Starting an Employee Resource Group: The Basics

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Employees are people. People are different. Some are men, some are women, some have physical or learning challenges. Some are White, some are Black, some are Latino, some are Asian. Some are LGBTQ, some are transgender. Most are some combination of these. Our workplaces are usually the most diverse environments we are ever in, and yet they are often the least suited for people of “difference” to succeed. This is why employee resource groups (ERGs) are so critical to changing workplace dynamics for the better.

An ERG is a group made up of people who share a common gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or other trait who come together for mutual support, camaraderie, mentorship and development. ERGs can also be incredibly effective in advocating for policies that promote inclusive cultures where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.  Though some companies have questioned the necessity of ERGs, most are embracing these groups as an important component of their talent strategy. ERGs are a valuable tool for recruitment and retention and can help further diversity and inclusion objectives. If you are interested in establishing your own ERG, below are some tips for how to get started.

  1. Identify the need and get support. As with any new initiative, you’ll want to have the support of your company’s leaders. Do your research and put together a proposal that identifies the need for an ERG. You can include company demographics, employee testimonials, scholarly research, the group’s mission statement and goals, a proposed budget, and any data points you think will be relevant and persuasive. In short, create the business case for your ERG. Then, present your proposal to the appropriate internal leaders. Securing executive sponsorship is key, so be sure that your pitch is polished and compelling.
  2. Pick your leaders and recruit group members. After you’ve received approval to start your ERG, you’ll need group leaders and members. It’s wise to select leaders who self-identify as a member of the minority group and who are committed and passionate. As for recruiting members, don’t assume that just because people identify with a particular background that they’ll want to join your ERG. You’ll need to promote your group and explain the benefits of membership. Use all available communication channels – e-mails, flyers, intranet, and group meetings. Host a launch event to introduce the ERG and recruit members to join.
  3.  Create an agenda. At your introductory meeting or in a preliminary leadership meeting, come together to set your agenda. Put together your long term and short term goals and brainstorm  programming and ideas that will advance those goals. Create a structure for the group, decide on how often you’ll meet, delegate roles and responsibilities and lay out any ground rules or policies.
  4. Develop Visibility and Credibility. Give your ERG credibility by developing visibility within the company. You can do this by hosting or sponsoring special events, participating in strategic meetings, and engaging with other internal and external teams to address challenges. Create a newsletter or e-mail blast that lets people know what your ERG is up to. Regularly report on your progress to internal stakeholders and keep tabs on your success by creating metrics that you can measure.
  5. Include Allies. Typically, ERGs are open to everyone, including people who may not self-identify with the minority group, but who are champions for the causes they support. Including allies in your ERG is a great way to bolster support for the group, educate non-minority members on some of the challenges you face day to day, and reinforce the inclusive aspect of the culture you’re hoping to create. While there may be times when it’s appropriate to exclude allies from certain programming, very often, their participation in your ERG can help to further the group’s goals.

You can find a more detailed toolkit for establishing and ERG here and here, and toolkit for allyship here.

Do you have ERGs at work? If so, what benefits have you gotten from them? If not, would you be willing to start one?

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