Want to Boost Your Business? Boost Your ERGs
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), also historically called affinity groups, have been around since the 1960s. Over the years, ERGs have continued to evolve and become critical components of business strategy and operations.
A major goal and benefit of ERGs is to foster a higher sense of belonging —critical for any organization, given that 51% of employees have said they quit a job because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging. Similarly, as companies push for a return to the office, nearly half of employees said a lack of inclusivity makes them less likely to choose in-person work. However, organizations with successful ERGs reap the rewards, including increased performance and reduction in turnover.
At this point, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs, so the potential for these groups to have impact at an individual, company and community level is very real. But it’s vital to get them right, as an ineffective ERG can actually lower feelings of inclusion. So how can you make ERGs successful, support employee engagement, and generate better business outcomes?
Transform Workplaces Into Hubs of Critical, Courageous and Conscious Conversations
A successful ERG provides a place where employees can really talk through important issues, Damian Gardley explains. Gardley is the executive sponsor of the BRITE (Black Representation, Inclusion, Talent and Empowerment) and Unidos Connection Point Groups (CPGs) at Signify, and also serves on the global DEI board and is the executive sponsor for Signify’s DEI committee in the Americas.
These groups “provide a safe place for folks to meet and dive into topics both around business and social issues,” Gardley said. “For example, with the unrest we saw in 2020, through BRITE sponsored sessions, we were able to have courageous corners where we could come together in small groups to candidly talk about how we were feeling.” This impact is reflected in their name for such groups, as the term Connection Point Groups “speaks to them being a point of connection for all employees to come together.”
Pipes Meliome, who runs the Mental Health and LGBTQ+ group at Optimizely, agrees. Optimzely’s “Mentally Forward ERG [has] check-ins that provide employees an opportunity to let out their feelings and thoughts in a safe space, creating a very cathartic experience,” they said.
A successful ERG can also help close leadership perception gaps. “These groups help grow empathy and understanding with leadership,” Mary Miranda, US West Enablement Leader and US DEI Leader at Ernst and Young (EY), who also oversees the working of their Professional Networks (PNs), explained. “Each PN has an executive champion in the region, with links to regional leadership. This gives leadership the chance to listen and hear what is happening, talk to the community, and ask questions in a safe space. They can really connect with what is important to our employees and what’s on their mind, which supports better business decisions for our employees and communities.”
Provide Important Insight Into the Mind and Behaviors of Customers
Capturing the voice, feelings and thoughts of ERG members can also help build a better understanding of customers. Gina Tesla, Vice President of ESG, sustainability, social impact and DEI at Coupa, serves as the executive chair of Empower, Coupa’s ERG focused on unleashing the power of women in business. “ERGs drive important impact for the business,” Tesla explained. “It’s critical that businesses reflect the diversity of our customer base and ERGs help build diversity and inclusion by supporting recruiting and retention efforts of diverse candidates and employees.”
Jeanette Torres, senior manager of DEI at candy company Ferrara and prior co-chair and founder of its Hola Unidos group, agrees reflecting the customer base is critical. To that end, in 2021, Ferrara changed the name from ERGs to Business Resource Groups (BRGs) to reflect the influence of these groups on the business. The BRGs “provide input on marketing campaigns and processes. They really help us to reflect the needs of our diverse customers and our consumers,” Torres said. For example BRGs may, “partner with our brands to create packaging and even products.” In addition to providing the business valuable insights, this is a great way to get employees involved and engaged with the business, the company brand and products in a meaningful way — especially for employees whose day-to-day roles may seem far removed from the customers and business.
Related Article: The Rise of the Super ERG and Allyship Groups
Support the Growth and Visibility of Diverse Talent
The employees that volunteer for or hold ERG leadership positions often perform this work in addition to their full-time jobs. One of the big benefits they gain from the extra work is exposure to leadership and a way to grow personal and professional skills.
Coupa’s ERGs “drive impact for employees in a number of ways, including leadership development, “Tesla said. “For example, Empower recently provided the opportunity for a select group of women to learn more about personal energy management to support each woman's success, both professionally and personally, as well as providing members mentoring which is vital for career growth.”
Gardley said much the same, explaining that Signify’s CPGs, “drive career development for individuals. They can be a part of the formalized process of leading a group,” he added, “including stretch assignments, which can elevate their role at the company through activities such as attending and presenting at leadership meetings.”
Dr. Cenina Saxton — director of talent and culture for Focus Brands, where she also is a member of the Black Employee Resource Group (BERG) and chair of the professional and personal development committee — highlights that you can get creative. For example, “we are introducing a Focus Brands Hall of Fame, where we are highlighting women across the organization,” Saxton said. “Our theme is Boundless Leadership, and we will feature them across our campuses and socially as well.”
Connections go beyond employee to leaders, also allowing employees to “meet other individuals who, if it wasn’t for the ERG, you would never have met,” said Meliome. That, in turn, can open the door to all kinds of opportunities.
How McDonald’s Drove Productivity Through an Elevated Employee Experience
In the new remote/hybrid workplace, work/life boundaries are blurred and workplace stress is a top driver of mental health needs.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
Challenges to Efficiency in 2023: Your Employees Need the Digital Workplace of the Future
The era of asking employees to do more with less is upon us
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
Support the Diverse Needs of Employees, Shape Corporate Strategy and Solve Business Challenges
While HR may need to make choices to tend to the whole organization, ERGs provide an avenue to focus in on and meet the needs of various, specific populations and influence meaningful change. Ferrara’s BRGs have “been able to influence benefits and make sure they are inclusive,” Torres explained. “For example, benefits for parental leave, those that have suffered loss, are going through a transition, or are entering different phases of life. As well as bringing, directly to leadership solutions and business cases that tackle very real business challenges, such as how to engage and communicate with hourly employees.”
Meliome also mentioned the benefits the employee voice can bring, including the “opportunity to talk to leadership across the business, such as real estate and HR, to support and influence choices that best serve the real needs of employees.”
These groups can also play a powerful role in social impact, through various initiatives to give back and support local communities. For example, Dr. Saxton said, “for Black History Month, associates donated books.”
Tesla also gave the example of their recent initiative, “in which each woman going through the development program also committed to giving back through their time or generosity, which extended the impact of the program into the community as well as provided a meaningful, energizing experience for the women.”
Related Article: Best Practices for Every Stage of Employee Experience: Stage 4, Engage
Increase Employee Engagement and Belonging
ERGs also play a significant role in fostering a sense of belonging. “It is important that each employee feels they can bring their whole self to work,” said Miranda. “As people worked at home through the pandemic, and now with hybrid models, these groups allow us to still make people feel a sense of belonging, feel included and feel as though they could be successful at the organization.”
The effect goes beyond current employees, Tesla observed. “The ERGs are critical to supporting employee engagement for both current and prospective employees,” she said. “In these uncertain times, it’s vital that employees have the resources to share, grow, learn and give back on the issues which are important to them and have a group they can rely on and contribute to.”
Saxton agreed. “When you talk about your employee value proposition, ERGs are something that candidates want to know are there and that they will have opportunities to be a part of. They want to see other employees that are like them.”
And it doesn’t need much to get started. By “investing just a little time, you can make your first customers, who are your employees, feel seen, heard, understood and, ultimately, happier,” Meliome added.
So how do you achieve these benefits? Watch out for part 2, where these leaders explain the critical success factors to creating, running and growing an effective ERG.
Learn how you can join our contributor community.
About the Author
Sarah Deane is the CEO and founder of MEvolution. As an expert in human energy and capacity, and an innovator working at the intersection of behavioral and cognitive science and AI, Sarah is focused on helping people and organizations relinquish their blockers, restore their energy, reclaim their mental capacity, and redefine their potential. Connect with Sarah Deane: