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The ins and outs of employee resource groups

January 18, 2021

Diversity and inclusivity can help an organization connect with its audience, build a talented workforce, and make everyone feel welcome at the company. While these are great goals to have, attaining them can be complicated. 

Companies that focus too much on hiring diverse candidates may overlook the need to create a safe and welcoming space for their employees. This is where Employee Resource Groups can help. 

What are ERGs?

Employee Resource Groups are voluntary groups that are employee-led and join together workers with similar interests, backgrounds, or demographics. The first group was formed in the 1960s at Xerox to overcome racial discrimination. Yet, they are still an excellent way to cultivate a sense of belonging and equity among employees. 

These groups are often developed at the grassroots, with employees coming together to fill a need. However, companies can also encourage and support the development of ERGs. Doing this can help an organization meet its diversity and inclusivity goals. 

Company leadership can offer their support for ERGs in different ways, including:

  • Creating a budget for groups
  • Allowing groups to use work hours for ERG activities
  • Offer communications channels to spread messages about ERG activities

Pros of ERGs

ERGs help organizations in several ways, such as:

  • Help employees feel heard and included in the workplace. It cultivates a feeling of belonging within the organization, which can reduce turnover rates and improve productivity. 
  • Companies can reach their diversity goals through initiatives developed by ERGs. Groups can act as advisors to leadership when it comes to creating a more diverse workforce. 
  • Companies can better understand the diversity and uniqueness of their customers. By having employees who can connect with customers on a deeper level, they can build loyalty in their audience. 
  • Offer insight into business performance, which can lead to company growth. ERGs may be able to point out some shortcomings or issues that need to be resolved to improve employee morale and productivity. 
  • Assist with onboarding new employees. The first few months at a new job can be stressful. By cultivating a community, ERGs help new employees adjust to their procedures and practices while assisting them to feel they belong. 
  • Identify new and upcoming leaders. ERGs are ideal places to identify and train up talented employees for leadership positions. 
  • Networking opportunities. Allowing employees a chance to connect and network with one another helps them develop connections that will matter throughout their careers. 

Cons of ERGs

While there are a number of benefits to having ERGs in the workplace, there can be some drawbacks. These include:

  • Not all members share the same vision of success, which may lead to divisiveness. 
  • ERGs can give a false sense of security that diversity issues have been solved.
  • Organizations with low employee engagement may struggle to develop successful ERG programs. 
  • Not much research or studies on ERGs. 
  • Too many ERGs can leave employees wondering where they belong. 
  • It can be a lot of extra work for volunteer employees to run. 

ERG activities

Whether an ERG is developed at the grassroots or encouraged by organizational leadership, they can do some crucial activities in the workplace. However, to begin, each ERG should have a charter that helps define its goals and objectives. An area of focus should be defined so that ERG activities can make meaningful change. 

When ERGs are aligned to company goals, it is a win-win for everyone. Groups can help foster a welcoming community for those from different backgrounds and demographics. Companies may also seek the advice of ERGs when it comes to working with diverse suppliers or customers. ERGs are also valuable partners when it comes to recruitment and employee development. 

To get the most out of an ERG, develop guidelines and structure to facilitate meetings, managing resources such as budgets, and set boundaries for members. It should include developing some roles within each group, such as leader and treasurer, etc. 

There are several ways that ERG members can connect, including virtual options during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some examples of these ERG activities include:

Virtual group chats - by meeting together in an online platform, remote employees and those working from home can stay connected during the pandemic. It also offers ERG members the opportunity to build community and connection while apart. Virtual meetings can also be a valuable tool for sharing information and other vital resources. 

Virtual exercise - staying active while working either in the office or at home can be a challenge. ERGs can schedule some virtual exercise sessions to encourage employees to stay healthy and connected. 

Celebrate events and important dates - whether in-person or online, ERGs can mark special anniversaries, events, and key dates that are relevant to their interests or members. By taking the time to connect over important events, it can cultivate feelings of belonging and community. 

Volunteer together - many non-profit groups are in need of volunteers with a variety of skills and talents. ERG members could unite and help a favourite cause together. 

Mentoring - ERGs are opportune places for mentoring relationships to develop. These can be either formally encouraged connections or ones that arise organically. Because ERGs have a strong connection to company leadership, members may also be able to develop mentorships with company executives. 

Are ERGs right for your company?

There are many large and small businesses that rely on ERGs to help them meet diversity goals, train potential leaders, onboard new employees, and increase productivity. Whether or not ERGs fit into your company’s plans, they are worth considering. Most groups are developed at the grassroots level and run by employee volunteers. ERGs can also create learning environments and mentoring opportunities. 


Find out how you can give your ERGs all the support they need to be successful with Together Mentoring Software.

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