Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) help organizations create safe spaces within the workplace where diversity is welcomed, nurtured and celebrated to build a sense of community and belonging amongst employees. A well-structured ERG program that aligns with the organization’s goals, structure and governance helps create a win-win solution that benefits the organization in multiple ways while fortifying employees’ association with the organization.
In the past, ERGs were formed organically within an organization, often stemming from a need for community and belonging. As ERGs sprouted randomly, there was a lack of structure, standardization and alignment with business objectives.
How should an ERG (Employee Resource Group) be structured?
Organizations with mature ERG programs have ERG Program Managers who report into the Chief Human Resources Office (CHRO) or Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). Every ERG is in turn structured like a ‘mini organization’ within the company. Organizations that have been pioneers in the Employee Resource Group space have created and maintained a simple hierarchical structure which has served them wonderfully.
At the top of the hierarchy is a Central ERG Management Team which is composed of at least one leadership team member (CXO) and one or more ERG Leads. ERG Leads are usually middle management or individuals who are passionate about certain ERGs who aspire to grow into future leaders of the organization.
Illustration of ERG structure (Source: The Ultimate Guide for ERG Leads)
The CXOs who are part of the Central ERG Management Team provide the support and validation needed for ERGs to flourish in an organization. They function as the flag bearers of the company’s commitment to the ERG community and also keep the CEO in the loop about the activities of their respective ERGs. ERG leads are assigned objectives and metrics that fit in with the organization's business goals. They also enjoy the added advantage of working closely with the leadership team. ERG leads at times liaison with members of the external community through non-profit organizations, volunteer programs etc.
ERGs can have multiple ‘Chapters’. Each Chapter is usually a region-based subset of an ERG and has a ‘Chapter Lead’. Chapters help in bringing regional flavors to ERGs; thus, adding a sense of depth and range to them.
Illustration of ERG management structure at Amtrak (Source: Webinar on Frontline Employee Engagement with ERGs)
The structure and management of ERGs can be fortified by introducing core positions to lead ERGs as done at Amtrak. These core positions have committees to support them. A structure like this divides the various responsibilities that comprise ERG management such as communication, event management, budget management and more. It mitigates ERG Lead burnout by equal distribution of tasks.
Once the ERG structure is planned, some governing principles need to be implemented. A document stating the objectives and outcomes expected from each ERG needs to be drafted. The leadership team member and the ERG lead are expected to plan and monitor the activities of the ERG based on this document. Periodic check-ins and interventions are necessary to ensure the ERG is on track with the predefined goal and well within the allocated budget.
ERG management also includes tracking membership numbers. Most organizations keep a tab on the percentage of employees that belong to at least one ERG within the organization as a metric. It is important to note that pruning is just as important as proliferation. Introducing new Employee Resource Groups without a clear need or business objective is not recommended. ERGs need to be evaluated for efficacy and should be calibrated from time to time to improve employee engagement and stay aligned with business goals.
The task of structuring and managing ERGs has been greatly simplified by ERG management software. Such tools provide a single-screen solution of tracking organization-wide metrics of ERGs across different regions. Administering, measuring and growing ERGs becomes effortless with such all-in-one solutions.
Does your organization structure and manage ERGs differently?
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can ERGs be leveraged to address specific challenges faced by different employee groups within the organization?
ERGs can combat specific challenges faced by diverse employee groups through targeted initiatives. Identifying needs through surveys and focus groups allows ERGs to develop targeted programs like mentorship or workshops addressing unconscious bias. Additionally, they can advocate for policy changes regarding flexible work arrangements or inclusive hiring practices. Furthermore, ERGs can foster a sense of belonging through social events and create safe spaces for open dialogue on sensitive topics, ultimately creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
What are the best practices for ensuring diverse representation within ERG leadership teams and across different chapters?
Ensuring diverse representation within ERG leadership requires a proactive approach. Organizations should establish transparent and inclusive processes for selecting leadership members, actively seeking nominations from diverse backgrounds. It's helpful to offer leadership development and training opportunities specifically targeting members from underrepresented groups, which helps prepare them for leadership roles. Additionally, intentional outreach and communication aimed at increasing awareness of ERGs across all employee demographics is crucial. To encourage diverse participation in chapters, consider rotating meetings across locations and times to accommodate various schedules. Finally, regularly evaluating membership demographics within ERGs and their leadership teams allows organizations to track progress and identify areas for improvement.
How can ERG activities be effectively communicated and promoted to encourage broader employee participation?
Effective communication is key to encouraging broader participation in ERG activities. Utilize various channels like company newsletters, internal social media, and targeted email campaigns to reach different demographics. Highlight success stories and diverse member perspectives to showcase the value ERGs bring. Consider hosting open houses or "lunch and learn" sessions to introduce ERGs and their activities. Actively engage with other departments and employee resource groups to foster collaboration and cross-promotion of events. Finally, encourage employee participation through accessible registration processes and creating a welcoming environment at all ERG events.