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The evolution of Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups(ERG) or Employee Networks(EN) have been around for decades. They were initially known as ‘Affinity Groups’. Affinity groups began with a focus on African-Americans and women in the workplace. One of the first documented affinity groups in an organization was a Black Employee Caucus Group at the Xerox Corporation in the 1960s.

Early ERGs were centered around race and gender. They gradually moved to incorporate life-stages and other interests. As companies grew, so did the diversity of their workforce which gave rise to more granular communities who enjoyed connecting with each other. Since then, ERGs have been evolving and have given rise to groups based on diversity, inclusivity, beliefs, abilities and interests. A typical organization these days has a host of groups catering to ethnicity (Asian, Hispanic, Latinx, African-American, Native American & others), disabilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith, military affiliations, community service initiatives, environmental issues and so on.

When ERGs started out, their activities were centered around networking and offering a platform to employees where they could discuss commonalities. These commonalities included experiences as well as challenges faced by ERG members who were often a minority. In due course, talent development and employee engagement were introduced. ERGs organized programs for soft-skills development and also offered mentorship to employees who would benefit from proper and timely guidance in their careers.

Then came the turning point when organizations realized the power of diverse and inclusive communities. They witnessed the impact that employee networks had on employee engagement and employee retention. ERGs began transforming from good-to-have to must-haves in organizations. ERGs provided quality talent for recruitment through referrals which also aligned with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) goals of the organization. Prospective employees also preferred joining companies that nurtured Employee Resource Groups.

The next phase of ERG development was the transformation of ERGs into Business Resource Groups (BRGs). BRGs are evolved ERGs involved in the strategic initiatives of the organization. They are often assigned goals and deliverables that directly contribute to business growth. BRGs use the insights of the community to shape policies, products and services to serve their end customers better.

Thus, with every stage of their evolution, ERGs have redefined their purpose and have become a force to be reckoned with inside organizations. They are powerhouses of change and growth that continue to have a positive business impact when managed effectively. As the number of ERGs within global organizations grows, companies are turning to Employee Resource Group management software solutions to stay ahead of the curve. Technology platforms are helping save valuable manpower through automation and also provide analytical data views for decision-making.

From starting out as organically formed groups and developing into DEI-centric communities that contribute to business, ERGs have come a long way and have a long way to go. Backed with technology solutions, the revolutionary journey has only just begun.

Where does your organization lie in the spectrum of ERG evolution? Let us know in the comments.

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