the cornerstone of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. They are powerhouses and contribute to innovation in product, services and policies. Evolved ERGs are also known as Business Resource Groups (BRGs). Read more about the evolution of ERGs here.


Which are the most common Employee Resource Groups?


Employee Resource Groups have some commonality such as ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, life experiences, life-stage, sexual orientation, physical or mental health conditions, other demographic parameters or interests. Women’s Employee Resource Groups have made an impact in many organizations and are one of the most common ERGs. African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Latinx, BIPOC groups are also widespread.


Employee Resource Groups by and for the LGBTQIA+ community have succeeded in providing a safe space for all employees and also help in increasing awareness of the challenges faced by the community at workplaces. ERGs which support and promote community-building through events and drives give an avenue to employees who wish to volunteer and contribute to the greater good. ERGs based on age and life stages such as young working professionals, parents, care-givers, give members a place where they can discuss personal and professional challenges and get instant support from a community that understands and cares. Groups for employees with physical disabilities or mental health concerns, when nurtured well, provide insightful feedback on accessibility and tweaking workplace policies.


The types of Employee Resource Groups introduced at any workplace depends on the nature of the existing workforce and the diversity and inclusivity goals of the organization. Intersectionality of ERGs is booming as diversity grows. Business Resource Groups are also becoming increasingly common as senior leaders look to affinity groups for innovation and consumer insights.


Why are Employee Resource Groups important to business?


Employee Resource Groups benefit organizations and employees in many ways.


Employer of choice


Organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion are preferred by candidates as it is an indicator of employee-centric culture. Employee Resource Groups can attract top talent and give a firm an edge over its competitors. ERGs bolster conscious diversity hiring efforts and are a symbol of an equitable and safe working environment.


Employee Retention


Employee Resource Groups make employees feel seen, heard and understood. ERGs give employees a sense of purpose and belonging. Employees stay with organizations where they feel valued and cherished. Being associated with ERGs can lead to longer tenure and impact retention. This has a direct impact on overall cost saving as the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary.


Productivity


Employee Resource Groups contribute to employee engagement as they conduct events and activities that members can participate in. Engaged employees are productive and are more invested in the company’s future. Employees who feel taken care of, go the extra mile and give their best in completing the tasks assigned to them.


Business Impact


Employee Resource Groups can provide great insights and feedback in the product and services development process. Many companies have Business Resource Groups which are assigned business goals. ERGs can improve workplace policies for underrepresented communities and make marketing initiatives more inclusive. Learn more about this by reading our blog on how ERGs contribute to business objectives.


What are the steps to set up an Employee Resource Group Program?


If your organization is yet to start a formal ERG Program or is struggling to empower existing ERGs, the steps given below can serve as a blueprint to build a robust program.


Identity the ERGs to set up


Creating ERGs only because they are common in other organizations does not serve a definitive purpose. ERGs should cater to the needs of existing employees and should be a reflection of a company’s diversity goals. Conduct surveys to understand which Employee Resource Groups would be appreciated by your employees. Begin with one or two ERGs and grow the number as expertise is gained in ERG management.


Structure your ERGs and appoint ERG Leads


Define the structure of the ERG program. Map the width and depth of ERGs depending on the number of employees in the organization and how they are distributed globally. Set up local ‘Chapters’ for locations with a higher employee population. Appoint a Lead or Leads for each ERG and consecutively assign Chapter Leads. These positions are often voluntary and can be supplemented by technology solutions like ERG Points.


Chart out the purpose and action plan


Every ERG should have a statement of purpose which acts like a guideline during decision making. Questions to be answered at this stage include: What is the intention of the ERG? What are the goals? Who are the core members? Who can participate in ERG activities? Get a member from the Leadership team to be an advocate and sponsor for the ERG. ERG Leads should prepare a plan and list the next actionable steps.


ERG Membership and Engagement


The next key activity is encouraging employees to join the ERGs. Designing a communication plan and campaigning the benefits of joining ERGs is key. Simplify the joining process by using the right technology with features like one-click join. Plan and calendarize events and activities to engage with ERG members. ERG member management is simplified by ERG Software like Teleskope.


Track Metrics and Business Impact


Tracking metrics related to ERG performance and its impact on business can answer many of the questions eventually expected from senior leaders. Metrics also help in identifying areas of improvement for ERGs and ensuring their overall effectiveness. Collaborate with other departments like Marketing and HR to contribute to product, service or policy innovation. Investing in an ERG management software can help create tangible long-term impact with automation and analytics.


ERG Management Strategy


Keep an eye on the future goals of the ERG Program. Having a long-term vision for Employee Resource Groups will help allocate budget and other resources for the planned initiatives. A robust ERG management strategy that is connected to the organization’s diversity and inclusion goals is essential. Research trends and best practices to stay ahead of the curve and maximize the potential of well-nurtured employee resource groups.


What are the common challenges faced in ERG Management?


ERG Management can pose its own fair share of challenges. However, timely awareness and rectification can help overcome them easily.


Tool Fatigue


ERG management involves multiple tasks often involving multiple tools and technologies. This often results in tool fatigue for ERG Leads who are already stretched. A one-stop shop platform for all employee resource group management activities is the solution. Advanced software solutions simplify ERG management by consolidating the functionalities of different applications in one place.


Lack of Active Support from Leaders


Despite senior leaders being assigned as sponsors to different employee resource groups, they may not be as actively involved as time goes by. Other business priorities may take precedence and DEI initiatives can get sidelined. This results in dwindling responses from members as they hesitate to join or partake in ERG activities. The solution is to plan ahead and have a communication plan in place along with calendarized events for senior leaders to attend. A DEI Leader should be part of sensitized about their role and expectations from them as a sponsor.


Tracking Metrics


At times, planning and strategizing takes the forefront and data gets left behind. ERG Leads struggle to showcase the growth and impact of ERGs. The reason is not knowing which data to track or how to track it. An ERG management platform takes care of this with advanced analytics and generates custom reports as and when needed. This investment has long-term benefits as ERG programs scale. Here is a list of metrics every ERG lead must track and analyze to make their ERG a success.


ERG Leads Burnout


An often overlooked aspect in ERG management is the workload borne by ERG leads and managers. These positions are filled by passionate individuals who take up ERG management responsibilities in addition to their regular work. This results in ERG Leads burnout. A solution for this challenge is fairly compensating ERG leads for their contribution by using features such as ERG Points where points are allocated for completing tasks and can be redeemed against gift vouchers or any other reward system. Ensuring ERG work is included and acknowledged in the performance appraisal process is another way to ensure they stay motivated.


Keeping ERG members engaged


Keeping ERG members engaged and interested all year round is a challenging task. ERG managers can get overwhelmed trying to come up with new ways to engage with members. Reading blogs and gamification of ERG participation using ERG Points is an innovative way to boost engagement. Attending webinars and learning from the experiences of peer managers is another way of gaining insight. Here are more ways to increase member engagement in your ERGs


How to keep ERG members engaged?


Members join Employee Resource Groups for a reason. They look for a sense of community and belonging. ERGs can keep members interested and involved in the following ways.


Organize ERG Events and Activities


Well-organized, meaningful events are appreciated by all members. Planning activities and workshops that align with the ERG’s core purpose and provide personal and professional development opportunities for members adds value. Ensure events can be attended by all either physically or virtually.


Invite Guest Speakers


Inviting guest speakers to share their expertise on topics that align with the ERG’s offering is a great way to introduce new perspectives. It can motivate ERG members, lift their spirits, inspire and energize them. Q&A sessions and polls during these events can make them more interactive.


Design Communication Campaigns


Keep ERG members informed about upcoming events and news from the community. Send newsletters to all members periodically. Plan communication campaigns around events, activities and workshops. Give members an option to RSVP for events to plan them better. Stay connected with the member base to keep them engaged.


Conduct Surveys


Conducting surveys is the best way to check the organization’s pulse on ERG activities. Create questionnaires that help discover what is working and what is not. Direct questions will reveal how the members feel being part of any ERG. Anonymous surveys could be carried out to get constructive suggestions. Genuinely listening to members, their needs and implementing their suggestions can increase engagement.


Provide a platform for sharing


Provide opportunities for members to share their personal and professional experiences. Discussion boards give members an opportunity to interact with one another even if they are work remotely. Reward members with ERG Points for their participation when they attend an event, host an event, start a discussion, contribute to the ERG album etc.


Employee Resource Groups management is a challenging task with great rewards if done correctly and in the right spirit. Leaning on ERG management technology solutions to do the heavy lifting can simplify the process and unleash new growth opportunities.


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