You probably look for good pay, a short commute, friendly coworkers, paid vacation time, paid benefits… But how often do you place diversity, equality, and an inclusive culture at the top of your list? Perhaps you should. With the amount of time spent at work, an organization’s culture can affect your entire life and well-being.
Some of the most successful workplaces are made up of different personalities, cultural backgrounds, ages, genders and sexual orientations. Studies have shown the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive work culture. Environments like these promote employee satisfaction and an overall competitive advantage.
But what happens when an organization lacks an environment not supportive of diversity, equality, and inclusion? Ultimately, this can cause many problems in the workplace. When new employees are hired that do not fit the bill, they may begin to feel isolated and consequently not engage with others. In some cases, many may even feel discriminated against if they are not understood. This can cause some employees to feel discouraged and less than empowered within the organization, possibly even resulting in a higher turnover rate. This has obvious consequences for both the organization and employees alike.
With that being said, there are ways to promote and bring awareness to diversity and inclusion within the organization, instead of creating a divide between employees. One way to foster a more inclusive culture is by joining or starting an employee resource group.
What are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)?
Diversity Best Practices defines an ERG as an “employer-recognized group of employees who share the concerns of a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation--characteristics protected in some instances by law and in many organizations as matter of company policy.
You might be thinking, “I already spend enough time working. Why would I want to join a group?” However, ERGs have a variety of benefits for both employees and management alike. They connect people within the workplace of similar backgrounds and demographics. These groups can help provide a sense of belonging for everyone. They create a network and a safe place for employees and can be quite empowering.
So, who exactly would want to form an employee resource group? Well, many people create or join ERGs because they feel underrepresented within the workplace. A group of single mothers might want to join together because their experience at work may differ in ways that only single parents can understand. Or perhaps, a group of LGBTQ employees would come together because they work with a group of primarily heterosexual males. By networking with like-minded coworkers, employees are less likely to feel isolated in the workplace. However you identify, there is probably a group suited to you.
ERGs can be created by people with many different characteristics and experiences, but the most common are groups for:
The first employee resource group was founded in the 1960s to combat racial tension. ERG’s were formally known as “Workplace Affinity Groups.” Since then, ERGs have evolved to combat more than just racism. These groups promote a more inclusive workspace overall. They help create a sense of belonging and equal opportunity for everyone within the organization.
An important part of ERGs is encouraging employees to speak out about their concerns in relation to their particular group. The group is given a voice; even those who felt like they may have not been heard otherwise. When all employees feel equally valued in the workplace, it creates a positive impact on the organization’s entire culture. With that being said, the group’s mission should always tie into the organization’s specific values. You will have a better chance of receiving the support of your senior executives if the company benefits as well. Each ERG’s mission will vary, but they should all share a common goal – to help the organization thrive and bring out change and awareness of the ERG.
Besides the benefits for employees, ERGs can actually have other positive effects on the rest of the organization as well. The benefits of a diverse workplace are undeniable for business. When an organization consists of varying cultural backgrounds, ages, genders and experiences, a wider range of ideas will be generated. This will help the organization appeal to a wider variety of client demographics as well. This is great from a business perspective because it can help the company generate more profit overall.
Incorporating ERGs in the workplace can actually be beneficial to the hiring process as well. A more diverse, accepting workplace will be much more appealing to a wider range of talent. Specific ERGs may actually attract applicants that fit the same characteristics or experiences. ERGs can be utilized by the organization to attract more of the applicants that management wants.
Community NETwork at AT&T demonstrates this particularly well, with over 12 successful ERGs formed over the years. These groups consist of a diverse range of employees that also contribute to the overall success of the company. Their ERGs attract blacks, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latinos/Latinas, young professionals, veterans, LGBTQ, experienced career professionals and many more. Because of these diversity and inclusion offerings, AT&T is deemed as a much more desirable company to work for.
How ERGs Create a Happier Workplace & Reduce Turnover
ERGs can help play a huge role in employee satisfaction within the company. The workplace becomes more inclusive of employees from all cultural backgrounds, ages, genders and sexual orientations. When the organization is free of discrimination, all employees are given the chance to feel safe and accepted.
Catalyst states that companies with higher levels of gender diversity and with HR policies and practices that focus on gender diversity are linked to lower levels of employee turnover. This may be particularly true because employees who feel valued and accepted are much more likely to stick around in the long run. The ERGs provide a support system for those who may have felt previously excluded. Communities are created, which promote a much happier workplace. Ultimately, this will benefit the organization by improving employee retention and reducing turnover.
Another well-known company that has input a variety of successful ERGs is Netflix. Their employees have an almost equal ratio of male and female employees, while striving to include many ethnicities and races. Some of Netflix’s unique ERGs include a Mental Health group, Salam Netflix and Trans at Netflix. You can utilize some of these ideas to your advantage when starting an employee resource group of your own.
Establishing an ERG at Your Organization
Step 1. Figure Out Your Mission
First you need to decide what you are looking to accomplish with your ERG. You may decide that you want to form a community based on your cultural background. Or you may want to create a group based on circumstances, such as being a parent. Regardless of the reason, your personal goals for the group should align with the company’s mission as well. Maybe the organization is looking to attract more of the Asian community. Or perhaps the organization is already comprised of mostly middle-aged staff, so they could be looking to attract younger applicants. Figure out what is needed in the organization and create a meaningful mission statement based around that.
Step 2. Form a Committed Group
Now you need to find other like-minded coworkers interested in joining the group. Try to look for coworkers that are equally as passionate as you. Believing in the cause of the ERG is important for its success. It’s important to hear from all members of the group. Give each person a chance to voice their own ideas and concerns. Realize that it may not happen overnight; you will probably be starting off small. Even if you work for a large company, the group may start small and gain momentum over time.
Step 3. Seek Support from a Trusted Leader
You should always check with your human resources department first. It can also be helpful to seek a leader to sponsor your ERG, although it’s not crucial for success. This sponsor doesn’t necessarily have to be of the same characteristics of those who formed the group. The idea is having the support of a senior executive within the organization. Your ERG will have a much higher chance of success with an enthusiastic leader standing behind it. You may also need funding from the company, especially if the group will be holding meetings. Figure out what is necessary for the success of the group and enlist in the help of a leader.
Step 4. Spread the Word
You have formed the initial group, but now you will want to spread the word to the rest of the workplace. If nobody knows about your group, you’re unlikely to attract new members.
There are many ways to let others at your work know about the ERG. Other than verbally telling people and directly sending out emails, consider using a company communication tool like Slack or Google Hangouts. Those are all great ways to advertise the group. This will help current employees get informed about your ERG. Even if they don’t join, they may still become a supporter. If there is a company social media page or group, you can use that to your advantage as well.
Another approach can be reaching out to the Marketing team and ask for support in bringing attention to the ERG. Or if your organization has a newsletter, request permission to talk about your ERG. You just have to get creative and utilize the tools you have to your advantage.
Once you have the support of senior executives and human resources, advertising on social media, whether internally within the company or externally, can be used to attract new employees to the company as well.
Step 5. Measure Your Success
The final step when inputting an ERG is measuring success. Since these groups are created to promote diversity and inclusion, you should have a way to measure that. Of course, there is no exact tool that can measure success. The best way to do this is to conduct a survey or ask for company feedback before and after the introduction of your ERG.
You may find it helpful to appoint someone to take charge of the planning within the group. Will you be holding weekly or monthly meetings? How will you keep the members of the group engaged? How will you engage outside employees? It takes a lot of ongoing planning and commitment from each member, but it can be very worth it.
Another point to consider is figuring out how you can make your ERG more inclusive to people outside of the group. Employee resource groups are designed to help everyone feel included, however, they can also naturally exclude some. How can you prevent this?
You can start with welcoming allies. Some ERGs are based on cultural identities, such as African American, Latinx, Asian, or Women groups, and may not make others feel welcome. However, even if white men or other majorities do not identify with your group, they will still want to be supportive. They may ask what part they can play in your group and how they can help.
The best way allies can support your ERG is by doing the following:
- Ask questions to get to know you
- Listen with empathy and try to understand the struggles of particular group
- Share their story and experiences as well
- Stand by you to support the cause of the ERG
You can organize outings in support of your ERG, such as going to the Pride parade for Gay Pride week. Even if you do not identify with these groups yourself, this is still a time where all employees can join to show their support. Celebrating holidays such as Chinese New Year, Black History month or Women’s History month is another way to get involved.
You should utilize these groups as an opportunity to learn and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences. There is so much to be learned from other cultures and backgrounds. An ideal work environment consists of inclusion and respect for all employees. In the end, that is exactly why these groups were created in the first place – to give everyone an equal opportunity to feel accepted in the workplace. Your ERG should do just that – empower employees and give everyone a chance to be heard.