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Employee resource groups (ERGs) support underrepresented employees in the workplace.
From promoting fair practices to providing free career courses, ERGs help employees thrive.
But ERGs don't only benefit employees. Companies that value inclusivity also see the benefits of ERGs.
ERGs are improving employee satisfaction and driving company innovation. ERGs also support employees in growing their skills and abilities.
In this deep dive on ERGs, we'll break down everything you need to know.
We'll explain why ERGs are important, how companies can support them, and common ERG types.
We'll also discuss three well-known companies that have ERGs, and cover how to support employees that want to start one.
What is an ERG?
An employee resource group (ERG) is an employee-led group that fosters inclusivity and builds community. This employee group also provides personal and professional support to its members. Employees who lead and take part in ERGs share certain things in common.
Shared characteristics may reflect:
- Gender identity
- Shared interests
- Religious affiliation
- Socioeconomic Background
- Sexual orientation
- Age, parental status, or other demographic characteristic
For instance, a Black employees ERG would have a Black ERG leader and Black members. Its goal would be to help its members grow personally and professionally. It would advocate for its members and insist on an inclusive workplace.
ERGs are meant to be supportive rather than exclusive. The idea is to narrow the focus enough to effectively support groups that are underrepresented and whose needs and concerns might not be well-reflected in company policy otherwise. At the same time, ERGs want to help connect members into the larger organization. Encouraging allyship is another important role for ERGs. Allies could receive invitations to join the ERG to support their colleagues. For instance, non-white employees could receive invitations to join as allies.
Sometimes companies will pay employees to lead ERGs. But most ERGs are based on volunteers and support organizers.
In the next section, we’ll share a little bit more about ERGs and why they exist.
What is the purpose of ERGs in the workplace?
Put simply: the purpose of an ERG is to create a safe, supportive space for employees who share a common identity.
Underrepresented employees support one another in building their community. Through collective effort employees in ERGs can work with their company to improve the work environment and other conditions for under-represented or alienated workers. And ERG leaders create an inclusive environment.
Together, ERG members and organizational decision-makers work to create:
- An open forum for employees who share a common identity to raise common concerns or issues, especially those that company leadership might not be aware of
- An inclusive company culture
- Connection through common causes or interests
- A positive work environment (i.e., gender-neutral restrooms)
- Personal and professional growth and development
- Work opportunities
- Support and resources
Maria, a Latina woman, just started a job at a tech company that is notorious for hiring a disproportionate number of men. Maria is excited for the opportunity but also apprehensive about how she will be perceived and how best to grow her career.
On her first day at work, her human resources onboarding trainer introduces her to a woman named Linda. Linda is the leader for a women’s ERG group at the tech company.
Linda takes Maria to her ERG’s morning meeting.
At the meeting, Linda introduces Maria to the other ERG members and allies. Maria makes a few new friends and is relieved to see several male colleagues there as allies. Linda gives a presentation.
During the presentation, Maria learns that the Women’s Alliance:
- Provides childcare reimbursement for employees with children
- Fights for equal compensation for women and diverse employees
- Started an initiative to hire women and a diverse pool of employees.
- Actively works to make the company more inclusive
- Offers personal and professional development courses for free
- Aims to create more leadership and promotion opportunities for women and groups of diverse employees
- Helps women file HR complaints against unfair practices
- Acts as a mediator during workplace conflict
At the end of the meeting, Linda invites Maria to join the ERG. Maria happily accepts and also offers to volunteer every other week.
As a member and volunteer of Women’s Alliance, Maria thrives at work. The professional development courses help her improve her work skills. The fight for equal compensation has raised her yearly salary. And the ERG also created a plan to help her get promoted in the next six months.
On top of that, Maria has a new group of close friends. When she walks into work, she’s happy.
She has everything she needs to thrive: friends, support, and career opportunities.
And that’s the purpose of an employee resource group.
Why are ERGs important?
ERGs are important because they:
1. Foster an inclusive workplace
ERGs foster a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Their fight for inclusivity builds trust and safety among employees. All employees have equal opportunities. Leaders actively hire diverse groups of employees. And companies look to ERGs to make sure their practices are ethical and fair.
2. Enhance employee experience
Employees who are members at ERGs have more resources than non-members. These resources help employees feel supported, which enhances their experience.
3. Promote cultural awareness
An inclusive culture isn’t possible without cultural awareness. ERGs encourage decision-makers and employees to learn more about other cultures.
ERGs also help companies understand cultural norms that may affect inclusion. For instance, an Easter work party alienates employees that don’t celebrate Easter. But a ‘spring forward’ party welcomes all employees.
4. Improve company innovation
Research shows that diversity promotes radical innovation.
Why? Because innovation only happens when employees feel psychologically safe to share their ideas.
When employees are in a safe space, they feel accepted. They feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. They know their company values their input, so they share it.
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How should companies support ERGs?
Here are four ways companies can support ERGs:
1. Provide a diversity council
Companies can support ERGs by setting up a diversity council that:
- Partners with ERGs to establish employee diversity and inclusion goals
- Develops and implements diversity action plans
- Promotes diversity and inclusion behaviors
- Works as a mediator during conflicts that affect diversity and inclusion
- Welcomes feedback from ERG leaders and ERG members
- Approves financial support for group outings and group needs
2. Hire a diverse workforce
3. Provide personal and career development courses
ERGs aim to help their members achieve success in their personal and professional lives. They want their members to reach their fullest potential and have equal opportunities.
By providing free courses, ERG members can sharpen their mental fitness and gain new skills.
4. Encourage new hires to join ERGs
Companies can support ERGs by encouraging new hires to become ERG members. A great time to invite a new hire to be a member is during or after training.
Employee resource groups examples
ERG diversity is the main priority of ERG groups. Remember our women’s ERG example from earlier? In this section, we’ll explore some other common types of ERGs.
Here are four employee resource groups examples:
1. LGBTQ+ ERG
An LGBTQ+ ERG works to create fair practices for LGBTQ+ employees. They advocate for inclusive language, work opportunities, and fair practices.
2. Interfaith ERG
An Interfaith ERG works to spread cultural awareness and norms. They celebrate all holidays and respect cultural sensitivities.
3. Working Parent ERG
A Working Parent ERG advocates for time off, maternity leave, child care help, and family planning benefits.
4. Race ERGs
Race ERGs strive for fairness and equal opportunities for their members. Leaders encourage inclusive hiring practices. And members stand up against harsh or unfair practices.
Some examples of Race ERGs include:
- Asian Pacific American (APA) ERG
- African, Black, American, Caribbean (ABAC) ERG
- Latino ERG
- Native American ERG
Similarities between ERGs
While each ERG advocates for its specific causes, it’s important to know that ERGs share a few things in common.
For instance, all ERGs:
- Provide personal and career-based resources to members
- Strive for inclusivity and fair practices
- Create safe places for members to express ideas
- Support members during challenges that threaten inclusivity
What companies have ERGs?
Here are three popular companies that work with ERGs:
AT&T says that ERGs are the cultural lifeblood of its organization.
AT&T believes that ERGs are the driving force that advances diversity and inclusion. Across its enterprise, AT&T has 37 employee groups and networks.
More than 145,250 of its employees take part in them. And in 2020, its ERGs earned $913,250 worth of scholarship awards.
Hilton is committed to creating an inclusive workplace and culture.
All of its ERGs are sponsored by an Executive Sponsor as well as a Hilton Leadership Group advocate.
Hilton has 39 chapters, 8,000 total members, and 78 chapter leaders. In 2019, ERG membership had jumped by 492% since 2012.
As a result of its ERGs, Hilton has improved its:
- Internal business practices
- Personal branding
- Career management
- Employee development
HSBC claims that its ERGs support its organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
- Open discussions around workplace issues for diverse employees
- Foster an environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion
- Assist with recruiting
- Promote professional development in diverse employees
- Offer industry networking and mentoring programs
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How can companies help employees starting ERGs?
Here are six ways companies can help employees that are starting ERGs:
1. Give employees time to create ERGs on the clock
Between personal and work-related responsibilities, employees don't have much time. Make their lives easier by letting them create ERGs during office hours. You can also offer to let ERG leaders host meetings with potential members during work hours.
2. Ask employees if they need financial support
Whether it’s planning an event or raising money for a cause, ERGs may need financial support. Get with your accounting team beforehand so you know what kind of budget you can offer.
3. Provide physical resources
Physical resources are crucial to helping ERGs thrive. Provide ERGs with office spaces, conference rooms, and refreshments.
If possible, see if your marketing team can pitch in to design event invitations. ERG members may also need help securing event halls, public speakers, and courses.
4. Spread the word
When your team is creating an ERG, tell the rest of the company about it. Make sure all departments and teams know what’s going on. This way, department leads and other employees may offer to help.
5. Invite company executives to help
All of Hilton’s ERGs have executive sponsors, and for good reasons. Executives have experience handling challenges and changes. They know how to lead a team, offer support, and spread the word. If possible, aim for one or two executives per ERG chapter.
6. Approve ERG programs
When an employee or executive creates an ERG program, they need fast approval.
Why? For one, ideas disappear as quickly as they come. It’s best to tackle a new creation when the inspiration is fresh. And for two, the sooner a program has approval, the sooner the ERG can help employees thrive.
Ready to jumpstart an employee resource group?
ERGs support employees with personal and career development resources. They fight for equality and create an open forum for employees to share ideas.
Companies that jumpstart ERGs can boost employee experience, satisfaction, and innovation.
Need help? At BetterUp, we specialize in helping organizations thrive.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions