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Starting an ERG – how to build a strong foundation

Starting an ERG can be daunting if it’s your company’s first resource group. Even if your organization already has a handful of groups, if there’s no documented process for starting a new one, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, a lot of brave ERG leaders have come before you and paved the way for more companies to launch these crucial initiatives. If your organization is exploring the idea of starting an ERG for the first time, we want to congratulate you on this exciting step. There’s a reason why virtually every Fortune 500 company currently offers employee resource groups: they’re a crucial component of an effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. By learning more about starting an ERG, you’re demonstrating a commitment to advancing DEI at your organization, which will pay off for both your people and your bottom line.

Employee resource groups, commonly referred to as ERGs, are employee-led collectives of colleagues oriented around shared identities, needs, interests, or other commonalities. Most frequently, you’ll see these associations organized around attributes like race or gender, but they can also support groups like parents and caregivers, veterans, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ community members, and more. Whether you already have a sense of which ERGs you want to launch first, or if you’re still at the stage of figuring out what sort of ERG(s) to begin with, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll lay out some of the foundational steps to starting an ERG to help you get acclimated and set your group(s) up for success. Don’t forget that the Global ERG Network is here as a resource for you as well, with free templates and events available on our website in addition to the members only content and sessions we provide.

Useful data points to help you make your case for starting an ERG

As with any business effort, you will likely be asked to make your case as to why starting an ERG is a worthwhile decision for your company. The impact of ERGs can vary widely depending on how the groups are run and what their goals are, so there’s not currently a massive body of evidence around the direct effect of employee resource groups on companies’ bottom lines. Luckily, we know simply from human psychology that effective ERGs are key drivers of diversity, equity, and inclusion; engagement; retention; and more, so we can look to statistics from these areas to make the business case for starting an ERG.

On a more foundational level though, we can see why ERGs make good sense for employees’ wellbeing. Throughout life, people seek out groups of peers who share similar interests, needs, identities, backgrounds, and more. Consider afterschool activities, university clubs, and community groups as examples. Translating these communities into the workplace can only confer benefits as people feel more included and empowered to bring their full selves and full array of talents to the table. In the absence of these safe, inclusive spaces, employees from underrepresented communities have no support system in the face of daily episodes of exclusion. As these episodes mount, employees often internalize them as trauma, preventing them from doing their best work. Epigenetic coach Rajkumari Neogy states, ‘Every single time [employees are excluded], interrupt[ed], or dismiss[ed] in some way, you are shutting down the part of their brain that is making you money.” Inclusion should be a top priority for every executive, and starting an ERG (or several) is a direct route to increasing inclusion for underrepresented employees.

What’s more, ERGs are key recruitment and retention mechanisms, and not just for minority talent either. A survey found that 70% of respondents would be more likely to apply for a job at a company that offered ERGs, and 50% said they would remain at a company that had ERGs rather than leaving for one that didn’t. This is crucial as diverse companies see 2.3 times higher cash flow than their competitors. Diverse companies are also 70% more likely to capture new markets. The financial case is clear. Employee resource groups increase diversity and inclusion, which in turn boosts revenue. Starting an ERG should be a no-brainer, but if you need more justification, check out our post on diversity and inclusion statistics here, or send us a note at hello@workrowd.com and we’ll be happy to share more information.

starting an ERG
5 foundational steps to set you up for success when starting an ERG

Now you should have a solid basis for why starting an ERG makes sense for your company, so that you can make a strong case to your company’s leadership. The next step is to look at your implementation plan, because while the ‘why’ is important, your colleagues are likely going to want to know about the ‘how’, too. Below we‘ve listed the first five steps you should take when looking towards starting an ERG. If you think we left anything out, let us know in the comments!

  1. Poll your colleagues. ERGs are typically employee-led, so it’s crucial that you engage your colleagues from day zero. ERGs are not something that should be launched at employees, but instead something that must be launched with employees. If you decide what group(s) you’re launching without engaging employees first, you’re already setting your ERG up for a reduced likelihood of success. Talk to employees. Put together a survey with a list of potential ERGs to find out how many people would be interested in joining each one. Don’t deliver the news that you’re starting an ERG from the top down, but position it as a whole company initiative, where anyone and everyone can get involved.
  2. Identify your employee champions. Once you understand which ERGs have the most interest and how many you want to begin with, find your evangelists. Your fledgling ERGs need employee buy-in to get off the ground, and the best way to cultivate interest is to have promotion efforts come from fellow employees rather than from HR or the executive team. You may already have a culture champion or two in mind, or you may want to make an announcement that you’re looking for launch team volunteers. Alternatively, you can include a request for volunteers in your survey from step one to find people who are interested. A key point here though is to make sure that you’re only involving true volunteers. Don’t pressure your employees from underrepresented backgrounds to take on the emotional labor of starting an ERG if they’re not interested. It is not their responsibility. It is your responsibility to remember that they already have a lot on their plates and you cannot and should not ask more of them than what they are genuinely interested in doing.
  3. Get executive buy-in with a committed sponsor. Even if you’ve already made your case to the executive team and gotten their endorsement, you still need to take one more step to ensure they remain engaged and prioritize the success of your ERG: secure an executive sponsor. Executive sponsors deliver several points of value to your ERG: 1. They advocate for your needs with the executive team and ensure you have access to the resources you need; 2. They offer a networking benefit to members through direct access to a very senior-level colleague; 3. They build credibility for your ERG throughout the rest of the organization. Things to look for in a sponsor include an interest in the focus of your community, the ability to commit time each quarter to supporting your efforts, and a genuine belief in the value of your ERG. An engaged executive sponsor can make a huge difference in the level of success your ERG achieves, so choose wisely.
  4. Share the news. You’ve laid the groundwork, now it’s time to let everyone know that you’re starting an ERG! One of the goals of employee resource groups is to increase inclusion, so make sure that you’re spreading the word in inclusive ways and reaching everyone. You should distribute the message through as many channels as possible, and encourage those interested to join. It can help to explain a bit about the high-level goals of your group and the type of programming you may offer in order to convince people why they should become members. Don’t forget to leverage the champions you identified in step two to amplify your message. Consider putting together a Google form or similar tool for collecting interest so you know how you’re doing and where you might need to focus your recruitment efforts more intently. Additionally, this will start to build your email list for easy follow-up with your members.
  5. Draw up your group charter. Now you’ve got your group(s) identified, your informal employee leaders in place, your executive sponsor on board, and the beginnings of a member list; it’s time to formalize. Assembling a group charter is a crucial step to ensure that your group survives employees and executives coming in and out. Your charter is where you codify your leadership committee structure and members, identify your short, medium, and long-term goals, detail how you will track and manage your group, outline the transition plan if and when leaders leave, and more. It’s important to have these objectives and expectations established from the outset, so you’re not scrambling when something changes.

Starting an ERG can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’d like templates, toolkits, activity guides, and more, we encourage you to check out Workrowd’s ecosystem. For those looking to streamline their ERG marketing, management, and measurement in-house, our user-friendly platform makes it easy to fulfill all three of these objectives under one roof. Our platform offers a central hub for all your ERGs to promote transparency and connection for every employee no matter where they work, plus straightforward administrator settings for easy oversight. What’s more, Workrowd comes equipped with templates and activity guides to support your employee leaders to succeed, as well as automated surveys and real-time analytics so you always know how each ERG is performing.

You can also take a look at our cross-company learning community, the Global ERG Network (GEN). GEN aims to prevent employee leaders from having to constantly reinvent the wheel by providing best practice templates and toolkits, monthly virtual events, and 24/7 networking and knowledge-sharing with peers. It’s a turnkey solution for offering employees more support on important diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and is suitable for organizations at any stage of building their ERGs. Our member base is growing rapidly, so there’s no reason to wait; visit https://www.globalergnet.com today for more information.

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