What is an Employee Resource Group (ERG)? An ERG is a group of individuals in the workplace, typically a minority group, who join together for mutual support in their shared experiences. They focus on enhancing employee experience, professional development, and can even influence global or company policy – all of which contribute to improvement in equity and belonging in the workplace. In this series, I’ll mostly be speaking to Women’s ERGs, however, many of the key points will relate to ERGs for other groups.
Note: "women" includes anyone who identifies as a woman.
Written by: Sophie Warwick
Now more than ever, many companies are desperately searching for policies and initiatives to help attract and retain women. This has been exasperated by the #shecession where women are leaving the workforce at a greater rate than seen in recent years. There is no one-size fits all, silver bullet solution to gender equity in the workplace. If there was, we’d all have implemented it already. The reality is that successful policies are dependent on factors such as industry, region, company culture, academic equity, and so much more. All of these vary between companies and therefore the right solutions vary accordingly.
Think of your Women’s ERG as your frontline to achieving gender equity. An ERG is a dedicated group of individuals that meet regularly to develop suitable policies that help your organization achieve equity goals that reflect your company’s mission. I’d recommend your ERG include the following functions.
Analyze and benchmark the current gender equity standing so progress can be measured in the future. This would include gender breakdowns of the broader team, technical and support staff (if applicable), senior leadership, Board of Directors, and shareholders (if applicable). This can also include statistics such as how many women you hire and promote each year, and how many women leave the organization each year.
Prioritize key goals and select a few critical targets to focus on each year. Selecting too many can dilute the efficacy. Start with finding the largest discrepancy. Are your mid-career level employees relatively gender equitable, but your senior leadership is male dominated? Then retention and promotional structures will be your focus now and recruitment can come later.
Study potential policies and initiatives that can achieve these goals. In the example above, review your promotional structure and look at opportunities to standardize appropriate elements to limit bias. Is it that Associate Bob says Intermediate Joe is great and now is promoted to Senior Joe? Consider introducing a more standardized performance scorecard and scrutinize it for biases and room for objectivity. Remember, we tend to see potential in those like us, and capability in those dissimilar. Uniformity in current leadership will be highly vulnerable to promoting similar individuals due to their complimentary bias. Interrupt this pattern with standardization, and dare I say it, affirmative action. If you don't have experts in your organization who know how to do this, leverage outside advisors.
Implement and deliver specific initiatives to meet these targets. I’d recommend a reoccurring (either quarterly or semi-annual) meeting with the ERG leaders, senior leadership, and HR individuals to ensure the ERG has the necessary leadership support and buy-in to execute these policies. In addition, this is a good opportunity to review how ERG policies relate to broader company goals and culture.
Facilitate events to engage the entire company in ERG initiatives and develop community and a sense of belonging.
Review, reflect on, and adapt initiatives to continue moving towards meeting your goals. Market shifts and company pivots can impact policy performance. Be responsive and recognize that past solutions may not be as effective in future years.
There are two primary types of ERGs. They offer distinct and complimentary value and it’s preferable to include both in your organization.
1. Advocacy Groups – are for women, allies, and all those passionate about supporting women in the workplace. The functions I described above are applicable to advocacy groups. Consider them the change makers in your organization that will define policies and initiatives to achieve gender equity in your workplace. If your company has a support group as well, the advocacy group supports them in recognizing gaps or concerns and incorporating that information into their annual targets. Ensure a clear line of communication is defined between both groups.
2. Support Groups – are for women only. This sounds exclusionary – but it’s not. It is important to have a safe space for individuals to share experiences privately and seek support in a comfortable environment. A support group may be used to meet regularly and build a sense of community for a minority group that may often be under-represented in their day-to-day work. This isn’t a grievance group, although it’s critical that it be a welcoming space to talk about difficult issues. If there is a common challenge faced by group members, it may be appropriate to share this with the advocacy group who can bring that concern forward, leading to policy or culture change. This line of communication is critical as it also allows any marginalized individuals to remain anonymous when it’s brought forward as a collective, rather than individual, concern.
So, the next time someone asks, “I’m not a member of [insert minority group], but I’m an ally and would like to participate,” they should be directed to an advocacy group. I’d recommend your organization have both advocacy and support groups since they serve different, and equally important roles. However, if you only have one, I’d recommend an advocacy group to start as it allows the opportunity for everyone to be part of the discussion. Advocacy groups are integral in developing broader policy changes that can influence important initiatives, such as recruitment and retention.
Now that you know what an ERG is, you may find yourself wondering why they’re so important to company success and how to implement one successfully. Stay tuned for the next articles in our three-part ERG series to be released in June and July. Can’t wait that long? 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 ERG. Looking for something more specific and tailored to your organization? We also offer one-on-one consulting in ERG implementation and management, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.