Employee resource groups (ERGs) create a safe space for underrepresented employees to network and brainstorm ways to make their organizations more inclusive.
This can go a long way toward creating a corporate culture of belonging and inclusiveness. Not only will this help your people bring their complete, best selves to work, but it can support your business goals.
Businesses Are Embracing ERGs
ERGs are an essential part of any diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative, and companies like AT&T, Hilton and HSBC have all invested heavily in supporting their development.
A company can have ERGs that represent a range of employee groups:
- Gender identity
- Shared interests
- Religious affiliation
- Socioeconomic Background
- Sexual orientation
- Age, parental status or other demographic characteristic
The idea is to be inclusive, which can be challenging. ERGs need to be narrowly focused enough to address the needs and concerns of employees who are underrepresented in company policy.
At the same time, they need to connect those employees to the rest of the company, according to Darlene Slaughter, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Officer at March of Dimes.
– Darlene Slaughter, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Officer, March of Dimes
How ERGs Create a Culture of Engagement and Belonging
We’ve written about belonging several times because it’s an essential factor in the success of your wellness program. It helps to refresh what we mean by “belonging.”
What makes employees feel like they belong?
- They feel like their company truly cares about them for who they are.
- They feel comfortable being their authentic selves in the workplace, without having to code-switch or hide who they are.
- They feel empowered to speak up, make change and shift company culture.
The Business Case for Belonging
Creating a culture of belonging in your company isn’t just the right thing to do. There are tangible business benefits:
- First, work effort and quality are likely to go up. When employees feel they belong, that they are part of the solution, and that they—as individuals—truly matter to the organization, it’s an incredibly powerful motivator. People truly feel like part of the team, and will want to bring their A-game.
- Additionally, that sense of belonging acts as a rare earth magnet, drawing amazing people to your company and keeping them there for the long haul. Employees will naturally be more reluctant to seek out greener pastures if they’re in a place where they feel emotionally safe and comfortable.
In fact, in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, 93% of respondents agreed a sense of belonging drives organizational performance—one of the highest consensus rates they’ve seen in a decade.
Deloitte went on to reveal that workplace belonging can lead to “an estimated 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% decrease in employee sick days.”
That’s enough to make any company want a culture of belonging. But … how do you get started?
How To Start an ERG
Identify Potential ERGs
It won’t be difficult to determine which groups will want to form an ERG. Most likely, your company already has employees asking to form groups, or they’ve created them informally. That’s where you start by reaching out to known members of those groups or employees who have expressed interest.
Designate Employee Champions
Your next step is to identify an employee champion for your ERG. It may be someone in your Wellness Champion Network, a senior executive or an employee at some other level.
This person should be empowered to take the lead in developing the group, inviting members (with the help of HR), and using your wellness platform as a primary communication medium.
Make sure ERG leaders and members have the time to host meetings during work hours – this work is directly benefiting your organization, so it needs to be treated by leadership and management as a vital work function, not as an after-hours activity or social club.
Give Priority to ERG Requests
As ERGs are developed, employees will most likely request funds, resources and approvals for actions and activities. Make sure to fast-track these requests—your ERGs will lose steam if you bog them down in bureaucracy.
Even if your ERG champions don’t ask for financial and physical resources, reach out to find out what they need. Whether it’s office space (in-person or virtual) or marketing resources, offering additional help demonstrates support. Remember: These are employees who already feel underrepresented. They may not feel comfortable making requests, so be proactive and demonstrate how much the group matters.
Involve Your Wellness Champion Network
We’ve already mentioned that ERG champions may be members of your Wellness Champion Network (WCN). Even if that’s not the case, make sure to involve your WCN and assign one or two members to each ERG.
This accomplishes a few things:
- It legitimizes and validates each ERG to the rest of the company. Any pushback or issue can quickly be addressed because the WCN member has direct access to senior leadership.
- In a similar vein, it creates a channel of communication from each ERG to senior leadership, which will help fast-track the resource requests that we highlighted earlier.
- It helps align each ERG to company objectives. Doing this has tremendous benefits for your company as a whole.
ERG Goals … and Business Goals
Clear goals and measurable results are the foundation of successful ERGs. They ensure that each ERG fulfills on supporting cultural and business goals and communicate values with the organization.
Every ERG should have from two to three goals that speak to what the group will accomplish—both for the employees they represent and the company as a whole.
ERG Goals Can Support Corporate Goals
For example, ERGs can have a goal related to recruiting. A BIPOC ERG may have a goal to develop an aspirational plan for BIPOC representation within senior leadership. That plan could help inform how HR recruits candidates for leadership positions, rolling up into the company’s recruiting goals (while also helping elevate the company as a leader in the DEI space).
Related Reading: BIPOC Emotional Wellness and Creating a Diverse, Inclusive Workplace
ERG Goals Help Enact Change
As another example, your LGBTQ+ ERG may have a goal to identify the health care needs of transgender employees that aren’t being served through existing health plans. Corporate benefits managers can then communicate those needs to health plans when they negotiate employee benefit plans.
Plus, the change can go beyond your own company. ERG-led initiatives can be leveraged for community outreach and public relations initiatives to challenge and encourage other companies to follow suit.
ERG Goals May Be Inspirational
Before joining the March of Dimes, Darlene Slaughter worked for a company with a Christian ERG that was interested in bible study and wanted to use resources for that. While that request was approved by management, bible study could only happen with a religious accommodation, which meant it might not appeal to employees of other religions. The company and the ERG didn’t want to exclude anyone, so they got creative.
“The Christian group still held bible study with the accommodation, but we also did a companywide program on people’s spiritual gifts and how those gifts manifest themselves in the workplace,” she says. “The sessions had great attendance and did not offend anyone. The workshop allowed each person to honor their gifts and realize how they were using them.”
– Darlene Slaughter, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement Officer, March of Dimes
Best Practices for ERG Success
There are a number of ways for companies to create an ERG-friendly environment. We recommend starting here:
Create a Diversity Council
For some companies, starting an ERG means battling long-standing stereotypes and misconceptions. That means taking it step-by-step and starting with a diversity council that includes the employees who will likely become your ERG champions, along with senior leadership who will support them in doing so.
This group can be tasked with:
- Developing and implementing diversity action plans
- Promoting DEI as a way of behaving in the workplace
- Mediating conflicts that impact diversity and inclusion
Talk About ERGs During Onboarding
Make sure every new employee knows about DEI initiatives and ERGs. Ask ERG representatives to be a part of the onboarding process. Don’t be afraid to get creative. You can bring all of your ERG champions together on a panel and give new employees the opportunity to ask questions and determine which, if not all, of the ERGs they want to participate in or support. Be sure to offer these onboarding sessions remotely so employees working from home can join, too. This will help create that sense of belonging from day one.
Take Cues From ERGs for Company Initiatives
Every year, companies work hard to come up with ways to honor and promote diversity with celebratory events, lunch-and-learn programs and guest speakers.
Recognize that your subject matter experts for all those efforts are probably already in your ERGs. Reach out to ERGs when HR is planning the calendar of events and ask for ideas, resources and contacts. Find out if your ERGs want to lead the charge in planning an event. Give them the opportunity to contribute.
Related Reading: Creating an Inclusive Culture of Belonging in a Remote Workplace
By creating ERGs and giving all employees a sense of belonging, you can create a corporate culture that is inherently inclusive and welcoming—something that every potential and current employee looks for in an employer.
For more help with creating employee resource groups, DEI initiatives and a culture of belonging in your company, reach out to us. At WellRight, we’re here to help.
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