7 Best Practices for Successful Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Employee Resource Groups accelerate diversity and inclusion when they engage all allies

ERGs have been around for decades.  Also known as affinity groups, business resource groups, or diversity and inclusion groups, they are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives.  They often are built on dimensions of diversity like race, gender, disabilities, veterans, LGBTQ+, age, and life experiences.  Some organizations have 10+ groups, others have one inclusive group.  There is no one size fits all approach.

ERGs exist to drive diversity and inclusion behavior inside the organization and provide psychologically brave place for people that are underrepresented to be full their full selves.  Their often include allies from the majority groups – white, men, able-bodied, straight, and/or cisgender allies.

For those organizations that have had long-standing diversity and inclusion programs and employee resource groups, success has likely been varied.  Those earlier on the diversity and inclusion journey just beginning to build and shape ERGs, here are some criteria to consider:

Budget.  Without a budget, your organization is not serious about its success.  Diversity and inclusion have serious business results – 87% better decisions, 19% higher revenues, and 21% higher profitability for starters.  Investing in the success of the ERGs has a strong ROI.  No organization ever said, “I wish I had not invested in diversity and inclusion.”

Plan.  When ERGs have a strong plan including the what, why, and how for their existence aligned with the business it supports, engagement and traction increases.  Make sure your senior leadership is all aligned on the plan and communicates consistently and intentionally about progress to the plan.

Leadership.  To be successful, senior leadership needs to be involved in ERG initiatives.  Having someone from the C-Suite as a sponsor and ally in regular attendance signals to everyone this is important.

Measurement.  Measure the impact on the business. When you have a budget, you need to be able to show a ROI.  Most organizations cite increased retention, increased innovation, decreased HR complaints, and increased collaboration across business units as tangible ways ERGs drive results.

Bravery.  Create a psychologically brave place.  Paramount to success is trust.  Trust is table stakes.  The highest performing ERGs trust each other implicitly and have difficult conversations about real issues without fear of retaliation or “getting in trouble.”

Innovation. Organizations should be looking to their ERGs as a source of innovation.  What do diverse groups that are current and future consumers think about market trends, products, internal policies, competitive positioning, and ideas to be more efficient?

Allies.  With organizations led by 90%+ white men, having ally support is critical.  According to a study by Boston Consulting Group women only efforts stall in organizations with a 30% success rate vs. 96% when men are involved.  Exclusion does not drive inclusion.  When we engage allies, we make sure everyone is included.

Like this article? Take my free inclusion assessment, listen to the Next Pivot Point podcast experts on diversity and inclusion, and ask me your questions directly at julie@nextpivotpoint.com.