A focus on diversity and inclusion are major indicators of a healthy, successful work environment. One key to a more inclusive workplace is allowing your team members to come together as their authentic selves. A great way to do this is by encouraging your people to take part in various Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
Nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. But keep in mind, the impact of ERGs goes far beyond business objectives like employee retention and increased productivity. These kinds of robust, meaningful DEI initiatives open up space for peer-to-peer mentorship, unique partnerships, and give new employees a great way to get comfortable during the onboarding process.
So–what is an ERG? ERGs, also known as affinity groups, are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. These groups give employees who share a common interest or relate to one another on any level of identity (sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, etc) the space for a shared experience.
It's especially important to facilitate this kind of interpersonal interaction on a workplace level. ERGs give employees a voice, increase team-wide cultural competence, boost employee engagement, and enrich individual perspectives.
By providing platforms for your team members to come together, you are making it clear that your organization is committed to DEI and the overall well-being of your employees.
"Organizations need to challenge our collective thinking on ERGs. ERG's are not clubs, extra curricular work or hobbies. Fighting the status quo is a choice, a hard choice to make. History makes pushing for change an even harder choice; when groups have fought for their rights, violence and punishment has often followed.
Providing ERGs prevents feelings of isolation and offers chances to take action by empowering groups to use their voice. It says that we as a company are open to learning and doing something about the lack of equity in society that leaks into the workplace. As a member of an ERG you’re less likely to be singled out and “punished” (not promoted, corrective action, being fired) for speaking up. ERGs are strategic cultural advocates, retention tools, and resources that help educate companies." - Cherie Caldwell, Head of DEI (Salesloft)
Now that you know the basics, let’s talk about starting your new ERG! Scroll below and find our ERG toolkit on how to start affinity groups at your organization. We’ll also provide 5 of our favorite examples.
How to Build ERGs in Your Organization
ERG benefits include increasing employee engagement, boosting retention, and attracting potential talent. It also creates leadership opportunities outside of the managerial level.
It’s a big opportunity to support your people and make an impact. So here is your ERG Toolkit to build effective employee resource groups in your organization.
Understand Your Organization’s Goals with ERGs
As your leadership and people ops team look into building affinity groups, it’s important to remember that it’s there to support the individual identities and demographics who make up your company.
More importantly, it creates inclusive spaces where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work.
But positively impacts business too. According to the Harvard Business Review, including more diverse voices and perspectives in business statistically increases creativity and profit. Welcoming diversity and establishing inclusive spaces for everyone not only creates a sense of belonging but also ensures you’re bringing that same practice into business processes like hiring or determining focus groups.
So consider what you want your ERGs to accomplish. That will help inform decisions down the line, like how you will structure and how much resources your organization will invest into your groups.
Getting Employee Feedback & Determine Your ERGs
Your ERGs should represent communities reflected in your employee population. Start your process by sending out an employee pulse survey to gauge interest and determine which groups your people would want to start.
To make it clear, share your goals in establishing resource groups for your people. Let them know why this is important and that you’re prepared to back them.
Employee input will determine which ERGs to launch, but keep in mind that once you establish ERGs, it is not set in stone. As new hires or needs develop, you might grow your resource groups. Consider including ERG questions for your routine annual survey too.
Get Buy-In from Leadership
When leadership gets involved, we tend to see increased employee engagement. Even on the Cooleaf platform, when we see clients with managers getting involved in activities and recognition, engagement goes up.
Your organization’s leadership team also understands the contributions of ERGs, along with being able to tie those back into overall business goals and metrics.
Some organizations require managers or executives to take part in employee resource groups. This also might look like setting up a council made up of ERG leadership and your business executives to meet routinely.
Getting leadership involved, not only shows leadership support to your employees, but it also shows that your organization is investing in them too.
Build Structure & ERG Leadership
Knowing your goals as an organization will help you determine what resources you can offer to ERGs and answer questions like:
- How much time can people commit to these resource groups or community events? Is it required?
- How much funding is provided for their initiatives?
- How are executives or leaders involved?
- How many leadership roles are in individual ERGs? What are their responsibilities?
- Who in people ops or leadership is supporting ERG activity?
It’s important to fully understand your organization’s involvement because it will help you determine everything from what to expect from ERGs to how long a community leader fills that role.
Be prepared with clear parameters before you start recruiting for members or leadership.
Once you have that established, look for leaders in your team. You can start by accepting nominations or posting the roles, and then reaching out directly.
Once you establish your ERG leadership, onboard them. Tell them their responsibilities, who in leadership or people ops will support them, what their budgets are, and if there are any requirements.
Launch Your ERGs & Establish Goals
Once you have leadership and structure in place, you’re ready to recruit members. Make a big announcement! Tell your people how they will benefit from joining an ERG, how they can make a difference in an ERG, and how your organization will support them.
More importantly, share your goals with your people. Once in their ERGs, new members can share their perspectives on how their individual resource groups will support your overall mission.
Have each group establish their own mission statement, values, and goals to share on your employee intranet or website.
Host Activities & Engage Your People
Community events are a big component of ERGs. That might be hosting or sponsoring events reflective of a specific ERG’s goals and mission.
A few examples include: hosting a fun food event, immersing participants in a different tradition, or helping others learn more about their background and that culture’s history.
This should all be left to your ERGs to determine and roll out, either in-person or online. Your organization is there to help support and promote, so it’s the best it can be.
There’s so much work going into planning and producing effective resource groups for your people. You need to show that you’re growing and making a positive impact on your employees and your business.
It ties back to your goals.
That can look like increased employee engagement, which you could track through employee sentiment surveys or event participation.
It might tie back to your efforts to increase diversity in leadership. Organizations report diversity in their annual metrics to show growth or areas of improvement.
It might also include big wins on products, like ensuring your technology is inclusive.
Work with your executives and ERG leadership to track this sentiment or even business outcomes. It helps you show the positive impact of your ERGs and where you can grow.
Examples of ERGs
Now that you have your ERG toolkit, here are some examples of other ERGs from highly engaged teams.
1. Sankofa at Shipt
Shipt’s very first ERG, Sankofa, is dedicated to creating space for cultural exploration and empowerment.
This group’s mission for ERG members is to “connect and empower employees of African descent through cultural exploration and community building.”
Sankofa’s purpose is to create a safe space for Black team members and allies while serving as a space for shared learning and advocacy through various erg activities.
2. Women at Microsoft
At Microsoft, women-identifying team members come together to share their experiences as employees and leaders in the tech space. Across its various chapters, ERG members not only use this as a networking space but also work with outside organizations to provide mentoring, community outreach, and other professional development opportunities.
Women@Microsoft defines its mission as “working to break the gender gap in technology and empower women to bring their whole selves to work.”
3. PRISM at Synovus
PRISM is Synovus’ LGBTQ+ employee resource group.
At Synovus, team members aren’t required to personally identify with the group they are interested in joining. The goal of PRISM and Synovus’ various ERGs is to create a safe space for sharing information, driving engagement, and empowering employees to develop and share diverse perspectives.
4. Salesloft's Employee Resource Groups
At Salesloft, Head of DEI, Cherie Caldwell is committed to the organization’s various ERGs. As part of her DEI strategy, Caldwell acts as executive sponsor of ERGs, focused on advancing and advocating for initiatives across Black, LGBTQ+, and female team members at Salesloft.
5. EnableIn at LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a fantastic example of ERGs done right! With over 10 ERGs currently in place, LinkedIn has provided its employees with a clear commitment to fostering a safe and comfortable work environment.
EnableIn is LinkedIn’s group for team members with disabilities dedicated to “generating awareness, driving inclusive engagement, supporting accessible platforms, and championing economic opportunity for people with disabilities and invisible illnesses.”
Inspired by these organizations but not sure where to start? That’s okay!
As with any initiative, ERGs become more refined with time. Before you get started, consider how proposed ERGs align with your organization's mission and ensure that you have buy-in from leadership.
Most importantly, remain committed to your ERGs. Once you get started, you’ll likely find more and more team members interested in getting involved. Keep track of important dates, check in with ERG leaders, and maintain a calendar of upcoming events. Remaining unwavering in your support and facilitation of ERGs is key to their success!
Use Cooleaf's DEI calendar to help keep track of ERG activities year-round!
Your employee resource groups will provide space to practice the imperfect and become comfortable with newness. As you get started, you’ll learn how to achieve sustainability through best practices. The important part is remaining true to your mission statement, creating space for your team members, and listening to their feedback along the way.