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The Importance of Employee Resource Groups—and How to Establish Them

The Importance of Employee Resource Groups—and How to Establish Them

In the modern working environment, diversity and inclusion are more important than ever. Workplace culture can affect, and even define, an organization's success down the road. Employee resource groups are a great way to ensure you maintain a thriving culture. 

Read on to learn more about employee resource groups, how they can benefit your organization, and what you can do to successfully implement them. 

 

What Are Employee Resource Groups?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary communities created within an organization to foster connection and relationships among employees of similar backgrounds, circumstances, or lifestyles. They are led by employees and generally revolve around minority groups of any kind within the workplace. That said, they may also be based on lifestyle and similar interests.

ERGs first came about in 1970 when Joseph Wilson, who was the CEO of Xerox at the time, created the National Black Employees Caucus in support of black employees. This laid the groundwork for black employees within Xerox to ultimately form a group combatting the rising tensions of race within the workplace. ERGs have since evolved into incorporating a variety of concerns, including shared values and even organizational change. 

Modern ERGs often surround gender inequality, sexual identity, religion, ethnicity, and even working parents. As long as there are employees who share qualities or concerns, an ERG can be formed as a mechanism for growth and community. 

 

How ERGs Can Combat Antisemitism and LGBTQ+ Discrimination

Two huge opportunities for ERGs to make an impact are in the fight against antisemitism and the continued support for members of the LGBTQ+ community

Antisemitism is unfortunately on the rise, according to a 2019 study conducted by ADL. 35% of people who were surveyed globally felt Jewish people held too much power within the business realm. This is an increase from the already high 16% back in 2015. 

Placing blame on Jewish people for being too prominent in the workplace is a common form of scapegoating that is both harmful and irrational. This destructive practice has unfortunately created a high tolerance for antisemitic rhetoric among people worldwide. And when discrimination so readily spreads throughout the world, it’s only a matter of time until it finds its way into the workplace. 

ERGs can help to ensure your organization is doing everything in its power to support Jewish workers and combat this form of vile behavior and hatred. 

Another way for ERGs to make an immediate impact is by supporting those who identify as transgender. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 1.6% of individuals identify as transgender or nonbinary. This equates to nearly 5.2 million Americans, and the number is even higher for those under 30—at nearly 5%. 

Individuals who identify as a part of this group often face unnecessary judgment and criticism, which can lower their quality of life. When these issues are brought into the workplace it can make for an uncomfortable, and even hostile, environment. 

ERGs can provide much-needed support for employees who identify as transgender or nonbinary by promoting good conversation to help educate employees. As an example, many employees feel disrespected or neglected when incorrect pronouns are used. ERGs can help promote the usage of correct pronouns in the workplace. 

The transition process can be extremely challenging for people who may feel they will be mistreated or discriminated against. But when we choose to call someone by their preferred pronouns we offer them a sense of belonging and respect. Promote ERGs in your workplace to encourage these conversations on how to correctly treat others regardless of gender identity. 

 

Why Should Organizations Implement ERGs? 

ERGs are beneficial to both employees and employers. They have the potential to simultaneously support organizations on every level, making them incredibly valuable.

ERGs are especially helpful resources for employees as they provide support groups for those with a shared connection. These groups offer growth opportunities, which in turn offer solutions to business concerns that may not otherwise have been addressed or known. 

ERGs allow employees to:

  • Feel heard and understood by their peers
  • Celebrate their culture within the workplace
  • Grow their network
  • Create real change within their organization
  • Form supportive relationships

The benefits of ERGs, however, are not limited to employees. They provide value for employers as well. By providing employees with a sense of belonging, you improve your culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and standards as well as workplace positivity. Maintaining a strong culture is what will boost your retention and over time your recruitment efforts as well. 

When people of similar backgrounds, beliefs, or circumstances seek connection with one another, clear solutions can be found to common needs. This often means expressing the differing workplace experiences of individuals from varying cultures and backgrounds. Your organization has the opportunity to improve its policies and practices by simply listening to what employees within these groups have to say. 

Overall, ERGs allow employers and employees to work together for organization-wide improvement and growth. 

 

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How to Build an Effective ERG Within Your Organization

There is no limit to the amount of ERGs an organization may form. Some may only have one while others might have five or six. It will ultimately depend on the organization and its culture. That said, ERGs in some form can be helpful for any organization. 

Here are some ways your employees can effectively establish one within your organization:

  1. The first hurdle in forming an ERG is simply creating a safe space to talk about it. Many employees may be fearful of bringing up the conversation. Providing them with a means of communicating their concerns is the critical first step. 

  2. Understand the goal of your ERGs. Keep the end goal in mind so that meetings surrounding ERGs remain both informative and productive. 

  3. Determine what type of group you wish to start. This can be determined by understanding the needs discussed in your initial meetings. 

  4. Once you understand what your group will encompass, take the time to write out a mission statement, a list of core values, and goals

  5. You will then need to understand how the group plans to function. This involves concerns such as finances, member responsibilities, number of meetings, etc.

  6. Decide on your leadership. This involves time and energy in addition to daily work. It requires initiative as this person will be the intermediary between the organization and the members of the group. 

  7. Many groups will also incorporate mentor programs, which can be an excellent way to create an inviting and comfortable atmosphere for all participants. 

  8. Once the group dynamic is established, you will need to determine how you plan to monitor the analytics of the group. Membership, turnover, and participation are all metrics that you need to record and take into account. Any organizational changes implemented on account of the group should also be formally documented. 

  9. The final step is the daily management of the group. There should be systems in place to see that the group responsibilities, activities, and roles are all being supported on any given day. This can involve creating formal schedules and assigning tasks to individuals and groups. 

ERGs hold the potential to transform culture, company diversity programs, and overall retention. When looking to incorporate one of these groups into your organization, take the time to determine your order of operations and ensure you are creating the optimal environment for success. This will boost your chance of employees creating a group that will improve their own work lives as well as the DEI standards within your company. 

 

Additional Resources

You can also stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with ERGs and other important topics by using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit

  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news

  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance

  • HR Guides—essential pillars, covering an extensive list of comprehensive HR topics

  • HR Party of Oneour popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics

 

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