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Toby Egbuna
January 10, 2022

In 2021, I had over 100 calls with DEI leaders about their ERGs. Here's what I learned.

In 2021, I had over 100 calls with DEI leaders about their ERGs. Here's what I learned.

While we had some experience with ERGs - Dumebi led the IBM's Black employee resource group Chicago chapter and I worked with Accenture's DEI strategy offering helping Fortune 500s develop and implement their inclusion strategies - we wanted to learn the ins and outs of corporate ERGs from the people that know them best: diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders.

So, we called…and called…(and called) everyone we knew that led DEI at companies from 50-person startups to enterprises with 70k+ employees to learn everything that we could about employee resource groups. After these conversations, we condensed notes from these conversations and summarized our findings to identify trends and form takeaways. These findings were the foundation for the initial version of our ERG management software, and are shared below.

Note: These trends compare notes from 100+ conversations with Diversity leaders. This was not intended as a scientific process, and therefore are no quantified statistics for each takeaway (i.e. XX% of companies have 2 ERG Leads), but look out for that level of detail in future reports.

Takeaway #1: ERGs should be part of every company's onboarding 

Almost every company I spoke with incorporates its ERGs into the onboarding process for new employees. The first few weeks of an employee's experience are critical, and one of the best ways to help them find their tribe is to introduce them to the different ERGs at your company early. Especially for underrepresented employees, you want to find ways to boost that employee engagement as quickly as possible.

Several companies mentioned that introducing new employees directly to the Leads for the ERGs that they would likely identify with (i.e. introducing a new female employee to the Women's ERG Leadership team). While this makes sense, I wouldn't recommend it because you don't want to assume a person's identity and potentially get that wrong. Instead, give every employee instructions on how to join ERGs, and provide an email of someone from each ERG that they can reach out to if they have any questions. 

Takeaway #2: Two Leads per Employee Resource Group is the sweet spot

One is the loneliest number, but three (or more) is a crowd. 

Companies most often have two Leads per employee resource group. These Leads are responsible for reporting on the success of their ERGs, planning events, and welcoming members. They (should) have autonomy over how they want to spend their budgets and what programming they want to do. 

Because paying ERG leads is a relatively new practice, most companies actually don't have the funds to compensate all of their Leads. My hypothesis is that having two primary Leads makes it easier for a company to say that they're compensating leadership without having to find funding for 5-6 Leads per group.

Larger ERGs often have committee chairs, who, though they aren't paid, manage one of the pillars or focus areas of the ERG - membership, events, community service, commerce, etc. This is a good practice because it creates a clear pathway for committee Leads to transition into the more official leadership role.

Takeaway #3: There isn't really a standard for ERG KPIs

Here's a non-comprehensive list of metrics that I heard DEI managers say that they report on (or attempt to report on) for their ERGs:

Membership

  • # of in-group identifying people
  • Membership by location, team, tenure 
  • Membership growth rate
  • Satisfaction from membership (collected via surveys between ERG members and non-members)

Events

  • # of events held 
  • # of event signups / RSVPs via calendar invitations
  • # of event attendees
  • How long people stay in the event
  • Event feedback via surveys
  • Learnings/key findings from the event

Communications

  • # of emails sent
  • Click-thru rates on emails sent
  • # of communications/resources created

Spending and budget

  • Remaining budget
  • Spending per member
  • Spending per in-group member

Employee experience

  • Career progression compared to people outside of the ERG
  • Career growth for URMs
  • Career development
  • Culture survey responses
  • Quarterly Gallup surveys 
  • Representation by demographic within the company
  • Retention by demographic
  • Promotions by demographic

While some of these metrics were pretty commonplace - almost every ERG at least attempts to track the number of members it has - most companies are creating their metrics based on the data that they have available. So, if you have software that gathers RSVPs for events for you, then you're probably reporting on that. If you don't, then you're probably not. 

Based on where your ERGs are in terms of maturity, I would recommend outlining a small set of metrics for the different programming (events, community service, donation drives, etc.) your ERG runs and tracking/reporting on those. 

Takeaway #4: Heritage months are vital

According to The Rise Journey's recent 2021 State of ERGs report, the most common demographics for ERGs are:

  1. LGBTQIA+
  2. Women's
  3. Black / African-American
  4. AAPI
  5. Latinx

Each of these demographics has a dedicated Heritage or awareness month, and ERG Leaders are well-aware of this. Heritage months are a great opportunity for an ERG to execute the goals in its mission statement and provide networking opportunities and/or safe space events for its members.

Often, the bulk of programming for the year comes during this month. When I had the chance to speak with an ERG Leader that wasn't a DEI Manager (i.e. someone with a day job not tied to DEI), I very commonly heard that right before Heritage months, they would spend as many as 15 hours per week planning programming for their Groups. This was almost always the peak of their work for the year, as during normal times they could expect closer to 3-5 hours of work per week.

The best part about these heritage months is that they happen at the same time every year. Start planning early! Start looking for speakers, booking venues, and creating learning assets early so you're not in a rush two weeks before the heritage month starts. 

Takeaway #5: Budget tracking is inconsistent, and existing tools aren't cutting it  

We know that every company does everything differently, but budget tracking and reporting specifically is something that varies widely from company to company. 

Here are some responses I got to the question "how is budget tracked?"

  • We track budget as a DEI team, but we don't make it available to our ERG Leads. We don't want them to know how much they have left.
  • We don't track budget at all. ERG Leads request budget on an as-needed basis.
  • We track budget on a per-group basis.
  • We have an overall DEI budget. ERG Leads submit requests at the end of the year and the leadership team goes line by line to approve/disapprove requests.
  • We give each Lead a credit card that they can use and track their expenses in Expensify. Everything comes out of the overall diversity, equity, and inclusion budget.

Budget is one of the most administrative and tedious things that an ERG Lead has to do, but it's important to track so you can show that the money you've allocated for your Groups is being put to use. I advise finding a consistent way for people to report their expenses, whether that be your Chezie Dashboard, a Google sheet, or an Airtable form.

Takeaway #6 - The list of employee resource group pain points is, well, long

This long, to be specific:

GIF of list of pain points

 

I've managed to group the pain points into four buckets:

  1. Membership management - "Membership management is a nightmare" one DEI manager told me. Some teams have spent days or weeks going through Slack channels to add members to an excel spreadsheet so they can have an easy view into who's in what group, but this creates inconsistencies in data.
  2. Administrative work - There's a lot of manual work that goes into running ERGs. Adding people to distribution lists, writing down who attends events, communicating with members - all of it takes away from the ERG Leads' ability to focus on the work that matters - actually building inclusive Groups.
  3. Middle-manager and senior leadership buy-in - This is generally true for all of DEI, but there's often skepticism from senior leaders on the effectiveness of ERGs because companies don't have data to demonstrate the impact. With middle managers, the lack of buy-in means that it's hard for ERG Leads to ask for time away from their day jobs to focus on their work as a Lead.
  4. Lack of structure - A lot of the DEI Managers that I spoke to were the first to be hired into such positions at their companies. They inherited poorly-structured ERGs and were told to get them off the ground. This is no simple task, and often the bulk of the work comes from simply getting organized.

The best way to avoid these pain points is to start early. If you're just launching your ERGs, make sure you have a way to handle each of the above pain points so you don't run into these problems later on when your Groups are more mature. If your ERGs are established, it's going to be tougher, but you'll want to work with your Leads to overhaul your existing system:

  1. Create a single method for people to sign up for Groups that automatically adds them to a membership list
  2. Ask for time during company all-hands to go over the importance and impact of ERGs to start to educate leadership and middle management
  3. Establish a basic structure for ERG programming that lets Leads know how much budget they have annually, how many events they're required to host every year, and what other goals they should be working toward

I'm forever grateful to the diversity, equity, and inclusion Leaders who replied to my emails and jumped on calls with me to answer my questions. We believe ERGs can be catalysts for inclusion within a company, and we're excited to be building something that helps companies reach their goals.

Author avatar
Toby Egbuna
Toby Egbuna is a Co-Founder and CEO of Chezie. He is also an aspiring movie buff, an Ed Sheeran stan, and a mediocre cook.

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