How to Create Employee Resource Groups to Support Team Members
December 28, 2022
By now, post-pandemic workplace stats feel like old news. But organizations can’t afford to ignore shifts in employee preferences, engagement, and behavior.
Flexible working options and fair compensation aren’t the only things team members want from employers. Workers want to feel like a valued part of the organization and want to be able to bring their whole selves to work.
It’s more important than ever to prioritize Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) and employee well-being. Starting and supporting Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is an effective way to help employees feel valued, supported, and accepted.
What are employee resource groups?
Employee Resource Groups are employee-led communities for people with a shared identity or experience within an organization. Employees who share demographic characteristics, interests, or challenges such as gender identity, religious affiliation, parental status, or ethnicity typically lead and participate in ERGs.
ERGs help create a safe environment, support members, and foster a diverse and welcoming workforce.
Why are employee resource groups important?
Employee resource groups help foster a diverse, inclusive work environment where team members feel a sense of psychological safety. ERGs also provide opportunities for connection so your team members feel a deeper sense of belonging.
When your team members can bring their whole selves to work, they’re more able and willing to contribute to your organization in meaningful ways.
“Belonging and making a difference are two of the most important values to millennials and Gen Z. That means ERGs like ours attract and retain people because they reinforce those feelings in a very tangible, real way.”
-Jen Scopo, Instructional Design Manager & Mental Health ERG Lead, WorkRamp
The benefits of employee resource groups
A Salesforce analysis uncovered many benefits of supporting employee resource groups:
- 91% said ERGs boost company culture
- 90% said ERGs champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives
- 79% said ERGs strengthen employee well-being and mental health
- 75% said ERGs support employee retention efforts
- 55% said ERGs engage in the recruiting and hiring process
- 53% said ERGs serve as internal focus groups for HR
Additional ERG benefits include translation support, business strategy and product development, marketing campaign feedback, and market testing.
Employee resource group examples
Employee resource groups can bring people together based on identity or experience.
For example, organizations typically start with larger demographic groups, like women or Black team members, and add more groups over time. This may include ERGs for employees with disabilities, parents, and veterans.
Employee resource groups at WorkRamp include:
- African-American and Black employees
- Asian American and Pacific Islanders
- Juntos Latinx
- Mental Health
- Womxn of WorkRamp
“ERGs are a genuine way to achieve DEI&B. Giving the space to say ‘I identify with people in this way’—whether it’s gender, orientation, or mental health—creates that environment to connect with others as humans. It’s an easy thing to do to truly improve your culture.”
How to start an ERG
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to start an ERG, but there are some best practices to maximize each group’s chance of success.
A successful employee resource group has to fill a need for your team members, so it’s helpful to gauge interest as a first step. Keep in mind that your team members may not be familiar with ERGs. A brief introduction can be beneficial to ensure everyone’s aligned on what they are, what purpose they serve, and what team members can gain from joining them.
Employee resource groups may already be forming organically within your organization. For example, through a Slack channel for parents or as Black employees attend professional networking events. Tap those team members to see if there’s interest in corporate support and sponsorship.
Alternatively, you can survey team members to gauge interest in what types of employee resource groups are most appealing and beneficial. Then, offer some suggestions and ask team members to suggest their ideas.
As your program gets going, encourage your team members to initiate ERGs on their own. Be transparent about the process, so they understand how to move forward.
Set group objectives
Establishing a mission statement and setting objectives gives each ERG a strong foundation and provides direction.
For example, a Purpose Statement for one of Ally’s ERGs reads, “The Latino Resource Group helps improve the company’s marketing efforts aimed at the fast-growing Latino population in the US, aids recruitment and retention of Latinos, promotes cultural awareness, and provides opportunities for personal and career development.”
Common ERG objectives include:
- Promoting DEI&B
- Fostering a positive work culture
- Engaging employees with one another
- Acting on the company’s values
- Engaging employees with something they care about
- Creating a safe space for employees with a shared experience or identity to connect
- Providing additional resources and support for employees
- Promoting direct professional development for ERG members
Get leadership buy-in
Employee resource groups can be informal—though there are benefits to getting leadership buy-in.
Company leaders can allocate resources for ERGs, including funding and event space. A company leader may also volunteer as an executive sponsor to provide ERG feedback to the leadership team and advocate for the group’s needs.
Approach your leadership team with data demonstrating employee interest in your ERG and share your group’s objectives to make your case. If employee resource groups are new to your organization, share the business benefits of investing in this program so company leaders understand the impact they can make.
Ongoing promotion is key to encouraging ERG participation so you can continuously welcome new team members and engage existing group members.
Announce your ERGs and share their meeting schedules through various channels to increase visibility and participation. For example:
- Company-wide emails
- All-hands meetings
- Slack channels
- Team-building events
- Break-room bulletin boards
- Company intranet
- Employee onboarding
Choose an ERG leader
While having an ERG leader isn’t mandatory, it can help maintain the group’s focus, organize meetings and events, and grow membership. Depending on the group’s size and structure, there may also be other leadership positions, including a treasurer or committee chair.
An ERG leader can be the executive sponsor or another ERG member, and they may volunteer, get assigned, or be elected. Some organizations compensate ERG leaders for the work that goes into managing the group, and many consider the team member’s leadership experience when making promotion decisions.
How to grow support for ERGs in the workplace
An ERG’s success depends on internal support and buy-in throughout your organization. You need people with a shared identity to find value in participating.
You need allies who understand the importance of supporting ERGs and enacting meaningful organizational change. And you need company leaders who will make business decisions that align with your ERG’s goals and enable your groups to reach their objectives.
Here are some ways to grow support:
- Meet regularly. Consistency promotes momentum. ERGs should set a regular meeting schedule to foster a feeling of community and make consistent progress toward their objectives. Monthly meetings are a good place to start.
- Let members direct the group. ERGs exist to serve your employees. Encourage each ERG member to chime in on the group’s organization and administration and participate in open forums and presentations.
- Keep ERGs optional and flexible. ERGs function best when members actively participate, but nobody should feel obligated to join or participate. Provide flexibility in the participation level so members feel uplifted by the group rather than burdened by it.
- Meet during business hours. The work your ERGs are doing directly benefits your team and your business, and your team members could have personal obligations that prevent them from participating after-hours. Encourage ERG meetings to take place during the workday whenever possible.
- Demonstrate leadership support. Company leaders should encourage team members to start and join ERGs, share progress toward objectives, and offer financial support. This type of backing demonstrates your organization’s value in ERGs, so more people are inspired to participate.
How to use ERGs to promote company culture and DEI&B
People from historically marginalized groups often face distinct challenges in the workplace. Employee resource groups are a way to connect people around a shared identity so they feel more supported at work while driving a more inclusive company culture.
That’s why leadership support is so important. ERGs aren’t just a safe space for people to vent—they have the potential to drive real, lasting change. So make sure you’re listening and taking action to build a more inclusive culture for everyone.
“A great thing about ERGs is that they don’t just say we have an inclusive culture; they almost force it—in a really good way.”
Learn how WorkRamp can help you create training and content to promote positive company culture, employee engagement, and DEI&B. Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.
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Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.
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