Employee Resource Groups: What are they?
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups that promote a sense of belonging and support inclusivity within the workplace. Typically, an ERG will focus on supporting employees who share a common identity, such as people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals or employees with disabilities.
When organizing an ERG, you might choose to focus on:
- Sexual orientation
- Disabilities and mental health issues
- Social or economic causes
ERGs can also be formed around interests or hobbies, like environmentalism or running. Regardless of what brings it together, however, the main goal of an ERG is to improve employee wellbeing and boost your business as a whole.
Why do you need Employee Resource Groups?
Although ERGs are set up by the employer, they are fundamentally an employee-driven initiative. This is what gives the group its ability to effect real change in the workplace and build a more inclusive environment; ERGs are not just another top-down company initiative, but a way for employees to make their voices heard.
For underrepresented groups, ERGs grant access to support, guidance and a sense of community that they might not otherwise have in the workplace. They provide a space to talk about shared experiences and challenges, as well as a platform to drive change within the company.
ERGs can also help employers connect with employees on a more personal level and better understand the inequities that their employees face. In turn, this allows employers to create targeted policies and programs that directly address the needs of their workforce.
Some of the main functions of an ERG include:
- Providing a platform for group members to share concerns
- Connecting group members with mentors and organizational support
- Spreading awareness of how a certain identity intersects with workplace issues
- Increasing cultural awareness among staff
- Helping all employees feel accepted and valued
- Increasing employee engagement and overall job satisfaction
- Helping employers uncover employees with great leadership potential
- Fostering better relationships between new and existing employees
- Providing professional development opportunities
If you set your ERG in alignment with the mission, objectives and values of your organization, you’ll find that it can have a profound impact on the workplace as a whole. Use the unique perspectives of underrepresented employees to create a more diverse and inclusive environment, and watch your business thrive.
The benefits of starting an ERG
At their core, ERGs exist to benefit your employees; their aim is to boost job satisfaction and wellbeing, giving employees a sense of belonging and helping them feel valued in the workplace. In turn, this has a positive effect on productivity, as employees who feel supported are more likely to be engaged with their work.
ERGs can also have a number of benefits for your business, however. They can assist with:
Building future leaders
Employee Resource Groups are an excellent source of community and support for your employees — but they shouldn’t be limited to a simple support group. The best ERGs also offer professional development opportunities, such as workshops and speaker series, which can help employees build the skills they need to progress in their careers.
By nurturing talent within your ERGs through mentorship, development and leadership training, you can help to build a more diverse and inclusive leadership pipeline for your company.
Attracting a diverse workforce
In today’s competitive job market, potential employees are looking for more than just a pay check; they want to work for an organization that values diversity and inclusion, and that is committed to making a positive difference in the world.
An Employee Resource Group can be a powerful tool for attracting top talent from a diverse range of backgrounds, as it demonstrates your company’s dedication to inclusion.
Gaining awareness of inequities
ERGs give underrepresented groups a voice; they provide an opportunity to see, understand, and respond to the issues faced by employees within your company. This can be invaluable for uncovering inequities that would otherwise go unnoticed and for developing solutions to address them.
Revealing potential DEI strategies
Your employees are your most valuable asset, especially where DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) is concerned. They have a front-row seat to the company’s culture, and they understand what’s working well — and what needs to be improved.
ERGs can gain valuable insights into potential DEI strategies that your company could adopt. You might ask certain groups to consult over outreach strategies, for example, or to help design training programs that target specific areas of improvement.
Finally, ERGs are one of the most effective ways to retain your employees by keeping them happy, engaged and committed to your company. Employees who feel supported and valued are more likely to stick around, which reduces costs associated with recruiting and training new staff.
A strong Employee Resource Group can help you to build a positive workplace culture, where employees feel like they belong — and that’s good for pretty much every aspect of your business. So what are your options when it comes to setting up an ERG?
Different types of Employee Resource Groups
In general, there are four main types of Employee Resource Groups.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) ERGs are formed to help an organization become more diverse and inclusive. They typically focus on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability.
Volunteer ERGs help employees get involved in volunteering and giving back to the community, with a focus on causes that relate to the organization’s mission or values.
Affinity ERGs are based on shared interests, hobbies or demographics, and provide a way for employees to connect with each other outside of work. Examples include veteran’s groups, young professional groups and LGBTQ+ groups.
Professional development ERGs are designed to help employees grow and develop in their careers. They may offer networking opportunities, workshops and mentorship programs.
The type of group that’s right for your organization will depend on your specific needs and goals. Are you looking to improve diversity and inclusion? Then a D&I group might be a good fit. If you want to encourage skills development, a professional development group could be a better option.
How to support your Employee Resource Groups
Wondering how you can support ERGs in your organization? Here are a few ideas:
- Create a solid plan: Work with your HR team to create clear, concise documentation so that it’s easy for employees to understand what employee resource groups are, what their purpose is, and how to start one of their own.
- Provide financial support: With an allocated budget, ERGs can put on events, professional development workshops and networking opportunities for members. Look at your company’s overall budget and try to set aside a percentage each year to go towards ERGs.
- Track progress: Help your ERGs set up document management systems so that they can keep up with reporting requirements and measure their impact in the workplace.
- Offer executive sponsorship: Leaders within your company can advocate for ERGs, acting as liaison between the group and company decision makers. Bridge any communication gaps to ensure that ERGs are being heard.
- Advertise events: Make an effort to raise awareness of ERG events and activities internally, through things like your intranet or company newsletter. You might also offer up space in the office for ERG meetings and events.
- Encourage participation: Encourage employees to get involved with ERGs, whether that’s through making information clear and easily accessible or simply raising awareness of the benefits of involvement. It’s a great idea to list the details of any ERGs in your employee handbook.
ERGs can have a positive impact on your workplace culture, so it’s important to do what you can to support them. By following the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to fostering a thriving environment for employee resource groups in your organization.
Frequently asked questions about Employee Resource Groups
What is the role of an Employee Resource Group?
Employee Resource Groups are voluntary, employee-led groups that promote a positive work environment for all employees, while also supporting the business goals of the organization. ERGs typically focus on one or more aspects of diversity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status.
What are the benefits of an Employee Resource Group?
There are many benefits of Employee Resource Groups, including improved visibility and representation of diverse perspectives within the organization, increased recruitment, development and retention of a diverse workforce, and enhanced organizational culture and climate.