by Angela Peacock
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are often touted as a key tool in the battle to create a truly inclusive workplace, but many organizations leverage them with only limited success. Angela Peacock, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at PDT Global (part of Affirmity), considers what can be done to ensure that resource groups drive inclusion in your organization.
While most of the corporate world has moved beyond the “inspirational speakers and glasses of wine” stage of resource group creation, centering inclusion efforts around the (entirely non-inclusive) consumption of alcohol is unlikely to be the last misstep that gets made. Get ERGs right and they’ll be increasingly powerful players in your organizational strategy. Get them wrong and they can become hotbeds of the very biases you were hoping to eradicate by creating them.
Here are five things that need to happen to ensure ERGs work well for you.
1) Establishing Clearly Communicated Purposes
There are many great reasons to set up a resource group—from networking to building more generalized support structures, to building relationships between members and senior people in the wider organization. Lobbying is another area ERGs often get involved in, as it is important to represent the needs and truths of the group to the organizational hierarchy. These elements can evolve as the group grows, and certain purposes can be more of a ‘side bar’ than others.
Whatever you settle on, what’s important is that you build clearly-defined purposes and communicate those purposes to everyone.
2) Ensuring the Group Continues to Benefit Members
While ensuring your ERGs have a strategic purpose within your organization is critical to their long-term success, you’ll need to ensure that this isn’t unintentionally at odds with the needs of your members.
One area that’s less definitely positive than you may initially suspect is training. ERGs can benefit greatly from training initiatives tailored to their members. However, sometimes this arrangement can be counterproductive—group leadership can start to act as if their own members need ‘fixing’, for instance.
Similarly, ERGs can also be a source of compelling ‘lived experience’ for training delivered outside of the group. There’s nonetheless a simple ethical issue: is it right to expect historically marginalized groups to do this form of labor, particularly if it’s unpaid? Certainly, some members will be happy to share. But organizations should avoid establishing this as an expectation.
3) Situate the Group Within the Wider Community
Your ERGs are a link to different communities outside the organization as well as within, so take advantage of this unique opportunity to attract and interact with the wider community. ERGs can help increase lateral hires or internship applications, and there’s significant potential for enhancing the efforts of expensive recruitment drives using this resource.
You may also want to turn ERG contributions towards practical business improvement, providing a panel of people available to review or shape marketing material specific to their community needs. Similarly, they could work on research projects that are overlooked by the dominant group. This kind of activity makes your organization more agile, and helps it develop and grow into new markets. Meanwhile, these different projects strengthen internal networking and create exposure for members of the group.
4) Not Getting Limited By Your Terminology
Some organizations call them ERGs, some call them BRGs. You may have another name for your resource groups. Sometimes the naming convention used reflects the stated focus of the group. A business resource group can be just as valid as an employee resource group. However, regardless of whether the business or employee benefit is foregrounded in the name, resource groups should be doing broadly the same work to benefit both the organization and its people. If a group is only there for business benefits, it’s unlikely to benefit your DE&I work.
That said, if you’ve taken your pick of any of the purposes mentioned so far, you’ll already be choosing a path that benefits both marginalized groups and the organization.
5) Enshrining ‘Driving Inclusion’ as a Deliverable Goal
Whatever you call your resource groups, when deciding on their strategy and purpose there’s one idea that should be among their central driving forces: driving inclusion. Ensure that this is an aim for the group, one the group holds itself accountable for delivering.
Inclusion is about creating an environment where everyone with the capability to succeed can do so. Simply creating a resource group isn’t an inclusive act. By adding ‘driving inclusion’ to its purpose, you will help to create an environment where diversity has the potential to flourish.