Employee Resource Groups

By Dr. Cynthia James Walters, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Prisma Health

Creating a culture of inclusion is inherent to building strong organizations, particularly considering recent events. Employers and employees must be committed to performing their best for each other, customers, and the diverse communities served. The more everyone within a business understands and appreciate the rich diversity of each other, the greater the outcomes: internal cohesiveness and external community engagement. Current events such as COVID 19, Black Live Matters and a desire to improve social injustice have caused us to become even more committed to being respectful while seeing each other as visible and valued.

One way to do develop a culture of inclusion is to establish Employee Resource Groups (also known as ERGs, affinity groups, or business network groups).[1] Employee resource groups are employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences. ERGs are employee led groups who support organizational goals and initiatives, identify career development opportunities, and contribute to personal development to insure equity of all employees. ERGs can also enhance job responsibility, promote environmental advocacy, provide community service through volunteerism, and enhance workplace wellness. Exploring the topic of employee resource groups can provide insightful information for businesses seeking to create a culture of affirmation and belonging.

How to start employee resource groups:[2]

  • Leadership buy-in. While it is not mandatory to have buy-in from senior leaders, it certainly helps with ERG implementation. The resource group should also have an executive sponsor, which ideally will be someone who holds a leadership position within the organization.

  • Assess company needs and set goals. After getting buy-in from leadership, it is necessary to assess the organization and decide which ERGs are needed. Which diverse groups are represented or underrepresented in the organization? Is your company having trouble recruiting women? Are there retention issues with millennial employees? Are you looking to attract Black and Hispanic employees? Figuring out which ERGs to develop is based on company needs. Once you have determined which ERG(s) is needed, then it is time for goal setting (be strategic, deliberate and intentional)

  • Start small. “You don’t need significant numbers to start—it may be quite small at the beginning, but if it’s filling a need for you, then that’s fine. You can grow with time.” It is also beneficial to have allies in the group, which are individuals that do not necessarily share the group’s characteristics, but are passionate about the group, want to learn more and want to show their support.

  • Promote the group. For other employees to be aware that an ERG has been created, the group should be advertised. This can be done through the intranet of the company, the organizational newsletter, new employee onboarding and other means of sharing within the company.

  • Measurement. After you have successfully implemented an ERG into your organization, the last piece of the puzzle is measurement. Quantitative data such as retention rates, employee engagement levels, and promotion rates should be measured before and after ERG implementation to understand how the ERG(s) are impacting the organization.

Employee Resource Groups are an asset strengthening and sustaining a culture of inclusion. They help to support and engage employees now and in the future. The ERGs are a fundamental component to driving your organization’s goals, diversity and inclusion initiatives, fostering wellness and building positive networks. ERGs help a business to focus on understanding each other better as well as the communities served. Now is the time when both understanding and serving each other is critical!

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