Employee Resource Groups are one piece of a fulsome diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) related strategy within an organization. Employee Resource Groups are employee-led groups that people often organize around a shared interest or identity. While work relationships and informal groups often develop organically as coworkers learn more about each other, providing more official forums in the form of Employee Resource Groups can provide employees with an opportunity to build a shared community and to receive support, while also advancing goals related to DEI.
While Employee Resource Groups can play an important role for DEI in the workplace, methods used to create and maintain these groups can further inequity if people do not design them thoughtfully. In all designs, we can either exacerbate existing inequities or make things better for everyone.
In all designs, we can either exacerbate existing inequities or make things better for everyone.
If your company currently has E.R.G., the following tips are guiding methods for equitably elevating them. If you don’t have an Employee Resource Group yet and want to start, keep these tips in mind as you begin to shape them.
Many Employee Resource Groups are formed based on a single interest or common identity categories, such as gender identity, socialized race, or sexual orientation. While there can be value in this, we are all made up of a complex set of identities, interests, and desires. For example, how is a woman who is also Jewish and a lesbian to choose which part of her identity is at the forefront? This can be an impossible and unfair choice for many.
Intersectionality reminds us that individual experiences sit at intersections of multiple and overlapping identities and systems of oppression, power, and privilege. Therefore, Employee Resource Group developed around one identity category, such as “women,” can be troublesome. Too often, women-centric spaces, such as Employee Resource Groups, paint all women with the same brush, advocating for a homogenous set of solutions instead of solutions that consider different experiences of womanhood. The needs of women who require spaces for prayer, for example, are distinct from women who may not have a religious practice. Without paying attention to people’s nuanced experiences and identities in the workplace, Employee Resource Groups can elevate experiences for some while ignoring others.
If you’re a startup or scale-up or an organization just getting a budget for the first time, use company data to determine which Employee Resource Groups are needed immediately. If your company is not at the scale to have multiple Employee Resource Group, ensure that the ones that you do have are intentional about intersectionality. You can do this by facilitating learning opportunities and teach-ins, making sure the Employee Resource Groups you have are connected, collaborating, and supporting membership growth.
Participating in an Employee Resource Group must be voluntary for employees. People need to have an enthusiastic and consensual choice to be involved instead of being pushed due to their identity or association. Too often, champions are members of marginalized groups, and their work towards DEI. is done invisibly, without compensation.
While volunteer roles are by choice and uncompensated, participation in ERGs must be voluntary: a role that is by choice but also compensated. Not compensating Employee Resource Group members can exacerbate existing wealth inequities or hierarchies, while also devaluing the work and insights they provide.
To address this, larger organizations need to budget accordingly, so all leaders and members are compensated. Smaller organizations can find the means by scaling back other expenses such as the alcohol budget for a holiday party, or by sharing benefits such as gift cards, or tickets to events.
Too often, champions or other employees who care deeply lead this work off the side of their desk, meaning they do this work on top of their existing workload.
This can create issues when participation and performance in other roles are hindered by the time spent doing Employee Resource Group-related work. Consequently, giving time to the Employee Resource Group can cause fear of repercussions and feelings of guilt.
To address this, participation in Employee Resource Group should be tied to an employee’s role within the organization. This means a percentage of their job should be allocated to their work with an Employee Resource Group. When we tie these efforts to an employee’s job tasks, it allows discussions about Employee Resource Group involvement to also be a part of an employee performance or promotion review and acknowledges their contributions to the workplace.
Employee Resource Groups are often aligned with company goals and can be key drivers in moving a company's DEI strategy forward. For example, they can be great to expand the pipeline and build partnerships.
However, Employee Resource Groups must also have the autonomy to create safer spaces for people to come together. Allowing the group to do so, provides space to take a break from practices such as code-switching, processing trauma, and fostering stronger bonds.
While Employee Resource Groups are often asked to be aligned with the organizational values and goals, they must also be given the room to push the boundaries of the companies DEI strategy and awareness. Having Employee Resource Groups lead their own path and make their own decisions helps them collectively imagine new ways to push the envelope and enhance your DEI strategy.
Employee Resource Groups are a powerful way to prioritize the well-being of the people who make up your organization.
Valuing your people means listening. Listening actively to their needs, barriers, and proposed solutions that come out of an Employee Resource Group.
With support, Employee Resource Groups are also a key opportunity to “level up” your people. It provides growth, advancement, sponsorship, mentorship, and many other tangible and intangible benefits.