Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are climbing up the agenda at many leading organizations. As ERGs grow in popularity, these companies are asking pertinent questions—from convincing senior leadership to establish ERGs, the best communication channels and virtual event ideas, to promoting the concept of engaging allies to ERGs that are hesitant to expand beyond their traditional membership base. In this article, we’ve collaborated with guest panelists from our webinar, ‘How Leaders are Maximizing the Value of Employee Resource Groups’, to answer seven excellent audience questions.
Panelists Aimee Broadhurst (Founder & CEO, Inclusive Space), Ruth Lite (Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, Under Armour) and Adewale Soluade (Director Diversity and Inclusion, Centene Corporation) worked with us to answer some of the best questions from the ERG session. Read on as we drill into some of the finer aspects of sustaining and elevating your ERG efforts.
How Can We Encourage Senior Leadership to Allow ERGs to Form and Operate in the Company?
Senior leadership will often want to see the business case for forming ERGs. So the first step should be to build it: outline the benefits of ERGs and their contribution to business success, and demonstrate to them how ERGs can have a positive impact on workplace culture.
Discuss how ERGs could lend powerful support to critical business and talent objectives—increasing employee retention, developing new leaders, and helping recruit high-quality diverse talent. Many companies also rely on their ERGs to foster innovative thinking and break into or expand into new markets. Understand your organization’s pain points in this area, and propose ERGs as a solution to those points.
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What Is the Best Way to Distribute Communications? Should Communication Come From HR or From the ERGs?
Members should primarily receive communications via the ERG itself, but HR can play a role in disseminating information to the wider employee population. A good example where HR participation can be particularly valuable is during annual observances such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Pride Month. The HR team can encourage a broader audience to participate in the ERG’s planned activities.
Executive sponsors are another group that can be invaluable in reaching a wider audience. We strongly recommend securing senior advocates in your organization to help disseminate communications to peers at a similar level, as well as to give a voice of authority for a wider audience.
In general, you can give ERG communication efforts a boost by creating communication toolkits and templates for emails, newsletters and other channels, as well as a process for delivery to ERGs members and employees across the organization. This allows them to arrive at focusing on the content of their message sooner, rather than spending time reinventing the wheel.
Do ERGs Use Social Media for Engagement and Communication? If So, How Do They Use It?
Some ERGs definitely do, though this varies due to different company policies for social media use. Some organizations allow ERGs to have their own social media pages to highlight their events and activities. When done well, social media platforms can be used as a recruitment and PR tool that highlights what the employee experience is like at an organization for certain groups. This attracts more employees to participate with the groups, and projects favorable corporate values to customers.
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What Are Some Good Examples of Effective and Beneficial VirtualERG Events?
Virtual events obviously became critical for ERGs during the 2020 quarantine, but they’ve always been a useful fixture for geographically dispersed organizations. Here are some great ideas for activities that we’ve seen groups recently engaging in:
- Hosting empowerment forums and listening groups to provide feedback to management and leadership on how to facilitate critical and courageous conversations
- Adopting a non-profit organization to support by hosting a virtual fundraiser
- Compiling a list of businesses or organizations that the ERG, company, or community can support that are in-line with the company and the ERGs mission (and then circulating that information to other employees)
- Hosting coffee chats that allow for virtual social interactions for employees who are isolated from traditional working environments
- Working parents groups can compile a list of children’s activities that are educational and fun can be done all while at home or online
What Areas Should Inclusion Networks Focus On?
The areas of focus are of course dependent on the ERG’s mission and goals. Some groups will identify four to five areas, such as professional development, company-related support, and community involvement (these are reminiscent of the 4Cs used to assess ERGs).
Accordingly, ERGs should develop processes that are sustainable and replicable that help groups to scale up. The ERG should make it a mission to ensure employees have the same inclusive experience regardless of their physical location.
How Do We Handle ERGs That Are Resistant to Opening Their Membership to Individuals Outside the Group (e.g. a Women’s Network That Doesn’t Want Participation From Men?
Participation from outside the group is best sold as a form of allyship, so the ERG should be weighing any concerns against the benefits of having a sympathetic external presence in groups they otherwise don’t have access to. So, that would mean demonstrating to the women’s ERG the benefits of having male allies and what that support could help to achieve in the organization.
As one article on the subject points out, allies create allies, without placing a further burden on the ERG itself: “The impetus for men to develop more male allies is also compelling: when we walk alongside other guys and help them to serve as allies to women’s opportunities, we grow the culture, we grow the company, and we grow our own influence.”
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Should ERGs Be Considered an Initiative During Performance Reviews?
Absolutely yes, though you have to make sure that management is onboard and take into consideration employee participation in order to achieve this. This returns to the idea of educating managers on the roles that ERGs have in an organization as well as the benefits to the company.
Once this is done, you should push to add ERG participation into employee goals and talk about participation in ERGs during performance reviews. Your executive sponsors should also be encouraged to contribute commentary and feedback.