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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is an employee resource group (ERG)?

What is an employee resource group (ERG)?

Last updated

5 September 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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In recent years, the role of workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly prominent in mainstream discourse. 

When it comes to employee management, business leaders and HR professionals may find themselves considering how employee resource groups (or ERGs) fit into their DEI approach and broader organizational culture. 

ERGs have been around since the 60s, and they can boost DEI efforts and employee engagement.

What are ERGs?

ERGs are employee-led groups organized around one or more shared identifying characteristics. These characteristics may include: 

  • Gender identity

  • Religious affiliation

  • Ethnicity

  • Lifestyle

  • Personal interests 

For example, an ERG could focus on Hispanic women at a particular company.

Employee resource groups can foster a more welcoming, inclusive organizational environment. For members, they create a safe space where they feel more free to be themselves, ask questions, and give and receive advice. 

An ERG for members of a minority group can help its members: 

  • Navigate cultural differences they encounter in the workplace

  • Identify and address deliberate or unconscious bias or perceived discrimination

  • Build trust and friendships with their co-workers

Consequently, ERGs can strengthen employee morale, decrease turnover, and facilitate greater employee engagement.

While many primarily associate ERGs with minority employees and DEI efforts, ERGs built around a shared interest can be similarly powerful. 

An ERG whose members regularly engage in shared social activities can foster trust, build friendships, and increase retention and productivity.

Five guiding principles of ERGs

If you examine ERGs across companies and industries, you'll find them diverse in size, scope, composition, and goals.

In addition to their alignment with existing internal HR policies, they typically share a few guiding principles that help ensure their effectiveness within their respective organizations. 

The most effective employee resource groups are:

Employee-led

ERGs are most effective when they are bottom-up vehicles for employees to express themselves, not top-down HR efforts to influence employee attitudes and behavior.

Employer-supported

While effective ERGs are bottom-up, they can be more effective when management publicly recognizes the value of their work and provides them with resources to continue.

Safe spaces

Because ERGs intend to facilitate trust, effective ERGs set clear expectations around confidentiality and privacy.

Goal-oriented

Effective ERGs are typically more than just employee discussion forums; they have concrete goals or activities they work on throughout the year.

Inclusive

Some ERGs that support minority employees allow non-minority employees to join or otherwise show their support without undermining the work of the ERG.

Some employers find ERGs so valuable that they may use them in recruiting. However, employers must work with employee resource groups authentically. 

Otherwise, current and new employees may question the level of management's influence within the ERG and become more hesitant to participate in it.

How ERGs support employees

ERGs can be tremendously beneficial to employees in various ways. They can help employees identify co-workers who share their interests or backgrounds and build the foundation for strong working relationships and friendships. 

Many ERGs strive to provide professional development opportunities for members, including mentorship, coaching, and access to training resources. 

Some ERGs work formally with HR departments to provide these opportunities, while others leverage their members' expertise and networks to create them.

Many minority employees find minority-centered ERGs invaluable for helping them feel comfortable at work, navigating organizational culture, and seeking opportunities. 

Employees in ERGs of all types often find the groups give them a space to communicate more freely, which is essential. 

Marginalized employees can articulate workplace frustrations to their co-workers and gain support to cope with or address their issues outside formal channels. Without such a venue, an employee might become less productive or disruptive. They may even quit entirely. 

ERGs don’t typically accept or bring employee complaints to the organization since they could be considered a union. 

How ERGs benefit organizations

ERGs can supplement HR efforts to recruit and retain employees. They can also improve organizational morale and productivity. 

In some cases, ERGs can fill in gaps where HR programming or personnel are inadequate to address key issues or employee groups. 

For example, an ERG might provide HR with appropriate cultural context so they understand the gravity of a complaint and encourage them to prioritize it.

Companies also may find that ERGs provide them with a great deal of insight they can tap into to make HR decisions. 

Employee resource groups can provide structured and informal opportunities for professional development that help companies identify and nurture emerging leaders.

Establishing an ERG in your organization

The exact steps to establishing an ERG will depend on your employer's HR policies and organizational dynamics. 

But regardless of the company, the fundamental steps of starting one are the same:

Start with an idea

All employee resource groups start with an idea. 

You may want to create an ERG that reflects your background and supports those who share that background at your workplace. Or you may have found other employees who enjoy a particular pastime. 

Write down the ERG you'd like to create in as much detail as possible. When brainstorming, consider the following:

  • What common attribute(s) is your ERG rooted in?

  • What kinds of activities will your ERG engage in?

  • Where and when will your ERG meet?

  • What kind of impact are you looking to make on your organization?

  • What resources can your ERG provide your co-workers?

  • What resources will you need to make your ERG effective?

You don't need a fully thought-out plan at this stage. But it’s helpful to have enough details to pitch your idea to others.

Gauge employee interest

With your ideas and enthusiasm, talk to your co-workers about your proposed ERG. Start with co-workers you have worked with before whose strengths could get your ERG off the ground. 

When you talk to them, invite them to share ideas about how your ERG could operate. They might have some good ideas you haven't considered. Plus, incorporating their ideas early can get them more invested in your ERG's success.

Gather a core group of co-workers who can help you get your ERG off the ground and are excited to become members. Leverage their enthusiasm and expertise to refine your ideas into a viable plan.

Determine an initial plan and structure

With your core group of co-workers, spend some time building a formal plan for your ERG. Your plan doesn't have to be overly complicated. But it should include:

  • A name

  • A mission statement

  • Goal(s) and activities

  • Membership requirements

  • Governance structure

  • Financial structure, if necessary

  • Metrics to measure your ERG's success

You should also discuss the level of employer support you're seeking with your core group. It's natural if you or others have some hesitation about approaching your employer. You may wonder whether your group can be truly perceived as a safe space if management is involved.

However, ERGs can only unlock employer resources like meeting spaces, financial support, and even dedicated work time to engage in group activities with employer support. 

If an ERG's goals involve organizational change, achieving those goals may only be possible with the employer's formal recognition and support of the group. It also may be difficult to recruit members who might be reluctant to engage in anything not employer-approved. 

When you pursue employer recognition and sponsorship, ensure you have a written plan that includes the potential benefits to employees and the organization. It should also have clear and direct requests for your employer. 

If you have significant resource requirements, start small. Employers may hesitate to invest a lot into your ERG until they see it is effective. To that end, share how you'll gauge your ERG's performance with your employer.

Recruit members

Once you have your plan, a core group of members, and your employer's support, start recruiting more members. Here are some recruitment ideas:

  • Plan social activities where your co-workers can meet each other and discuss the group. 

  • Establish clear meeting times and locations that are convenient for your co-workers.

  • Share ERG photos and videos on internal platforms and social media to build interest.

  • Talk to co-workers about their interests and use feedback for future activities. 

  • Ask HR if you can have a few minutes at the end of new employee orientation sessions to talk about your ERG.

Your ERG will thrive if you can continuously recruit new members. So, use every opportunity to talk with your co-workers about the benefits of joining your group.

FAQs

What does an employee resource group do?

ERGs provide support and resources for employees with common interests or identities. Employees of underrepresented groups in the workplace often establish ERGs.

What qualifies as an employee resource group?

ERGs are employee-led groups centered around a common identity or interest that employers recognize.

Do employee resource groups get paid?

ERG leaders and members are typically unpaid. In other cases, ERG leaders and members benefit indirectly from the resources their employer provides to support the ERG.

What is the difference between an ERG and a BRG?

Employees drive ERG goals that are typically Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)-centered. 

Business Resource Groups (BRGs) focus on DEI goals and direct business goals the employer measures regularly.

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