The Power of Employee Resource Groups
Having worked in one of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies, I had the privilege of joining and supporting a number of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These organizations are very powerful in teeing up important issues related to not only diversity and inclusion, but also business operations.
Recently, I was surprised to hear from some professionals that although they work in major US companies, they were unfamiliar with ERGs and that their companies had no similar groups. I can’t imagine a company, with thousands of employees, not having a single ERG. So, I’d like to share why these organizations are important to corporate leaders and their employees.
WHAT ARE EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUPS (ERGs)?
ERGs began back in the 1960’s, initially in response to racial discrimination in the workplace. Black employees were the first to form ERGs in America. Today ERGs are company-sanctioned groups created out of concern for race, gender, sexuality, place/region of origin, upward mobility, and generational equality. ERG is a global term but may be called something different in your company; i.e., employee network groups, affinity groups, or employee interest groups, to name a few.
The beauty of the ERGs is that you can form one around any number of commonly shared attributes. These organizations give voice to real issues, a platform to create common understanding, and offer personal and professional growth. The most powerful ERGs are sanctioned and generally supported by CEOs, officers and other managers of companies.
Why did companies join this bandwagon? Because ERGs have become business assets. These groups have become are very organized with robust group leadership and know how to tee up real issues that impact the group and the company. Listening to ERGs allows corporate leaders to hear big and small concerns of employees.
The groups help companies better understand their employees in a number of ways. Here are just a few of the benefits for leaders.
- Gain feedback on how the company is succeeding and failing to live out its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Corporate employee surveys can be found in almost every company. Frequently, results fail to disclose unbiased truth on the good and bad company performance in the area of diversity and inclusion. Authentic discussions within ERGs give officers another avenue to validate D&I achievements.
- Gauge employee adoption of new strategies and policies.
ERG participants give leaders a place to discuss why employees are or aren’t connecting with key pillars of company direction. Solutions for correcting course can come out of these discussions.
- Assess how new and previous employees are assimilating after mergers and acquisitions.
Officers and leaders often engage ERG leaders in insightful discussions on where employee heads and hearts are and determine how well key messages are being adopted by the rank and file. ERGs also offer safe places for employees to discuss assimilation issues and create recommendations to share with corporate leaders.
- Provide an indicator of how customers of various demographics may respond to messaging, products and policies.
Successful corporations recognize the importance of a truly diverse work force. ERGs generally represent a variety of diverse perspectives and can portend how customers will react to messages and policies prior to companies rolling them out publicly. In essence, employees in the ERG can be built-in focus groups.
Hopefully, you will use this ERG introduction and the links below to jump start a discussion and ultimately creation of an ERG at your company. Look out for my upcoming follow-up blog – Why You Should Belong to an Employee Resource Group.