Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are employee-led and company-sponsored communities formed around a specific shared identity or life experience, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
They are supportive spaces meant to connect underrepresented employees, foster a sense of belonging, and help with both personal and career development. They’re also fantastic tools for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
Want to learn more about this driving force in employee engagement? We’ve got you covered with our employee resource group guide.
A Closer Look at what Employee Resource Groups Can Do
Now that we know what an employee resource group is, let's get specific with what they do.
ERGs create a safe space for people of a shared identity and (occasionally) their allies, fostering a community in an environment that may sometimes be isolating. Members and leaders support each other, creating mentorship and professional development opportunities. ERGs can advocate for change within their organization, too. For example, an ERG for parents might rally for equitable parental leave or childcare stipends.
A sense of belonging for employees isn't the only benefit an ERG provides. On the contrary, ERGs drive diversity and innovation within organizations, helping both their members and the company at large. Here are a few specific examples:
ERGs like AT&T’s LEAGUE LGBTQ+ promote awareness of underrepresented cultures and identities within your organization. This, in turn, creates a more welcoming, inclusive workplace where employees can feel accepted as their authentic selves.
They create a space for members of the group to voice concerns. With proper, active sponsorship from leadership, those pain points can be much more easily addressed, improving company culture. The national Black Employee Caucus at Xerox, the first officially recognized ERG, was formed for this purpose.
They are used to network. ERGsconnect workers, new and old, and foster mentorship opportunities, improving employee relations.
ERGs can be a pipeline to professional development for underrepresented employees. Active ERG members are likely already engaged employees who want to see their organization thrive. For example, the ERG Women at Microsoft (W@M) has folded professional development for women worldwide into its mission statement.
ERGs offer community, improve engagement, and help employees feel heard and valued, improving overall retention.
ERGs elevate voices that may have otherwise gone unheard. Diverse voices lead to fresh ideas, driving creativity and innovation in the workplace.
Companies with active ERGs tend to be more attractive to new talent. A 2014 survey conducted by Software Advice found that the presence of an ERG positively impacted Gen Z and Millennial decisions to apply to positions – influencing 52 percent of 25 to 34-year-old respondents and almost 70 percent of 18 to 24-year-old respondents.
Employee Resource Groups Promote DEIB Goals
If you are looking for a way to strengthen DEIB practices and policies in your information, an ERG can be a powerful tool.
One of the main purposes of an employee resource group is providing a direct line of communication from underrepresented employees to company leadership. This feedback can then be used to create a more equitable, inclusive workplace.
The connections they create foster a sense of belonging in your organization.
They can potentially provide professional development and promotion opportunities for employees from groups that may be otherwise underrepresented in management and leadership.
4 Tips to Start and Sustain a Thriving ERG
Want to encourage and incentivize the creation of ERGs in your organization? Take a look at some of our employee resource group best practices:
1. Let Your Employees Take the Lead, and Help Where You Can
An ERG has the potential to give employees who may be otherwise underrepresented in leadership a voice, but that potential can only be realized if these organizations remain employee-led. We’ve provided a number of examples below for how you and your company’s leadership can effectively support an ERG, but at the end of the day, the group needs autonomy. ERG members should be deciding on their own what directions the group will take, who is eligible to join, and what success looks like.
2. Leadership Buy-in Will Help Your Employees Feel Heard
The support of management is crucial for the success of any workplace initiative, including employee resource groups. Unfortunately, ERGs don’t always get the support or recognition they need to work. A case study of three workplaces conducted by Great Place To Work found that 44 percent of respondents felt like support and engagement from company leadership was insufficient.
An ERG with an active and committed sponsor in leadership – someone who attends meetings, announces events, and brings ERG feedback to the rest of leadership – is more likely to have a positive impact in the workplace. Public support from a C-suite employee draws attention to the efforts of an employee resource group and sets a positive, inclusive tone in the workplace.
3. Make Sure the ERG Has the Tools It Needs
A well-supported ERG will have a clear goal, guidelines, and metrics to measure its effectiveness. Encourage ERG founders to establish these things early, and then support where you can with templates, budget, metric, and membership tracking tools, and mentorship opportunities.
4. Recognize ERG Members’ Efforts To Improve the Workplace
Organizing, educating, improving employee relations, retention, and engagement – building a successful employee resource group is a lot of work. Make sure those involved are recognized for their effort and for the value they bring to your organization. Want some specific ideas?
Formally recognize the time spent on an ERG. Adjust the roles of employees organizing the ERG to account for their involvement.
Provide stipends or reimbursement for relevant conferences, events, and external organization memberships for members.
Offer administrative support – assist with supply needs, help with documentation management, advertise events to the company at large, or cater meetings and events hosted by the ERG.
Ensure a policy that embraces employee resource groups is baked into your company culture.
Directly compensate ERG leaders with bonuses or salary increases that reflect additional responsibilities taken.