In a recent study by Pew Research Center, only 26% of workers said that there are employee resource groups (ERGs) at their workplace. This is in stark contrast to McKinsey’s survey that shows 90% of Fortune 500 companies had ERGs in 2022.
The above statistics show that larger companies are in a better position to invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion, while smaller and medium sized enterprises still struggle to create sustainable diverse teams and ERGs.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a powerful tool for organizations to foster diversity, inclusion, and employee engagement. To create a successful ERG, you need effective leadership. To create effective leaders within the company, you need a robust ERG leadership structure that catalyzes positive transformation within an organization.
What is ERG leadership?
ERGs, also known as affinity groups or employee networks, are voluntary employee-run organizations aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. These groups are composed of individuals who share common characteristics, backgrounds, or interests. ERG leadership refers to the individuals who spearhead and manage these groups, guiding their initiatives, fostering collaboration, and driving change within the organization.
Benefits of ERG leadership for an organization
54% of employees rate ERGs as highly effective in external engagement. ERGs, under effective leadership, boost employee engagement by providing platforms for employees to connect, share experiences, and collaborate on projects they are passionate about. With engagement, comes higher employee satisfaction and retention rates. When employees feel valued and included, they are more likely to stay and contribute their best work.
Besides engagement, some of the major benefits of ERG leadership include:
- Improved diversity and inclusion — ERG leaders give insights and perspective to help HR teams create policies that reflect the needs and aspirations of diverse employee groups.
- Innovation — ERG leaders bring fresh perspectives and unique insights to the table, leading to innovative solutions that benefit the entire organization.
- Attracting the best talent — Organizations with robust ERGs and effective leadership earn a reputation as inclusive employers committed to equality and fairness. By displaying your commitment to equality, you attract employees whose values align with yours.
ERG leaders can plan and implement strategies that can help companies recruit diverse talent through different tactics. A practical example of this is Women in Tech ERGs designing booths for tech job fairs that reflect the company’s gender diversity.
As Fran Dillard, Vice President and Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer at Micron Technologies, says in the video below,
"I really see our ERGs as strategic enablers and really helping us to invent and advance our mission in DEI."
5 strategies for effective ERG leadership collaboration
To maximize the impact of ERG initiatives, collaboration between ERG leaders and HR professionals is essential. Here are some strategies for effective collaboration:
1. Set shared goals
Ensure that ERG initiatives align with the organization's broader goals and strategies.
Let’s say you aim to enhance gender diversity in your engineering team. To achieve this goal, you (HR) should collaborate closely with the Women in Tech ERG to design initiatives that address the underrepresentation of women in technical roles. By aligning the ERG's objectives with the company's broader goal of gender diversity, the ERG's initiatives will directly contribute to achieving the organization's overarching mission.
2. Ensure regular communication
Maintain open lines of communication between ERG leaders and HR teams to ensure initiatives are on track and challenges are addressed promptly.
For example, the LGBTQ+ ERG and the HR department should collaborate to ensure that upcoming initiatives, such as awareness campaigns during Pride Month, are seamlessly integrated into the company's communication strategy. This alignment will help amplify the impact of the ERG's efforts and ensure consistent messaging.
3. Allocate necessary resources
Provide ERG leaders with the necessary resources, including budgets, to execute their initiatives effectively.
Take, for instance, a company aiming to improve disability inclusion. The Abilities Beyond Limits ERG and HR should collaborate to secure funding for accessibility enhancements in the workplace, such as implementing assistive technologies and creating inclusive spaces. By allocating resources to support the ERG's initiatives, the organization will demonstrate its commitment to fostering an inclusive environment.
4. Establish feedback mechanisms
Establish feedback loops to gather input from ERG leaders and members, allowing for continuous improvement.
For example, the Multicultural Unity ERG and HR should partner with each other to gather feedback from employees on the effectiveness of diversity training programs. This feedback loop will allow for adjustments to be made based on employee input, ensuring that the ERG's initiatives remain relevant and impactful.
5. Build executive support
Secure executive sponsorship for ERGs to demonstrate the organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Consider an organization where the Black Professionals ERG receives active support from the C-suite. This support is exemplified through the participation of senior executives in ERG events, where they share their experiences and insights. Such involvement not only underscores the organization's commitment to diversity but also provides ERG members with valuable mentorship and networking opportunities.
5 Ways of developing ERG leadership skills
Developing ERG leadership skills is an ongoing process that empowers leaders to drive positive change within their organizations. Here are some effective ways to enhance ERG leadership skills:
Mentoring is a powerful tool for leadership development. Encourage ERG leaders to seek mentors within and outside the organization. These mentors can provide guidance, share insights, and help leaders navigate challenges. Utilize mentoring platforms like Together to match ERG leaders with experienced mentors who can offer personalized support and advice. Such platforms offer structured guidance, communication tools, networking opportunities, and resources that facilitate ERG leadership skill enhancement.
2. Leadership workshops
Invest in leadership workshops and training programs that focus on effective communication, conflict resolution, and strategic thinking. Organize leadership development workshops specifically designed for ERG leaders. Invite experienced facilitators or trainers to lead these sessions.
3. Cross-functional exposure
Encourage ERG leaders to engage with different departments and roles to broaden their understanding of organizational dynamics. Promote cross-ERG collaborations on projects. This enables ERG leaders to work together, share ideas, and leverage each other's strengths. Collaborative projects provide a platform for ERG leaders to learn from one another and develop new skills.
4. Continuous learning
Create a culture of continuous learning in your organization. You can achieve this by helping your ERG leaders participate in workshops, webinars, and conferences focused on leadership, diversity, and inclusion. Suggest online courses that enhance skills such as communication, conflict resolution, and strategic thinking.
5. Feedback and self-reflection
Encourage leaders to seek feedback from their peers, mentors, and team members and engage in self-reflection to identify areas for improvement. Using self-assessment tools can help them identify growth opportunities. You can use Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and 360 feedback surveys to help individuals understand their preferences in how they perceive the world, make decisions, and how others see their leadership style.
How to overcome ERG leadership challenges
While ERGs can yield numerous benefits, they also come with their share of challenges. Common challenges include resource constraints, limited executive support, and difficulty measuring the impact of ERG initiatives. To overcome these challenges:
- Advocate for resources — Clearly articulate the benefits of ERGs to secure the necessary resources and budgets for their initiatives.
- Strengthen executive support — Highlight the positive impact of ERGs on employee engagement, retention, and innovation to garner executive buy-in.
- Data-driven approach — Implement mechanisms to measure the impact of ERG initiatives, such as conducting employee surveys and tracking key metrics.
Create a workplace that celebrates differences with Together's mentoring platform
Incorporating effective ERG leadership is not only a step towards workplace equality but also a strategy for long-term organizational success. As HR professionals, you have the opportunity to lead the charge in creating an environment where all employees thrive, contribute, and shine.
By empowering ERG leaders with the right skills, resources, and support, HR professionals can create a workplace that celebrates differences and fosters success for all. Together's mentoring platform offers a valuable resource for developing ERG leadership skills, facilitating collaboration, and promoting a culture of inclusivity and growth. Embrace the power of ERG leadership to create a brighter, more diverse future for your organization.