Building Employee Resource Group (ERG) Programs

Building Employee Resource Group (ERG) Programs

Whether it’s mentioned in a professional development discussion with one of our association partners or arises in a client conversation, the topic of Employee Resource Groups is something our team is constantly exploring. Leaders seeking to understand, launch or improve existing ERG practices can use these best practices as a guide and inspiration.

What is an Employee Resource Group?

According to Great Place to Work, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. Whether you call it an Employee Resource Group, Affinity Group or Business Resource Group, the objective is the same: to bring employees together for individual growth and make a positive impact to the workplace culture.

ERGs have been on the rise in recent years as an attempt to address Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices in workplaces. They have also been formed in response to the rise of remote and hybrid workers. Despite this recent rise, ERGs have been around for decades, and many organizations with ERGs have groups such as parents, caregivers, women in the workplace, volunteer groups and professional development groups.

Organizations choose to build ERGs into proactive strategies for talent discovery, training & development, retention, succession planning and well-being. The practice supports retention by creating a space for belonging. Externally, ERGs support talent attraction by showcasing your organization as an employer of choice that welcomes and celebrates diverse backgrounds and experience, diverse interests or passions.

Designing Your Organization’s ERG Strategy

Involve all levels of employees in building your ERG strategy, including HR and leadership representatives, but also those who may be ambassadors of and participants in your ERG strategy. Leverage the collective strengths, interests and needs of employees to build your ERG(s) together.

What is the desired outcome of your ERG(s)? Is an ERG your response to the drive for better DEI practices, or do you believe an ERG might be the ideal way to support your newly remote workforce? ERGs can be the answer to many workplace challenges, but they do require strategic thinking and dedication.

As you seek to launch new ERGs, consider the following questions:

  • How many ERGs are you planning to launch and on what topics or with which groups of individuals?
  • Are you launching all ERGs at once or starting with a beta group?
  • What does launch timing look like?
  • Look at employee data. How does your employee base align with those diverse segments? What needs or requests have your employees shared in recent surveys or feedback?

It’s also critical to consider the funding of your ERG program. What annual budget is allocated? Who will be the assigned point of contact for managing it?

Setting your ERG up for success

One simple way to make your ERG feel like a natural practice within your organization is to find inspiration in your company core values to name not only your unique ERG program, but also the different groups that are created within it.

Successful ERGs are for the people, by the people. Ensure alignment with leadership and HR so decisions are tied in with organization’s goals, but ERGs should not be HR led. Identify an executive sponsor for each ERG and discuss how they will be held accountable.

In addition to an executive sponsor, each ERG needs an owner or facilitator. This individual must ensure that all participants can openly share and collaborate. In addition to taking the lead on administrative responsibilities such as scheduling meetings or events, this person should also align any organizational initiatives, celebrations and communications with their corresponding ERG.

Additional Employee Resource Group Best Practices

Other organizations may find success in incorporating these best practices into their ERG strategy and execution:

  • Collaboratively write an agreement that provides guidance and guard rails for the ERG and employee participation. Involve employees in this experience to ensure it meets organizational goals and employee needs.
  • Create the mission of the overall program and align it with your organization’s core values.
  • Describe each of the specific ERGs including their mission and goals for members.
  • Provide contact(s) for questions and interest.
  • Communicate! Share your process, launch plan, and criteria to join. Assign an ERG member to own ongoing communication efforts that welcome new members and share progress organization-wide.
  • House the program details in a central communication point such as your intranet, and point back to it during orientation & onboarding, employee events and company-wide meetings.
  • Go beyond simply creating a space for the diverse group itself – Secure the collective commitment from the organization that ensures the sustainability and success of the ERG program.
  • Create an ERG term cycle to ensure the group and experience is regularly reviewed and re-aligned, if needed, to core values, group goals and organizational needs.
  • Keep meeting agendas and document follow-up actions.
  • Create networking and learning experiences with diverse groups or allies outside of the organization.
  • Report on the ERG’s process and actions, and link the success of your ERG Program to your strategy & planning goals.

For more inspiration or ideas for ERG focus areas, check out Marquette University’s ERG Program or US Bank’s Business Resource Groups.