How can HR leaders effectively support employee resource groups, ERGs, and ultimately drive organizational success through the groups’ efforts?
Wisq recently hosted experts for an exclusive webinar on this topic. Mike Dolen, Head of Strategy and People Science, Wisq, led the discussion with Gena Cox, Ph. D., Inclusion Strategist and CEO, Feels Human, and Scott Domann, Chief People Officer, Calm.
ERGs are defined by SHRM as employee groups that come together voluntarily, based on a common interest or background, or at the request of a company. ERGs are often formed around race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, gender, parental status, national origin, veteran status, religion or belief, or generation.
Whether you call them affinity groups, business resource groups, identity groups or employee resource groups, these groups play a pivotal role in many organizations by providing support for employees’ psychological experience and career growth. It’s key that these groups start for the right reasons, and it’s also critical that they align with both their members’ interests and the goals of the organization overall.
Watch the webinar on-demand.
If you are an ERG practitioner or an HR leader, the webinar provided great insights you can put into practice today. Discover the top 6 takeaways from our webinar, “Designing Safe Spaces | A Discussion on Supporting Sustainable, Empowered ERGs."
1. Start the initiative from an authentic place.
Scott Domann, Calm, said to start by taking a closer look at the organization’s DEIB strategies and how they are woven into the fabric of the overall company.
Scott continued, “Think about the culture and the environment that you're creating… You have to think about how [members] are supported, promoted, and really seen throughout an organization."
You can have multiple ERGs, all the right words and statements, Scott said, but if the organization ultimately does those as performative, then none of it really matters.
2. Before creating an ERG program, go on an employee listening tour.
Gena Cox, Feels Human, said that at an early stage, companies should listen to employee perspectives and collect information in order to understand which key issues are facing the organization, then use that information to drive decisions.
Scott agreed, saying that companies should ensure that pandemic-era listening tours and surveys continue, both with the broad employee base, and more specifically, with ERG members.
“ERGs will have a lot of great insights and information,” Scott said.
“You want to listen and be able to say, ‘How can I take some of those insights in as an HR people team and take action on them,’ not just look back to an ERG and say, ‘What do you want to do about it? What do you want us to do?’”
"From an organizational standpoint, you need to be ready to support. You need to be ready to ask questions like, 'Hey, I know this thing is going on in the world and our specific ERG might be taking on a lot of additional emotional weight, time, energy, et cetera. How are you doing? No, really—how are you doing? Where do you need support?'" -Scott Domann, CPO, Calm
3. Respect people’s needs for closed spaces.
An employee resource group can offer employees a closed, safe environment where they feel they can express themselves freely, Scott said.
To underscore this point, he shared a story from one of this previous companies, where trans employees wanted their own group apart from the LGBTQ+ ERG where they could discuss items specific to their community. The employees discussed the idea with the LGBTQ+ group as a whole, and the group was incredibly supportive.
Scott added, “That was a really powerful notion, that a group of people who had similar life experiences wanted to maintain that nature of that life experience and have those conversations in a more closed environment. At the same time, they knew they had both the support of the larger LGBTQ+ group, as well as support from the organization.”
4. ERGs should only be created when everyone is aligned regarding purpose and outcomes.
Scott shared that in his previous experiences as an HR leader, sometimes his company decided not to commit to supporting ERGs because they didn’t think they could successfully sustain an initiative without the appropriate foundation, support and DEIB strategy.
“I have a lot of respect for that,” Scott said. “From an executional and a strategic standpoint, [be ready to say] here’s how we're ready to support… Make sure you're doing what's right for your organization. Make sure you're thinking about these things and truly thinking multiple steps out,” Scott said.
Gena added, “I think an ERG should only be created when we're clear about the purpose. Even if [the groups] are organic, we still have to have some clarity about what are the outcomes to which you are driving, what are you solving for?”
When those elements are out of alignment, Gena said, the org and employees will be on different tracks, and no one will have clarity.
"I really encourage leaders to think about the fact that inclusion is just leadership. It's effective leadership of 100% of employees.” -Gena Cox, CEO, Feels Human and inclusion strategist
5. Let your purpose inform the outcomes you measure.
Measurement is only valuable if you are measuring in service of something, Gena said.
You can measure how many people attend events, and you can measure the number of ERGs you have. But if you're trying to figure out if the groups are working, you should return to the design phase of the group—at the very beginning, the company needed to have an idea about what it is that the group was solving for. Was the group created in service of social support and participation? Was it focused on employee access to leadership, or recruitment of employees from underrepresented groups?
“All of these decisions that you make on the front-end would then tell you what you need to measure,” Gena said.
Then, she added, "When an ERG does not have active participation, what that means is that employees have determined that the ERG they joined is not delivering the value that they thought they were going to get.”
6. ERGs are powerful inclusion tools, but don’t consider them in a vacuum.
ERGs aren’t mandatory for any company, Gena said. And they shouldn’t be put into a box over to the side—they should be considered an enhancement or tool that helps tackle a bigger issue: manager effectiveness.
She added, “I really encourage leaders to think about the fact that inclusion is just leadership. It's effective leadership of 100% of employees,” Gena said. “Whether we have budget cuts or not, we are still focusing primarily on leader effectiveness and organizational culture in our teams, our business units, our divisions and our enterprise.”
Learn how you can create a safe space for ERGs to drive organizational success. Download our eBook, Creating Safe Spaces: 5 Ways to Support Employee Resource Groups.