Employee Resource Groups are employee identity or experience-based groups that focus on creating community and belonging for employees. According to a 2017 report by TopMBA, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs, and this number is likely even higher following the summer of 2020.
ERGs are most often centered on bringing together a group of people with shared gender identities, sexual orientations, race/ethnicities, interests, backgrounds, and/or perspectives. Different companies use different naming conventions for their ERGs - Communities, Affinity Groups, Business Resource Groups, Network Groups, etc. Generally speaking, the groups are volunteer-led (although some companies have elected to pay ERG leads; more on this later in the toolkit), and they focus on creating safe spaces for members and supporting business functions.
Employee resource groups are great tools for fostering inclusion for employees from underrepresented communities, but they can be so much more. ERGs are at their best when they are business resources that support every department of a company.
Here are some of the business benefits of employee resource groups:
This one should be obvious, but it isn’t always framed this way for companies. One of the primary objectives for ERGs is to foster inclusion for (often underrepresented) employees. If employees have a sense of community and belonging at work, they are more likely to remain at a company. If you don’t pitch your ERG as a tool to retain talented employees, your leadership might have a hard time understanding why some budget should be allocated to the group.
Additionally, according to Stories from the Chezie community, professional development is a huge priority for diverse job-seekers. ERGs often focus on creating professional development opportunities for members in the form of training, workshops, and mentorship. If your ERG can help members achieve their career goals, you’re more likely to keep the talent you have.
The number one concern for companies right now is figuring out how to get more diverse talent into the organization (we believe the first priority should actually be on retaining the talent companies already have, but that’s a separate conversation). ERGs can be great ways to source diverse talent that your company would normally not have access to.
Many companies have set up employee referral programs through their ERGs to help bolster diversity recruiting. Some additional ideas are to let your ERGs host social events for people outside of your organization, and ask your members to invite colleagues or friends to that event. This gives you an opportunity to network with highly-qualified people and introduce them to your company’s culture in a casual setting.
A 2013 study by Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD, showed that employees that participate in ERGs have higher energy levels than those that don’t. Dr. Welbourne describes employee energy as “the internal force one has to move forward and achieve goals at work.”
Read that again.
Employees that participate in ERGs are more likely to achieve work goals. That should be the end of discussion. ERGs literally help a company’s workforce be more productive. In business words, more productivity means having a sales team that surpasses its quota or an engineering team that fixes bugs at a faster rate. ERGs = increased productivity = better business results.
There have been plenty of news stories about companies putting out offensive products or marketing campaigns - see this article on H&M, or this article on a world built for men. ERGs can help companies avoid biased products by supporting their product development team to make sure that the goods or services your company sells attract people from all identities. Here are some real-life examples that we’ve gathered from employers that we’ve spoken with and our own research:
As your ERGs become more closely tied to the goals of your company, it becomes much easier to ask for additional budget, resources, and/or attention. Employee resource groups can be incredible communities for people of shared identities and backgrounds, but they can also be incredible business assets.
Since ERGs are almost always employee-led, they can be launched by anyone in your organization. Typically, there are informal communities within companies that want to transition into more formal employee resource groups. For example, your LGBTQ or Black employees likely already have a Slack channel that they use as a safe space to vent and help each other advance at your company. Whether you already have these informal communities in place and you want to formalize them, or whether you’re starting your group from scratch, here are six steps to launch your ERG.
The mission and goals of your ERG should be created in collaboration with employees that are interested in joining. The mission guides the group’s initiatives and campaigns throughout the year. Collectively, your group’s goals should represent your company and your group’s common interests.
While the mission articulates the purpose for which the group was created (i.e. creating an inclusive environment for Latinx employees, or raising awareness of LGBTQ+ social issues), the goals should outline specific activities and timelines.
Consider the following questions when setting the mission and goals:
Executive sponsorship is crucial to the success of ERGs. To gain buy-in, find executives or C-suite sponsors who have demonstrated commitments to DEI. Ideally, although not required, these executives will identify with the group they are sponsoring.
When asking an executive to sponsor your ERG, approach them with talking points and data that showcases how ERGs will positively impact your employees and the organization as a whole. Good thing you just read about the business case for ERGs!
Make sure HR leaders are especially invested, as they will have insight into legal requirements, and authority over budget and promotions for your group.
ERG leaders should make a plan and work with their team to develop outreach strategies and generate interest for their group. Work with your contact in HR to make sure you are communicating with all potential employee participants.
Consider developing marketing assets to introduce the group. These can be digital assets like email newsletters, or physical swag like t-shirts. Work with the marketing team to identify any brand restrictions.
Additionally, promote your ERG in multiple channels such as:
Another way to attract participants is to network and/or partner with other internal diversity groups (culture committees, mentorship programs, etc.) already in place. Try attending some meetings in order to connect with their representatives to share ideas, obtain feedback, and build relationships.
With the input of group members and your executive sponsor(s), establish a regular meeting and/or event schedule. Consistency will help drive collaboration and organization across different ERG groups.
Hold meetings at least every quarter for your leadership team. Actively plan the agenda so that time is well spent on topics that are relevant to all participating members. Here are some things to consider when organizing the group’s structure and meeting schedule:
To encourage buy-in from all departments and levels of the organization, it’s important that ERGs align their goals to company objectives.
For example, Pinterest’s Black and Latinx ERGs tied their goals to business objectives when they launched cultural content during the group’s respective heritage months.
Since the primary purpose of ERGs is to cultivate a more inclusive workplace for employees, it makes them perfectly positioned to build a culture of allyship and to foster collaboration across the organization.
Although ERGs bring together people of shared demographic traits, you should encourage participation from employees of all backgrounds within and outside the organization. People can more easily support your community if they’re invited into it. The most effective ERGs get collaboration between and among other groups to take advantage of synergies, encourage transfer of knowledge, and accelerate business objectives.
Here are some ways to leverage relationships with other groups:
With a clear mission and goals, employee resource groups have the potential to be strategic initiatives for companies that significantly contribute to overall success and profitability. With these steps in mind, we hope that your ERG turns into a source of innovation and inspiration for your organization.
Before you kick off your ERGs, it’s important to outline an operating structure for them. We make this comparison a lot, but every other business function has a set operating framework that it follows to achieve success. Product managers might use the Kano model; marketing teams might use the 7 P’s; Sales directors might use value-based customer theory. The same should apply to DEI, and specifically to ERGs.
The 4 C’s framework is an incredibly powerful methodology created by Dr. Robert Rodriguez of DDR Advisors. Standing for Commerce, Community, Culture, and Career, each ‘C’ represents a different pillar of an ERG’s overall strategy. This framework can be used to help outline your ERG goals and tell the story of the impact your groups are having. According to Diversity Best Practices, over 200 corporations, including Allstate, TJX Corporation, and Comcast/NBCUniversal utilize the 4 C’s model to structure their ERGs.
Commerce - making a business impact for your company.
The same Diversity Best Practices article highlights that, although none of the 4 C’s is more important than the other, performing low on the Commerce pillar has a more negative impact on your group than low performance for the other C’s. Remember, at their best, ERGs are business resources. If you can support your company’s core business functions, your visibility throughout the organization is higher and it’s much easier for you to make the case for additional budget and/or resources.
Career - making an impact on the careers of your members.
According to DDR Advisors, “when companies score high on their Career related questions, it is more likely that they will be able to maintain or improve the scores in the other three areas.” Your group should be focused on advancing the careers of the people that you look to serve within your company. The best way to do this is to talk to your members and figure out what kind of programming they want exposure to. Consider adding the following questions to the signup form for your ERG:
Monitor people’s responses to these questions via your Chezie Dashboard (or whatever method that you use to track signups) and use the responses to guide your ERG programming.
Community - benefitting the community you serve.
The community pillar is focused on external outreach. If you lead a Black ERG and your company is headquartered in Atlanta, find ways to benefit Black people in the Atlanta area. Get creative! Again, you can always work with your members to brainstorm community-service and community development projects. Ask members if they have any organizations that they would recommend, and if you find a few that align with your company’s values, reach out to them to see how you can support their work.
Culture - raising awareness of social and cultural issues.
One of the primary reasons that people from underrepresented groups need the support of ERGs is because there are often social, cultural, or economic forces that keep these people from achieving their goals. It’s likely that in-group members an ERG are already aware of these forces, so your ERG needs to focus on raising awareness for employees that don’t identify with the group. Create and share content, host book or podcast clubs, or go to a film screening. Use your ERG as a catalyst for change within your company’s walls by providing people with insight that they likely didn’t have before.
Now that we’ve covered the 4 C’s framework and what each pillar means, here are some example initiatives and programs that would fall under each pillar.
One of the foundational challenges to DEI work as a whole is the lack of quality data. It can be difficult for DEI leaders to demonstrate the impact that their work is having because they typically don’t have data to tell the story.
“What gets measured gets managed.”
- Someone really smart
If you’re working on your company’s employee resource groups, it’s absolutely critical that you have established metrics to track the success of your programming and strategy. Having metrics in place can be the difference between your groups getting additional funding for the upcoming fiscal year and your groups getting dissolved entirely.
The question is: what metrics should you track?
Depending on where your ERGs are in their development, some metrics might be easier to gather than others, which is why we’ve broken this up by ERG maturity level. Select the maturity level that most applies to your groups, and continue reading to learn what types of metrics you should be gathering to show how your ERGs are successfully making your company a better place to work.
Groups at the Affinity Group stage are less formal and focused primarily on creating networking opportunities for their members. For earlier-stage groups, this might mean that your group is housed in a Slack channel and that you’re still working on establishing your leadership team.
Here are metrics that companies at the Affinity Group stage should track:
# of events held
Note: we’ll cover how to plan successful ERG events in a later section.
Groups in this phase of the maturity model are further established than their Affinity Group counterparts. They have a set structure, a leadership team, and a regular event schedule. They also support business objectives, although they might not do it regularly.
In addition to the metrics for companies at the Affinity Group stage, here are metrics that companies at the ERG stage should track:
Mentorship program participation
# of community service/corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives held
As mentioned earlier in the toolkit, every group should strive to become a business resource. This means that not only is your group providing a community for employees from underrepresented communities at your company, but that you’re also supporting critical business functions that improve the bottom line.
In addition to the metrics for companies at the Affinity Group and ERG stages, here are metrics that companies at the BRG stage should track:
# of feature requests from BRG members
# of leads from BRG member referrals
# of promotions for high-potential mentorship program
Be aware, these metrics are foundational. In other words, there are levels to this. For example, as your groups get more established at your company, you might go from tracking the number of people in each ERG to categorizing members by level within the organization, department/team (i.e. product, sales, marketing), and office. For events, you might start sending feedback surveys to attendees asking them “how likely are you to recommend this event to a colleague?” to gather an NPS score in addition to tracking the number of events held.
Regardless of what stage your ERGs are in, it is imperative that you have metrics associated with your groups. If you can show the impact that your ERGs are having with digestible data, it’s much easier for you to make the case for increased budget or more involvement from leadership.