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The benefits of ERGs and how to best leverage them

Employee resource groups (ERGs) have long been a mainstay of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. These employee-led collectives are organized around elements of identity, whether race, gender, military status, etc., and are designed to help better support their members in the workplace. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have employee resource groups, highlighting the clear value of these associations. That said, it’s one thing to know ERGs are valuable, while it’s another completely to figure out how to build them effectively at your company. It’s important to first know the benefits of ERGs and what you’re looking to get out of them in order to chart a clear map for success.

Although every company will be different, there are some important steps that all organizations can take to position themselves to capitalize on the full benefits of ERGs. This is also why we built the Global ERG Network, in order to help every company move forward faster on diversity, equity, and inclusion by optimizing their ERGs, BRGs, and Diversity Councils. Read on to learn more about how to build your ERGs so they’re primed for maximum impact, ensuring your team can enjoy all the many benefits of ERGs and affinity groups.

What we currently know about the benefits of ERGs

While the hard research on ERGs is a bit slim (for now), it’s easy to see how they can impact your organization by simply looking to fundamental human psychology. The largest bucket above the most basic needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy is ‘belongingness and love needs’. Everyone wants to feel that they have a community, no matter whether it’s at work or out in their personal lives. For employees from underrepresented backgrounds though, they may be the only person with that identity on their team, making it easy to feel alone and potentially even excluded. Having the opportunity to connect with others who share similar backgrounds across the organization through an ERG can make a big difference towards helping them feel at home in the company.

This increase in interpersonal inclusion and belonging is certainly one of the key benefits of ERGs, but there are also a number of positive outcomes from the company standpoint as well. For instance, by building community and spearheading events and programming, ERGs can help to drive employee engagement, a chronic challenge for most companies. In addition, they can increase retention by adding the prospect of losing this community to the list of reasons why employees would stay. ERGs can help companies to recruit more top talent from underrepresented backgrounds by clearly demonstrating that people who share their identity make up a significant and valued part of the company.

Last but certainly not least, we know that the benefits of ERGs extend into the realms of professional development and innovation as well. ERGs can provide much needed career support and development opportunities to members, ensuring that employees who might not have access to the same chances to advance receive an additional boost through dedicated programming. Similarly, they can drive business innovation by offering crucial insight into business plans and new opportunities. For instance, an ERG catering to people with disabilities might help ensure a new product is accessible before launch, or a Latinx ERG might help their company enter into a primarily Spanish-speaking market where they previously had no presence. The potential benefits of ERGs are many, but as with most efforts, what your company gains will ultimately come down to what you put into it.

How to ensure your ERGs succeed and confer the maximum benefit

Now that you know about the potential benefits of ERGs, how do you go about ensuring that you obtain them for your company? At a high level, it really comes down to just three key steps:

  1. Ensure your ERGs are built on strong foundations. Don’t leave your ERGs up to chance. Create a template charter for all of your ERGs so that they start off on the right foot. As part of the charter process, your founding ERG leadership team should establish their mission, vision, and values; set out short, medium, and long-term goals; decide on meeting schedules and the types of events or initiatives the group will hold or participate in; and develop a transition plan so that when a founding team member leaves, the entire group doesn’t fall apart. In addition, they should also create any membership requirements and/or expectations. By developing a clear plan from day one, it will be much easier for your ERGs to stay on track and ensure they’re driving real impact.
  2. Give them the tools and power to drive change. ERGs that aren’t empowered to act within their companies often end up being merely social organizations that arrange happy hours and other one-off gatherings. While there is certainly still value in events like these, if you truly want your ERGs to deliver on business outcomes, it’s crucial that you give them the tools and power to succeed. On the tools front, ERG leaders are at extremely high risk of burnout, so don’t make their job any more difficult or time-consuming than it has to be. Ensure they have access to a streamlined way to manage and track the success of their group, whether it’s through a dedicated system like Workrowd or an internal system that doesn’t require them to fumble across multiple different spaces. This will also help with member engagement and increase visibility for employees looking to join new groups. Similarly, make sure they have the authority to actually do things. If you don’t allow your ERGs to schedule meetings during work hours, advertise through work channels, or otherwise take up space, you severely cripple their ability to drive impact. Give your ERGs the power to do what they need to do, then support them on their road to success.
  3. Involve them in your business decisions. Don’t forget to leverage your ERGs when it comes to actual business efforts, too. As mentioned above, ERGs can be crucial tools to promote cultural competency and innovation in your business. ERGs help encourage diversity across your organization, and companies that report high levels of diversity are 70% more likely to have captured a new market in the past year. Firms with higher ethnic and racial diversity also report two times more innovation revenue. While some of this will come naturally from having more diverse teams throughout your organization, inviting ERG members to assist on strategic initiatives to ensure a wider diversity of perspectives is essential if you want to unlock the full benefits of ERGs.

Making the most of your ERGs is critical if you want your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to drive real outcomes in 2021. In order to access the full benefits of ERGs, take steps to prioritize the tips listed above, and make sure you’re not sidelining these powerful collectives. Having thriving ERGs is a great way to boost your employer brand, so if you’re looking for new ways to recruit and retain top talent, look no further than employee resource groups. The Global ERG Network has best practice templates and toolkits if you need them, and we encourage you to explore what other external resources might be available to you. Lastly, if you want to equip your ERGs with a full suite of tools to manage, monitor, and measure their success, drop by our site and check out Workrowd. We’ve got everything you need to supercharge your ERGs and then some.

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