June 24, 2024


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In today’s workplaces, marked by demographic shifts, multi-generational dynamics, remote work arrangements and heightened risks of burnout, employee resource groups (ERGs) serve as havens of belonging for staff who may otherwise experience isolation. ERGs are spaces where employees find reprieve from daily workplace aggressions, and create a sense of community and belonging, leading to higher productivity, better performance and lower turnover.

An employee resource group is a voluntary, employee-led diversity and inclusion initiative formally supported by an organization. ERGs are generally organized based on common identities, interests or backgrounds to support employees by providing opportunities to network and create a more inclusive workplace. The number of ERGs grew significantly in 2020, and since then some have fizzled out. Organizations use many naming conventions to refer to ERGs, such as business resource groups, affinity groups, inclusion resource groups or network groups.

Here are resources, tips and methods I share and use with my executive leadership team and participants in all WFYI ERG spaces. For example, the WFYI BIPOC ERG space meets once a month and is a gathering focused on connection and empowerment for public media Professionals of Color. To create a safe space, our conversation sessions are not recorded. However, the presentation and educational resources are recorded for those who cannot make the session.

What kinds of ERGs do staff typically seek out?

ERGs are organized around various themes to promote belonging and address specific inclusivity challenges:

  • Racial and ethnic (or BIPOC) ERGs support employees from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, providing spaces to celebrate cultural heritage, promoting cross-cultural understanding and fostering a sense of belonging and pride. 
  • Gender ERGs aim to empower and advance the interests of employees of specific genders, tackling gender equality challenges and advocating for workplace inclusivity. 
  • Generational ERGs connect employees across different age groups, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing to bridge generational gaps.
  • LGBTQ+ ERGs support LGBTQ+ employees by advocating for inclusivity, equality and acceptance.
  • Disability ERGs focus on raising awareness about disabilities, advocating for accessibility and supporting employees with disabilities.

What are the benefits of having ERGs?

The most crucial aspect of ERGs is promoting diversity and inclusion within an organization.

  • ERGs amplify underrepresented voices, offering a platform for employees to express their concerns and influence policies, ensuring diverse perspectives are considered in decision-making processes. 
  • ERGs promote education and break down barriers. Through initiatives like workshops and training sessions, ERGs help to dismantle stereotypes and foster a culture of understanding and respect. They build stronger bonds between employees, creating a sense of community and belonging, which can lead to higher engagement and retention rates. 
  • ERGs help shape inclusive policies and practices. Working alongside HR and Diversity and Inclusion teams, ERGs’ active participation ensures strategies are comprehensive and reflect diverse employee needs. ERGs can also help create innovative products and services, for example an inclusive language guide for engaging with members and clients.
  • ERGs develop diverse and representative leadership. If structured and supported properly, they can be used to identify and help develop internal leaders by creating visibility for active members. ERG members can also help with companies’ recruiting and talent pipeline development by sharing job openings with their professional contacts. They can even create opportunities for cross-functional teamwork and collaboration, for example, supporting corporate development teams to create a pitch to attract more BIPOC/Veteran/LGBTQ+/Women-owned businesses.
  • ERGs strengthen collaboration and relationships. ERGs form connections between employees at different levels and across disciplines in an organization, which is important in physical and remote workplaces. They can help cultivate mentorship opportunities with local schools, universities and other community partners.

What do you need to start a group?

  1. Come up with the central idea for your group based on a shared characteristic or interest.
  2. Gauge interest among potential members and invite others to join. 
  3. Gain support from organization leadership and address any concerns they may have. 
  4. Set goals for the group and decide a meeting schedule and logistics. 
  5. Promote the group continually and identify possible improvements. Mentioning meetings once is not enough to promote membership of ERGs. New team members join the company constantly and the staff’s priorities and schedules shift. Not to mention, some folks may not pay attention to the first (or fifth) announcement. Repetition increases your odds of getting noticed.
  6. Discuss the integration of new activities. The work conducted by ERG members is just as important as the work that members conduct in their individual roles. Leaders often prioritize a member’s current workload over ERG commitments.. Instead, members should get clarity from their managers about how to integrate ERG-related work into existing workload and responsibilities.

Where can you find resources?

Public Media for All is a coalition dedicated to building a more inclusive and equitable public media. This 4th Annual Day of Action presentation from November of 2023, “Reignite the Flame: Renewing Your Commitment to Equity in Public Media,” examines stories about increasingly polarized political landscapes, staff burnout and diminished resources, as well as how people overcome these hurdles. 

Reaching out to national DEIA public media leaders (like Cecila Loving, Whitney Maddox, Gina Leow, Sway Steward and Dr. Byron Green-Calisch) can be helpful sources of connection for those seeking to form specific ERGs. As someone who has led ERGs, participated in ERGs, and served as an ERG advisor, I’m happy to field questions about these valuable work spaces.

What are some helpful tips for maintaining employee resource groups?

Here is a list of basic employee resource group guidelines and best practices to help groups achieve success.

1. Keep it voluntary.

ERGs work best when there is a community of committed members that show up and do the work. However, no team member should ever feel pressured to join and participate. ERGs exist to serve employees, not the other way around. 

Since ERGs often revolve around identities, pushing people to join can seem like tokenism, no matter how good-natured the intention. Direct invitations to check out meetings should come from group members, not executive leaders/management. Management can promote the group and work to spread awareness of its existence. 

You can also structure the group to have different levels of commitment. While there should be core staff that keep the group consistent and on track, not every member needs to attend every meeting for the group to succeed. Also, even group leadership can be flexible, with members filling in when a leader gets bogged down by outside responsibilities. 

Allowing the level of involvement to be flexible helps members to feel buoyed by the group, not burdened by it.

2. Let members shape the group.

Employee resource groups are employee-run. Members should have a say in structuring and running the group. For the first meetings, ask attendees to work together to craft a mission statement and to brainstorm ideas for the group. You can also have members vote on group leadership. Feel free to install an interim leadership team for the first few meetings and then hold elections once the group gains momentum or ask for volunteers to guide the group during the first meetings.

There should also be spaces where general members can contribute, such as open forums or member presentations. ERGs should empower employees, and this means empowering each individual member with the ability to make an impact.

3. Start small and scale up.

The most sustainable way to form an ERG is to start small and scale up gradually. Do not try to start too many groups at once or try to accomplish too many tasks and goals in one group right away. Balancing too many projects can squander limited resources and prevent members or leaders from fully focusing on the tasks at hand. Once your group has a solid member base and makes significant progress towards initial goals, you can take on extra challenges, host more activities and perhaps even nurture new groups.

4. Do not neglect the niches.

When creating ERGs, organizations tend to start with larger demographics, for instance women or Black employees. However, there may be a need for more niche groups as well. Each company has a unique makeup, and it is okay to cater to specific spaces if there is sustained support for it. 

5. Provide professional development.

One of the main reasons for employee resource groups is to provide career support. Be sure to plan professional development opportunities as part of the group’s regular programming, including guest speakers; stipends to support professional learning; subscriptions to professional publications; panels, webinars and book discussions; national conferences and industry events; learning events open to the entire organization. 

Education can also be as simple as inviting in a team member from a specialized department to share their area of expertise. For instance, an underwriting leader sharing negotiation tactics or a member of the marketing department teaching design basics.

Ask group members to tell you what learning offerings they are most interested in or feel would be most beneficial. 

Making this gesture shows commitment to supporting group members’ careers by helping these employees grow professionally. 

6. Involve the rest of the organization.

ERGs are safe spaces where employees can be with like-minded individuals. However, in the spirit of inclusivity, these groups should also mesh within the larger company culture. Collaborating and interacting with the rest of the company inspires a much broader feeling of belonging and can promote synergy.

7. Track and measure objectives.

When starting an employee resource group, it is important to set goals. While running the group, it is important to measure these goals. Leaders should come up with metrics to gauge group progress, for instance, the number of promotions applied for or obtained by people of color, number of certifications held by group members, levels of job satisfaction as evidenced by surveys or number of general population employees who identify as allies. 

To start, take a baseline reading of these conditions. Monitor changes in these elements and make up quarterly and yearly reports to show the results of the group’s efforts. Note that progress will likely be in both short- and long-term formats and some goals will take longer than others to show significant results. 

Not only will this data show a return on investment and reassure leaders of the group’s value to the company, but these measurements also serve as an affirmation of the impact members’ efforts have on the organization. It’s OK to set a goal that’s somewhat broad and relies a little bit on forces out of your control, but it should always be rooted in what’s practically attainable via realistic means and the objectives you’ll work on day to day.

8. Own up to mistakes and make efforts to change.

Employee resource groups can sometimes uncover unpleasant truths about current company culture. The purpose of ERGs is to improve the work environment, and many groups set out to make meaningful change within the company. Receiving criticism can be difficult, especially since offenses can be unintentional. However, these confrontations are critical to the goals of the group. Employers should be open to hearing shortcomings so that they can fix the flaws and strengthen the culture. Owning up to mistakes and making meaningful efforts to change is the difference between starting ERGs for appearance and allowing these groups to make an impact.