What are employee resource groups? And why are they important?

What are employee resource groups? And why are they important?

Giving individuals a voice helps companies understand how their teams are feeling and goes a long way in creating an inclusive company culture. One way to give your teams a larger voice is by encouraging the creation of employee resource groups. Understanding and support are the foundation of these groups and can help an organization bloom to its full potential. Keep reading to discover what ERGs are, when to implement them, and how to help create these groups.

What are ERGs?

ERGs are employee-led groups that aim to enhance a workplace's diversity, inclusiveness, and overall quality. Established in the 1960s, these groups provide support and understanding to those who share a common characteristic, whether that be their gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, or outside interests. Those who support this diverse group are also often invited to join the ERG to further expand the support and inclusiveness of the group.

Why are ERGs important?

Establishing ERGs in your organization has many benefits that can enhance productivity and improve employee satisfaction. Here are some reasons why having ERGs in your organization is important:

  • Creating an outlet for frustrations: It can be hard for individuals to express how they feel when they're alone. ERGs offer them an outlet to bring up issues they're experiencing, which can help them address and resolve these problems quickly.
  • Voicing ideas to improve company processes: When you get like-minded people together, they often discuss challenges and successes in their work. This can help them identify ways to improve company processes to alleviate their challenges, which can enhance productivity and satisfaction.

How can ERGs help businesses?

ERGs help businesses thrive. Many companies integrate these groups into their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals because they understand the benefits of encouraging the foundation of these groups in their business. Here are some reasons to incorporate ERGs into your company:

Enhance employer brand

Your employer brand helps attract new talent and retain existing talent. People want to be proud of the company they work for, and a positive employer brand fosters that pride. Having ERGs within your organization contributes to that positive brand, as it reflects the company's views surrounding diversity and inclusion.

Highlight potential leaders

Having ERGs in the workplace can also help the company identify potential leaders in the making that may have been overlooked previously because of an unconscious bias. How can ERGs help with this? Pay attention to those speaking up and helping others, starting the conversations, and taking on a more leadership-type role within the group. Those involved with the ERG can find new opportunities to help and mentor others, thus developing much-needed leadership skills.

Improve work environment

Being aware of the issues presented by the ERG can help a company create a conducive work environment that appeals to everyone — a place where all feel comfortable to simply be themselves. Some ways to consider creating a more inclusive work environment are by improving accessibility, finding ways to make accommodations, or even creating gender-neutral bathrooms.

Drive innovation

Individuals who feel more comfortable in their environment are more likely to come up with ideas to improve internal company processes. Or rather, they may feel more comfortable bringing up their innovative ideas to those who can make the change. Responding positively to these suggestions and implementing — and informing them that the company is implementing — these ideas can also have a snowball effect on more innovation. Ultimately, this can help incorporate more efficient or effective processes into the organization that streamline productivity, improve product quality, reduce employee fatigue, or accomplish another result for the company.

"ERGs are a great way to foster inclusion and diversity within an organization and give a voice to those who feel underrepresented."

When are ERGs best adopted?

There is no set answer on when to adopt ERGs into an organization. It all depends on your employee population and can benefit companies ranging from 20 to 2,000 employees. Gauging interest and reflecting on the makeup of your employee population can help you determine if your company can benefit from adopting an ERG. However, the earlier you adopt an ERG, the happier your employees may be. Fostering diversity and inclusion from the start can help keep your team happy rather than trying to retroactively overcome the struggles of not giving your teams a voice.

How to create an effective ERG

So, how does a company create an effective ERG, especially when they aren't actually involved with the group's efforts? Here's how a company can help create an effective ERG within their organization:

Gather data

Data is the foundation of business decisions, including helping the ERG find out where it's starting from. Getting a baseline measurement of how employees feel can help identify any inclusion and diversity gaps that exist. From there, the ERG can track this data to see how it improves over time. Data can also provide direction for the ERG, as it can highlight where to focus their efforts. Some ways to gather this pivotal data include employee surveys, analytics tools, and demographic data gathered during onboarding.

Offer guidance

Another way to help grow a new ERG is to offer guidance. Ask the members what they envision for the group's future and what they want to accomplish. This can help them define goals and talk about anything that remains confusing. With this guidance, the ERG can press forward with a clear vision, which can ultimately improve their effectiveness at voicing their concerns and fostering an inclusive work environment.

Seek senior leadership sponsorship

Change is challenging, and early adopters of change can have a hefty influence over others. With that in mind, having senior leadership sponsor an ERG and asking them to be early adopters can help the group — and company — reach their goals. Having some of these senior leaders be full participants in the group can also help bridge the gap between the C-suite executives and the group. This bridge enables the group to appeal directly to the C-suite, which can help them lobby for their initiatives and changes.

Create growth opportunities

While the company isn't directly involved in ERGs after they're established, you can still support your employees with growth opportunities. This includes growth opportunities both for the group and those not involved in the group, as this can help your team develop new skills.

For example, you might offer a leadership training session for those within the group to help them develop skills such as time management, supervisory skills, and financial responsibility, as these can help develop strong leaders in the workplace. Other growth opportunities might be to host an emotional intelligence training session, which can help all employees, whether they're involved with the group or not.

ERGs are a great way to foster inclusion and diversity within an organization and give a voice to those who feel underrepresented. These groups can generate innovative ideas and vastly enhance employee morale, which can benefit the company all around.

More tips for supporting your employees

Want to understand how your DEI efforts are paying off? Employee surveys are a great starting point in getting the pulse on your employee's thoughts.

Need some help in getting your DEI efforts off the ground? There are many tips out there to help you get started in the right direction.

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