Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have been around for many decades. ERGs are typically made up of employees with shared interests. Historically, ERGs were made up of underrepresented groups in the workforce, but they’ve since evolved to include workers with common goals and values.
In every case, ERGs make it easier for marginalized individuals to focus on personal growth and professional development. However, ERGs aren’t solely designed for the benefit of the individual. By giving a platform and voice to underrepresented individuals in the workforce, an entire organization can be enriched and a company culture can be enhanced.
What Do Employee Resource Groups Do?
Many employees feel as though they don’t have a voice within the company they work for. ERGs bring those with shared interests and identities together, empowering them to become advocates. By fostering a sense of community and inclusion, ERGs give employees the confidence and resources they need to spearhead initiatives that can affect real change.
This can bolster employee satisfaction levels, increase morale, and promote a sense of well-being. Businesses also benefit, from all these positive changes having the potential to increase productivity levels and improve employee retention rates.
By giving certain demographics a voice within an organization, ERGs can provide workers with the tools and resources they need to champion their talents and nurture professional development. They can also spotlight unfair working practices that might be holding certain employees back. An established ERG can also create a culture of transparency, making it easier for individuals to address personal concerns with line managers and HR departments.
Who Do ERGs Represent?
In the past, Employee Resource Groups largely focused on representing marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities. While ERGs still champion these demographics, they’re not the only demographic that benefits from ERGs.
While the gender pay gap is slowly narrowing, we’re still some way from gender parity when it comes to salaries. ERGs can provide a voice to female employees who feel they’re being unfairly compensated for performing the same tasks as their male counterparts. Other ERGs bring together workers with the same religious affiliation, while disabled workers are another key demographic serviced by employee resource groups.
In the United States, the full retirement age is currently 67 years old. However, 37% of people aged between 65 and 74 are still in full or part-time employment. This is another key demographic catered to by ERGs.
In some cases, ERGs bring together employees with shared interests. Certain ERGs may be more focused on providing a voice for minorities in the workplace, while others emphasize socializing outside of the workspace. Furthermore, some ERGs are squarely focused on professional development, especially within organizations that fail to provide career pathways for long-standing employees.
Why Employers Should Be Listening to ERGs
Not all ERGs are assembled to address perceived failures within an organization. Nonetheless, they can offer a rich pool of insights that can help businesses improve and position themselves as more desirable employers.
The common thread tying together every ERG is that they provide a voice to underrepresented employees. Within larger organizations, entry-level employees from a poorly represented demographic may never feel comfortable enough to raise concerns that are holding them back. ERGs not only support the individual but can provide a direct line between these employees and management.
Even businesses that pride themselves on having a positive company culture can benefit from embracing ERGs. These resource groups go the extra mile in fostering a sense of community, ensuring individuals can quickly identify with like-minded colleagues. They can deliver mentorship schemes and support professional development, boosting morale and increasing employee engagement.
High turnover rates are commonplace in bigger organizations, even if similar schemes are in place. ERGs target employees at a high risk of turnover, pairing them with the right tools and resources they need to thrive from day one.
How Businesses Can Support ERGs
ERGs can be incredibly varied, with each one accommodating the individual needs of the people they represent. For best results, ERGs need to work in tandem with existing HR departments. Whether it’s an existing ERG or an emerging one, an HR consultant can work as a partner to provide ERG leaders with the tools they need to thrive.
However, it’s important not to address the needs of ERGs on an ad hoc basis. Different ERGs will have varying needs and requirements, but some common ground needs to be established to ensure fairness across the board. Laying down some general groundwork provides HR departments with a solid foundation for working effectively with ERGs.
How Can ERGs Be More Successful?
ERG leaders need to be accountable. While objectives can evolve slightly over time, a clear mission statement is required for businesses to provide ERGs and the people they represent with the tools they need to succeed. ERGs also need to prioritize inclusivity. It’s never a good idea to limit membership based on restrictive criteria. Some people may wish to join an ERG to support and champion the underrepresented. ERG leaders should actively encourage allyship if they’re serious about spearheading real change.
Once ERGs have outlined their mission objectives and established accountability, it’s time to secure involvement with senior leadership and management. Stakeholders can be turned to as sponsors, providing resource groups with a clear line of communication and constant support.
Some businesses may choose to provide funding for ERGs. While smaller organizations may find it challenging to allot funding to ERGs, it’s one expense worth budgeting for. Support can be as simple as delivering support from administrative divisions, or sharing tools from existing resources. In the case of larger businesses, ERG leaders can even be provided more visible roles with a company hierarchy.
As ERG initiatives take shape, more systematic changes may be realized. This can have implications for the onboarding process of certain employees, as well as tailored training and peer development programs.
The Value of ERGs
With the right support, ERGs can become an invaluable addition to any business. While many ERGs are formed to address pressing needs within an organization, they can quickly become a useful tool for enriching company culture. However, there’s always the potential for conflict between established HR departments and ERGs.
To maintain positive relationships and unlock the benefits of employee resource groups, ERG leaders need to feel valued and supported. Nowadays, there’s no excuse for sidelining inclusivity in business. With ERGs, organizations have a direct line to marginalized groups and the support they need to adapt working practices to those without a voice of their own.
Caroline Reidy is the managing director of The HR Suite, one of Ireland’s leading HR firms.