ERG Series: How do I run one?

If you’ve been following our ERG series, you now know what an ERG is and why it’s so important to individual and company success. But how do you run a successful ERG that can lead you to excel in your equity, diversity, and inclusion goals? When defining the basic framework of an ERG I’d recommend keeping these 4 principals in mind.

Written by: Sophie Warwick


Structure – Events should be open to all staff but it’s essential to pick a dedicated task force to spearhead this initiative. I would suggest selecting two leaders, or Co-Chairs, to head the ERG. It’s important to have a direct line of communication to bring initiatives to company leadership. By providing two, one team member isn’t overburdened as they’re also likely juggling other project work (don’t burn them out!). The rest of the ERG organizational team size may vary based on the size of your organization and the number of offices, but typically a total team of 10-15 is appropriate for most medium to large sized firms. Think “not too big, not too small.” If the group gets too large, it can be difficult for anyone to take ownership of projects. In contrast, if it’s too small, we’re back to the risk of taking on too much work and burning team members out. If needed, there’s always the option to create regional women’s ERGs if the company is large enough to warrant it.


If this is an advocacy group, make sure you have representation beyond women and include some allies in your team. It has the combined impact of sharing the work with more team members and showcasing that this is a company initiative, not just a women’s initiative. I’d also recommend electing a few office champions who are not part of the ERG but can help advertise upcoming programming and stress the importance of the ERG. For that extra punch, ensure some of these champions are senior leaders, particularly those that don’t identify as women. This showcases to the rest of the office that it’s valuable and important to participate.


Frequency – A consistent and predictable schedule for events and meetings is critical. If ERG events are too irregular, the opportunity for initiatives to be integral in broader company goals and culture can be lost. However, when events are too frequent, the content and impact can be watered down as attendees start to think, “I’m busy, I’ll join for the next one.” Once that habit is developed, it’s easy for attendance to falter.


Instead, try to focus on a few thoughtful and intentional events at a regular cadence that’s consistent with your company culture. If you’re a team that regularly meets for project work and socials, you may opt to have more frequent events than teams who have a higher degree of independent work. I’d recommend selecting a frequency that mirrors other company events and trial it for one year. If participation is high, keep doing what you’re doing! If it’s starting to drop, reach out to a few folks (both those who’ve attended and who haven’t) and see if they have any suggestions.


Budget – This doesn’t just refer to event fees or sponsoring external organizations. ERGs can often be “side of the desk” projects added to the plates of already marginalized individuals. It’s critical to ensure the time required to resource these initiatives are built into employee workflow. Adding additional work onto an already full schedule can burnout staff. This is particularly a challenge with ERGs when women, or another minority group, tend to dominate these teams as they are desperate for additional support and meaningful change.


The increased workload to implement that change can cause them to be spread thin and even leave the organization if it’s not built into their workday. This is important work that is critical to company success – it should be built into employee resourcing similar to administrative work, business development, professional development, and more. Implement a charge code if applicable, and ensure the required hours are being accounted for and reviewed by the ERG leaders.


Accountability – What are the goals and targets of the ERG and who is responsible for delivering them? New initiatives and policies are only as impactful as the tools used to measure them. Without intent, ERGs can be limited to perceived support and not improve gender equity in the way they intended. Steer clear of the pink cupcakes on International Women’s Day. Or at least pair the cupcakes with action. For example, pay analysis ensuring there are no gender pay gaps, or a detailed review of parental leave and childcare policies.


Is the goal to achieve a certain percentage of women shareholders by a given year? If so, you’ll likely want to focus events and discussions on retention related issues. Your ERG may want to pilot a mentorship program to ensure junior and intermediate employees have the support they need to succeed and ensure there are women role models for them to aspire to be. Or maybe there is gender inequity within hiring? Perhaps your group can attend university career fairs and share the important work you’re doing at your ERG with potential candidates.


Focus on a few, I’d recommend 2-3 per year, critical initiatives you’d like to implement and determine how to measure the progress at your year end review. Reflecting on progress at year end will allow you to see where you’re getting the most bang for your buck, and really making important change.

 

A successful ERG should be thoughtful and intentional. They should reflect global company goals and values, be measured for success at appropriate check points, and be integrated in company culture. ERGs are critical in improving gender equity in recruitment and retention. They are powerful teams for developing a sense of belonging into everyday that can too often be difficult to attain for minority groups. If you’re looking to revamp an existing ERG, or launch one for the first time, book a workshop today to get the most out of your Employee Resource Group. Looking for something more specific and tailored to your organization? We also offer one-on-one coaching in ERG implementation and management, email us at contact@thethoughtfulco.net to learn more.