The Ultimate Employee Resource Group Toolkit

An illustration of two women talking.

Employee Resource Groups are often the centerpiece of a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. However, just because ERGs are common amongst companies does not mean that they are always effective. Unfortunately, many companies are struggling to properly structure and organize their groups. We’ve created this toolkit to empower you as a DEI or ERG leader to take your ERGs to the next level. 

Heads up! This is a living ERG Toolkit, and we’ll be adding more pieces to it at least monthly to help you and your ERGs be better. Go ahead and add the ERG Toolkit to your bookmarks!

Contents:

  1. What Is an ERG?
  2. The Business Case for ERGs
  3. Steps to Establish an ERG
  4. Use This Simple Framework to Structure Your ERGs - 4 C’s
  5. Metrics You Should Use to Measure ERG Success
  6. How to Pick Your ERG Leads*
  7. The Different Types of ERGs, and Which One Is Best for Your Company*
  8. How to Create a Budget for Your ERGs*
  9. How to Compensate Your ERG Leads*

* coming soon

What is an Employee Resource Group (ERG)?

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.

The Business Case for ERGs

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:

1. Improved Retention

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.

2. Improved Recruiting

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. 

3. Increased Productivity

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.

4. Equitable Product Development

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:

  • A fitness wearables company works with its Black ERG to make sure that the product works as well on darker skin as it does on lighter skin. 
  • A large ecommerce company works with it’s Disabilities ERG to make it’s smart speaker device accessible to people who are deaf or who have speech impediments. 
  • A film production company, during development for a movie featuring an all-Black cast, works with its Black ERG to make sure that the content of the movie is representative of the Black experience. 

Conclusion

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.

How to Launch an ERG

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.

1. Establish your mission and goals

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:

  • What are the core values of the group?
  • How can we differentiate ourselves from other groups at the company?
  • What actions need to be taken to achieve the group's mission?
  • What are short-term and long-term goals?
  • What resources are needed to achieve our goals?
  • Who will take the lead on the execution of these tasks?
  • What are the financial restraints?

2. Engage executive sponsors

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. 

3. Get employees involved

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:

  • Email blasts
  • Flyers
  • Slack channels
  • All-hands meetings
  • Employee onboarding programs

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.

4. Establish a structure

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:

Schedule:

  • Determine days, times, length, and frequency
  • Create plan for members who can’t attend
  • Pick a location, and consider holding in-person events whenever possible

Responsibilities:

  • Lead meetings
  • Create meeting agendas and share them with members
  • Send reminders and/or calendar invites
  • Track attendance

5. Align ERGs on business initiatives

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:

  • Recruiting – attending career fairs, sharing job openings within their networks, and referring qualified talent
  • Professional development – identifying emerging leaders within your ERG community, hosting leadership workshops for diverse employees, and fostering mentorship between junior and senior employees
  • Cultivating an inclusive culture - Embedding inclusivity into the company culture by raising awareness internally and elevating the company’s brand within the communities the ERGs represent

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.

6. Promote allyship among other ERGs

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:

  • Collaborating on community and professional event
  • Exchanging ideas and resources
  • Sharing ERG announcements of news and upcoming events
  • Participating in an open forum to share experiences

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.

Use This Simple Framework to Structure Your ERGs - The 4 C's

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. 

Illustration of the 4 C's framework
Illustration from DDR Advisors

The 4 C’s, explained

Commerce

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

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:

  1. What are you hoping to gain from joining our group?
  2. What are your career goals?

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

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

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. 

Example programs and initiatives

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.

Commerce

  • Write or review blog content for your marketing team
  • User test a new feature for your product team and provide feedback
  • Host networking events with the recruiting team and allow your ERG members to invite their friends

Career

  • Create a mentorship program for junior-level employees to connect with senior leaders
  • Provide stipends for members to attend one career development conference annually
  • Host a lunch-and-learn series with an external (or internal) speaker around career development topics - financial literacy, side hustles, real estate investing, etc.

Community

  • Partner with a local school to host a student mentorship program
  • Gather donations from employees and donate the proceeds to a local charity. Bonus points if you can get your employer to match contributions
  • Run drives for people to donate items during different parts of the year - school supplies in August, coats in November, etc.

Culture

  • Prep crisis management templates to be sent via email to your company. These can be used if/when a negative social event occurs - a police shooting, a natural disaster, etc.
  • Bring in a (paid) speaker to discuss social issues that affect in-group members of an ERG

Metrics You Should Use to Measure ERG Success

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. 

An illustration of the employee resource group maturity model.
Illustration inspired from the work of D. Chip Newton

Affinity Group

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:

Overall membership

  • Track the number of employees that are members of your group. For this, you need to define what membership means. At this stage, this can be people that have opted into the distribution list or joined the Slack channel.

# of events held

  • Track the number of events held per quarter or half-year, or full year. Identify a target number (i.e. one event per month), and make sure that each event has an objective. 

Note: we’ll cover how to plan successful ERG events in a later section. 

Event attendance

  • Track the number of people that are signing up to attend your events (accepting the calendar invites), and the number of people actually attending the event. For virtual event attendance, look at the number of participants halfway through the event.

Employee Resource Group (ERG)

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:

Recruiting referrals

  • Track the number of recruiting referrals that members of ERGs submit. If there’s not an option to do this in your applicant tracking system, consider creating a simple Google form where people select the ERG they are part of, and send each new submission to the recruiting team.

Mentorship program participation

  • Track the % of your ERG members and of your overall company that participates in your mentorship program in a fiscal year. Decide if the program is exclusively for ERG members or open to anyone at the company. 

# of community service/corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives held

  • Track the number of community service initiatives led by your ERG in a given fiscal year. These can be volunteering, food or clothing collections, donations, or any other form of community service/CSR.

Business Resource Group (BRG)

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

  • Track the number of feature requests submitted by your ERG members. The same way that your product team gathers feature requests from customers, it can work with members of your ERG to figure out how to make your company’s product more inclusive and/or attractive to a different demographic.

# of leads from BRG member referrals

  • Track the number of sales leads submitted by ERG members. Similar to the recruiting referral, create a system for members of your ERG to submit potential sales leads to the sales team. Bonus points if the submitting employee gets commission upon closing the deal.

# of promotions for high-potential mentorship program

  • Track the number of people participating in your high-potential mentorship program. Unlike a traditional mentorship program, this one should be focused on identifying successful middle-managers and giving them resources and support to make their way into company leadership.  

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.