Ask Alto: What is an Employee Resource Group and does my company need one?

August 31, 2022
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In a nutshell, employee resource groups (ERGs) support under-represented employees in the workplace. They are organised based on common identities, interests or backgrounds, which can include gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, socioeconomic background and sexual orientation. Age or parental status could also be organising principles.

Such groups (also called business resource groups, affinity groups, inclusion resource groups or network groups) are voluntary and employee-led – but they are also formally supported by an organisation as part of its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

ERGs have been around since the 1960s and they are increasingly relevant today as gender issues and questions of personal identity and politics affect organisations worldwide.

What might an ERG do?

Depending on the interests of the group, a resource group could work on:

  • creating gender-neutral restrooms
  • providing free career courses
  • fighting for equal compensation for women and diverse employees
  • creating more leadership and promotion opportunities for women and groups of diverse employees
  • helping women file HR complaints against unfair practices
  • acting as a mediator during workplace conflict.

Why are ERGs important?

They can help:

  • to foster a sense of belonging and acceptance because their emphasis on inclusivity builds trust and safety among employees
  • to increase employees’ feelings of being supported
  • to encourage decision-makers and employees to learn more about other cultures, and to help companies understand cultural norms that may affect inclusion
  • to promote innovation (which only happens when employees feel psychologically safe to share their ideas).

How can an organisation make ERGs work for them?

The more diverse your workforce is, the more you’ll need ERGs. But executive teams need to understand that effective ERGs work from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives. Such groups need support from the management team (and that includes funding them). Ensuring that each ERG has a senior leader as their executive sponsor and full participant is a best practice to consider.

All employees should be invited to participate in all ERGs, either as a member of the specific group or as an ally – and new employees should be encouraged to join ERGs that are relevant to them.

And consider compensating the members of ERGs, as Twitter announced it would in 2020, saying: “All our Business Resource Group chairs around the world.. empower our next generation of leaders, foster a culture of inclusivity and belonging, and give back to the greater community… This work is essential to Twitter’s success - it is not a ‘side hustle’ or ‘volunteer activity’.

Related Practice

Leadership Consulting