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September 14, 2020 Adrian Zee

How to set up employee resource groups in your company

Employee resource groups provide benefits to employees and the business. It's essential that if you decide to start an ERG, you set a solid foundation with a clear mission and objectives.

As your business gets bigger, your employees grow more diverse. Employees may come from different life experiences and have different identities based on gender, race, sexuality, or more. Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a fantastic way to leverage this diversity to improve employee satisfaction and achieve business goals. The benefits of ERGs are why over 90% of Fortune 500 companies have them. 

This article shares what ERGs are and three tips on how to start an ERG in your business. 

What is an employee resource group?

Also referred to as affinity groups, ERGs allow employees with common characteristics, such as experience or identity, to come together. ERGs are a great way to build a community within your workplace. There are also several other benefits: 

  • Employees belonging to a particular group can find additional support and career development opportunities. 
  • Employees who don’t belong to a particular group can expand their understanding of different peoples and communities. 
  • The employer can leverage ERGs to recruit and retain talent and continuously improve the work environment. Many affinity groups may align themselves with the business goals of the company, as well.

Although there are no rules on what characteristics an ERG can be based on, it’s common to see ERGs based on: 

  • Culture and ethnicity
  • Women
  • Sexuality
  • Gender identity
  • Parenting

Building the foundation

An affinity group starts with employees willing to volunteer their time. If this is the first ERG in the company, volunteers may have to reach out to organization leaders to ask for funding and other resources. If your company already has ERGs, and you want to start a new one, there may already be a process where ERGs can receive funding. 

The business should ideally provide groups, in addition to funding, with administrative support, printing, room bookings, catering, etcetera. This way, volunteer employees won’t have to devote a significant amount of time outside of their full-time role for an extracurricular that ultimately benefits the business. 

As a starting point, an ERG should focus on the following questions when starting out:

  • What is the mission, and what are the objectives of the group? How will the group achieve these objectives?
  • What’s the group leadership and membership structure?
  • How can you measure the effectiveness of your group’s work? 

Answering these three questions can set a strong foundation for your ERG and help your workplace see its value. 

Find an executive sponsor 

An executive sponsor is a senior leader in the business (vice president, senior vice presidents, chief ___ officer, etcetera) whose goal is to make the ERG a priority and ensure its success. The executive sponsor often appears at the ERG’s events, despite their busy schedule, and shows the group’s members that the people at the head of the business care about the communities within the organization. 

An executive sponsor is also vital so that the executive team can hear the ERG’s concerns. Suppose the group believes that the business’s actions are harmful or that management needs to take steps to address an issue. In that case, the executive sponsor can listen to the affinity group and table their points at senior-level meetings. 

Run a variety of events and develop resources

The central function of an ERG is to create events and resources that support group members and help employees outside of the ERG’s community widen their understanding. This can range from promoting awareness about the mental health of sexual and gender minorities to celebrations such as Diwali or Lunar New Year. 

Events and resources may also be required during global events that may cause employees distress. The business may look to a particular ERG for guidance on how to better support these employees.

ERGs provide benefits to employees and the business. It’s essential that if you decide to start an ERG, you set a solid foundation with a clear mission and objectives, find an executive sponsor, hold various events, and develop plenty of resources for members and non-members alike. 

Adrian Zee

Adrian Zee is a freelance writer and a student at Osgoode Hall Law School. Previously, he studied management and writing at Western University and worked in the data & analytics industry. Adrian is also a part-time food writer and photographer at DailyHive/DishedTO.