Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)—why aren’t organisations tapping into this yet?

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Employee Resource Groups, affinity groups, business network groups, people networks, inclusion groups, employee support groups, employee diversity and inclusion forums—you may have heard of these terms in relation to diversity, equity & inclusion at the workplace. 

But what are they, what purpose do they serve, and how do they contribute in creating a more inclusive organisation & help retention?

A recent LinkedIn Live I did with my friend, the ERG homegirl, Maceo Owens, founder of The ERG Movement, inspired me to write an article I’ve been wanting to for ages, and I’d love to share some of my key takeaways and learnings on what an ERG is and why they’re so important. 

What is an ERG?

An ERG is a group of employees within a company who share a common identity, interest, or goal, and come together to support each other and create an environment of belonging. ERGs are voluntary and typically organised around characteristics such as cultural values, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or veteran status.

ERGs provide employees with a sense of community and belonging, and can be a valuable resource for networking, mentoring, and career development. They can also help companies create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace culture by raising awareness of diverse perspectives and promoting understanding and respect for different backgrounds and experiences.

What purpose do they serve?

  • Fostering a sense of community and belonging: ERGs provide a sense of connection and belonging that can be especially important for individuals who may feel isolated in the workplace. (I often felt like the ‘only’ brown woman on many teams for a long time until, I led a Global South Asian ERG)
  • Providing support and resources: ERGs can provide a range of support and resources to their members, including mentoring, networking opportunities, professional development, and access to information and resources related to their identity or interests.
  • Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion: ERGs can play a key role in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace by raising awareness of different perspectives and experiences, advocating for policies and practices, and educating colleagues on issues related to diversity and inclusion.
  • Building cultural competence: ERGs can help colleagues build cultural competence by providing opportunities to learn about different cultures, traditions, and experiences, and by fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding.
  • Contributing to business success: ERGs can contribute to business success by promoting innovation and creativity, improving employee engagement and retention, and enhancing the company’s reputation as an employer that values diversity and inclusion. For example, Netflix recently launched it’s Muslim ERG marked by an Eid event, which gained a lot of positive traction for the brand on LinkedIn.

Why is it important as a business to consider having ERGs?

  • Helps retention – we already know the role belonging plays in employee attraction and retention.
  • Employee engagement and happiness – a feeling of exclusion and lack of belonging is tied to lower job satisfaction and higher burnout. Employees feel happier with their work when they feel like they are part of a community.
  • Better channels of progression for people from underserved communities to be mentored and sponsored – ERGs with the support of Executive Sponsors (senior leaders in the business who endorse an ERG) can help historically underserved communities get opportunities, mentorship, and resources they may not be likely to receive, due to systemic inequities. 

According to a study by BetterUp, if workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.

Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises, and 18 times more promotions.

Think you need more convincing?

Some of my key takeaways launching and leading an ERG for over two years:

  • Every ERG is different, and thus, the needs of each ERG is going to be different. 
  • The most common myth is that ERG’s exist to serve the business – the goal of ERG’s is to provide a safe space for employees from various underserved identities to come together. ERG’s can serve as advisory boards, and yes, can help the organisational goals, but that is not the primary focus in my experience and opinion. 
  • The power of ERG’s – I have seen the immediate positive impact an effective ERG strategy can have on employees, leaders and the business’ reputation, if an ERG is leveraged mindfully during a crisis. Businesses need to be agile & culturally responsive in order to not be labelled as tokenistic.
  • ERG leaders need to be paid. ERGs are an important part of DEI efforts in organisations, and a lot of the work ERGs undertake require managing teams, people, events, coordinating with external & internal stakeholders – this takes a lot of experience, effort and time
  • Finding joy – within the South Asian ERG, I found events like virtual Bollywood dancing, trivia & chai filled up everyone with so much joy, and we all know that joy is contagious!  

If you’d like to know more about ERGs, head over to Maceo‘s LinkedIn or website, alternatively, send me a message on LinkedIn or via Allied Collective to see how we can launch and create a sustainable ERG program for your organisation. 

Ruhee (she/her) is the founder of Allied Collective, an inclusive facilitation agency helping organisations achieve their inclusion, training and wellbeing goals.

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