Employee Resource Groups: A Guide

Creating an inclusive and engaging company culture requires strategic planning around diversity and equality. Employee resource groups offer a unique, employee-driven way to achieve a cohesive work environment. Learn more about the significance of employee resources groups below. 


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What are employee resource groups?

Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are employer-recognized workplace groups voluntarily led by employees. These groups allow employees with commonalities to meet, support each other and produce a particular outcome that helps improve your business and their job satisfaction. These commonalities normally include:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disabilities
  • Social or economic causes
  • Shared interests

The first ERGs, originally called Workplace Affinity Groups, formed in the 1960s as a response to racial tension and workplace discrimination. After witnessing the 1964 race riots in Rochester, NY, the former CEO of Xerox Joseph Wilson, developed the idea to create these supportive employee groups and launched the National Black Employees Caucus in 1970, the first group of its kind. Since then, ERGs have grown in popularity as employers increasingly understand the importance of workplace diversification and equality.


The importance of employee resource groups

Employee Resource Groups have shown their value in business, seen as key components in a company’s success. Here are some of the common benefits ERGs provide for you and your employees:

  • Increase cultural awareness among staff
  • Help all employees feel accepted and valued
  • Increase employee engagement and overall job satisfaction
  • Help employers uncover employees with great leadership potential
  • Foster better relationships between new and existing employees
  • Provide professional development opportunities
  • Work out problems within the workplace culture more effectively
  • Help attract diversified talent by attending job fairs and community networking
  • Provide cross-functional teamwork resulting in more innovative ideas

ERGs can also help with your company’s branding and marketing efforts, employee training and development and employee retention. ERG groups offer unique perspectives that allow you to grow your business in new ways. Successful ERG groups work towards goals that align with the overall mission, objectives and values of the business to advance the organization in a positive and forward-thinking direction.

Related: Cultivating Positive Workplace Behavior


Types of employee resource groups

There are four common types of employee resource groups:

  • Diversity resource groups
  • Volunteer groups
  • Affinity groups
  • Professional development groups


Diversity resource groups

Diversity resource groups consist of employees within the minority of their workplace. Minorities can be distinguished by race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and other characteristics that may unintentionally alienate someone from the larger group. The purpose of a diversity group is to build a genuine sense of inclusiveness for minorities and to provide a safe space where they can share their thoughts, ideas and challenges. Diversity groups can help employers identify the best ways to overcome cultural challenges in the workplace. 

Related: Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace


Volunteer groups

Volunteer resource groups are for employees wanting to give back to the community and support causes. These groups focus on awareness, which may come in the form of asking for donations from the office or attending events to promote or support their cause. To help these groups succeed in their efforts, many employers will match the monetary amount of donations or help provide resources needed for events. Volunteer groups help employees from different backgrounds come together over a shared passion, which can improve relationships in the workplace, fostering a greater sense of community.


Affinity groups

Affinity groups, also known as affinity clubs, are employee-led groups created for individuals with similar hobbies who want to socialize. Walking clubs, biking clubs, book clubs and wine clubs are common types. These groups help bring a diverse group of employees together to share a love for a specific interest, which helps staff get to know each other better. Building connections outside the workplace can help improve the environment at the workplace, improving employee communication, engagement and teamwork. You can help support an affinity group by offering a stipend for resources if the group’s attendance reaches a certain number.


Professional development groups

The main purpose of a professional development group is to connect staff of all levels and business departments, allowing them to share knowledge, support those looking to advance into leadership roles and those wanting to improve their skills in a particular area. Some examples include groups where employees learn how to code or where employees looking to advance in their career learn valuable leadership skills. 


Frequently asked questions about employee resource groups


How do I start an employee resource group?

Follow these suggested steps to form an ERG:

  1. Determine company goals and decide if an ERG is needed. The first thing to do is assess which ERGs the company truly needs. Take a look at which groups of employees might be underrepresented, what type of employees you need help with retaining and recruiting and other organizational needs. Each ERG needs a specific purpose contingent on company needs and objectives.
  2. Secure leadership buy-in to implement an ERG. It’s helpful to have someone in senior management sponsor the resource group, assisting with the implementation and growth to help ensure success.
  3. Start with a small group. ERGs work best when they grow with time, attracting those who are passionate about the group’s goal. As long as the group fulfills its purpose it should work for your business.
  4. Spread awareness about the group. The last step is to promote the group throughout the company so everyone is aware of its formation and intent. It can be advertised in new hire onboarding materials, through company chat, emails or even formal letters.


Do employee resource groups have any disadvantages?

Employee resource groups are largely advantageous but may result in less positive outcomes in some cases. Sometimes, even in a group of similarities, different ideas of how a goal should be accomplished may reduce productivity and employee engagement. Additionally, if an ERG lacks close ties to the overarching values and mission of the company it may not provide the boost in business growth it should.


Where do employee resource groups meet?

Typically, ERGs meet during work hours on a pre-determined basis to complete work-related tasks tied to the group’s mission. Some groups may also meet outside of work hours during events, club meetings and volunteer opportunities.


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