The four most effective ways to support ERG leaders

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Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders occupy a strategic position at your company. They spend countless hours making your organization a better place to work, and they often do so in addition to their normal job functions. Their efforts can help you improve DEI metrics, promote a sense of belonging, facilitate improvements to your products and policies, and more.

And yet, ERG leaders often usher in these changes without official power. Three out of five ERG leaders are in an individual contributor role at their company, meaning that they hold no position of authority. They are limited in what they can accomplish without guidance and resources, and in order to make an impact, they need concrete support from HR executives. We talked to experts in the field to learn what ERG leaders need most in order to succeed.

Here are four tangible ways you can support ERG leaders.

Establish an effective governance framework.

Many companies set up their ERGs as mini-organizations with hierarchical structures consisting of a single executive sponsor who occupies a senior role at the company and several employee leads who have volunteered to run the ERG. Employee leads will often manage day-to-day operations, while the executive sponsor advocates for the ERG and provides high-level guidance.

Once you’ve established a framework for leadership, each ERG at your organization should put together a charter that states the ERG name, mission, membership eligibility, governance structure, and operations. The charter should be a shared document that members and leaders can use as a reference. You can provide ERG leaders with a charter template to help them get started.

Give guidance on goals and objectives.

Want to help ensure an ERG’s success? Start by defining what success looks like. Collaborate with ERG leaders to establish goals that dovetail with company objectives. After you’ve agreed on goals and success metrics, you should provide ERG leaders with applications to track progress.

Don’t forget to check in with ERG leaders regularly and ask them if they need additional support. “ERG leader is one of those roles that doesn't just have a function and a purpose. It also has all these other social values ascribed to it. When you put a person in that role, they're the last person who would want to say that they're failing, that they need support, or that they're worried,” says Gena Cox, CEO of Feels Human. She adds, “Organizations have to be proactive about all of that.”

Provide leadership coaching and career development support.

The people who volunteer to lead ERGs are likely some of your best employees. Motivated, conscientious, and eager to enact positive change, ERG leaders will thrive with your assistance. You can make sure they’ll be at their most effective by providing leadership training. After all, ERG leaders occupy a strategic role at your company, and they deserve the same developmental support that you’d offer to any other company leaders.

Another way to support ERGs is by ensuring there are growth opportunities for everyone – not just ERG leaders. Give ERGs the resources to set up formal mentorship programs, and you may help increase the number of marginalized employees in power at your organization. According to Harvard Business Review, mentorship boosts the representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men, in management roles by 9% to 24%. HBR also found that, while white men tend to find mentors on their own, women and underrepresented employees more often need help from formal programs.

Ensure a meaningful budget is allocated to the ERG so the group has what it needs to accomplish its goals.

Too often, ERGs don’t have the resources they need to be successful. Half of ERGs report that their annual budget is less than $5000. ERGs can deliver lasting value to your organization, but like any corporate initiative, they need financial investment in order to make headway. ERGs require a budget for virtual and in-person events, food at in-person events, educational resources, memberships, consultants and more.

ERGs need substantial support to thrive.

ERGs can have a big influence at your company, yet they won’t prosper on their own. They need attention from executives to guarantee that they are receiving adequate assistance and an ample budget. But if you give ERGs the resources and guidance they need, you are sure to see a return on your investment: Successful ERGs can improve DEI, foster a sense of belonging, and, ultimately, make your company a better place to work.

Want to learn more about how to support ERGs at your company? Download our eBook, 5 Ways to Create a Safe Space for ERGs — And Set Them Up to Thrive.

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