Employees of today do not just ask what they can do for their job; they ask what their job can do for them. They do not just want to show up–they want to be seen and heard. They want community and connection with people like them. As a company, what can you offer potential and existing employees to show them that you are committed to sponsoring and supporting their identities?
One effective way to create inclusive spaces of community in your organization is through an Employee Resource Group (ERG). Also called affinity groups, ERGs are a highly effective way to provide space for employees to connect with peers who hold similar interests, identities, or otherwise like characteristics. ERGs are increasingly in demand because of shifts towards decentralized hybrid work environments, in addition to being important to prospective hires. They are especially important for people who hold traditionally marginalized identities.
It is much easier to feel included and psychologically safe if you are surrounded by peers who look like you, something non-dominant groups or groups with less proximity to power in an organization do not always experience. This is one gap that ERGs can fill to create safe spaces for employee connection, co-ideation, and collective goal-setting. Having a sense of community can counter any isolation employees may feel working from home–making ERGs stand out as an incredible opportunity, especially for people who feel left out or not seen.
Common Questions about Setting up an ERG
Many of our clients approach Unsiloed about ERGs. We’ve helped set up ERGs from scratch, formalize existing informal groups in organizations, and expand and improve established ERGs.
Even though every company has unique goals and organizational environments, we’ve noticed a few common questions that apply across the board.
Let us share the wisdom.
What type of ERG do I want to set up?
Asking what type of ERG you want is an important first question because not only does it get you thinking about logistics, but it also gets you thinking about your WHY. An ERG effort should be connected to a deeper “why”, not just an ad-hoc DEI initiative for the sake of it. There are a number of considerations when thinking about types of ERGs, but the first thing to determine is whether your ERG is internal or external, and then specify the folks it will be supporting.
An internally-focused ERG will be focused on employees, connection, and community. In particular, ERGs are spaces for members of non-dominant, historically marginalized, or often overlooked groups.
- Identity-based (eg. Race, sexuality, neuro-identity, gender, age, ability, parental/maternal status, socio-economic, linguistic, veteran status, mental health)
- Certain job positions (eg. interns, young/new employees, hybrid/remote workers)
- Networking (eg. across work environments, mentor-mentee connection, professional development)
- Interests (eg. leadership development, writing and speaking skills, social justice, sustainability)
An externally-focused ERG will be more aligned with your business goals and directed outside of the organization.
This could look like:
- Volunteering (eg. coordinating donations/drives, running employer-matched fundraisers)
- Community partnerships with shared interests (eg. sustainability in org and community, mutual aid groups for socioeconomic equity)
- Expertise/mentorships (eg. pro bono support/mentorship, partnerships with networks of young professionals)
- B2B connection (eg. cross-connecting with other organizations and ERGs)
How do I articulate who the ERG is for?
What makes an ERG different from, say, an informal gathering space, is that ERGs are employer sponsored. In order to get your ERG off the ground, you will need to be able to specifically articulate who it is for, present goals, and advocate for resources and sponsorship. This is an opportunity to move from your why to your WHAT.
Ask questions like:
- What does our membership consist of?
- What kinds of initiatives/activities do we have?
- What are some goals or missions?
- What does success look like?
- What support/resources will be needed?
- In what ways does this further the organization’s mission, work, and success, internally and/or externally?
How do I communicate that the ERG exists, especially in a virtual environment, and invite participation?
Congratulations! You’ve created an ERG, your sponsor is on board, and you’re ready to roll! But how to spread the news? You want to attract the most people you can to join the group, and that can be challenging in large organizations, across departments, and across hybrid/remote/in person environments.
Do some work ahead of time to create milestones that you can share across the company. Set a launch or kickoff date and event.
Do an overview of your company’s internal communications processes- formal, informal, regular, occasional, across platforms. Identify the ones you would like to target, particularly those that will have the greatest number of folks who may have affinity with your newly-created ERG. You want to share information about what the ERG is, why it matters, who it is for, and where folks can find more information. Invite anyone interested in learning more about the ERG to attend the kickoff.
Create a means of contacting the ERG organizers–an email address, a phone number, a name, a website, an online form, a sign-up list, etc.
Then, capitalize on your existing communications systems. Perhaps:
- Make a flier for your ERG and post it- old school with tape in the elevator if in person or new school on virtual spaces
- Learn when division or department/all-hands meetings are happening, and request that an ERG organizer have the chance to do a quick announcement
- Create a dedicated Slack channel, Twitter, website page, or other landing place to house ERG information
- Circulate information about the ERG in any company-wide emails or newsletters
- Have executive sponsors use their visibility as leaders to announce the ERG and encourage managers to spread the word to their direct reports
How can the ERG be a substantial value add to our organization?
ERGs, when implemented properly, can create major value add for your organization. They give employees opportunities to connect with other people like them, which has been shown to increase a sense of inclusion and belonging. To potential new employees, seeing the presence of an ERG indicates that leadership supports employee connection and contribution, which can incentivize them to apply for and accept positions at your company.
In today’s remote/hybrid environment, ERGs create dedicated spaces for connecting in ways that simply are not possible when working so far apart. People are longing for more relationships and community with their co-workers who work remotely.
You can create internal partnerships that bridge the various moving parts of your organization, creating overall cohesion and sense of purpose.
You can uplift the voices of people who may be underrepresented in your company or possess historically marginalized identities that can contribute to harm experienced in the workplace. Many BIPOC, for example, report that they feel uncomfortable being their authentic selves in the workplace because they experience regular microaggressions and, even in informal contexts, spend energy code-switching and self-monitoring.
All of these possibilities have consistently been shown to trickle down into work performance, innovation, productivity, and company success.
However, take note of this major caveat: ERGs are not a space for companies to be extractive of the time, energy, and resources of the employees participating. Yes, ERG membership is volunteer-based. However, too many companies implement them as part of ad-hoc, extractive DEI efforts. Your ERG is not a place to seek out employees of certain identities who are looking for community and request labor from them to further DEI. Think instead of your ERG as an opportunity for partnership to see other points of view. As leaders, take on the role of the listener to understand employee experiences, needs, and collaborate with them to build more inclusive practices. In the same vein, think about ERGs also as spaces for mentorship and breaking down barriers to professional growth or leadership development.
What should my budget look like?
When you seek executive sponsorship, you will likely be asked what types of resources you need, and the budget estimated for that. If it’s your first time creating an ERG, this can be a hard question to answer. Many companies assume that developing a budget for an ERG requires a lot of leg work and research (which is costly in time and energy). However, we recommend drawing from pre-existing information to be able to talk about your ERG, estimate budget, and contextualize those numbers for your executive sponsor.
Look at how you’ve defined the types of events or activities you would like the ERG to do and liken them to similar engagements the company engages in. For most, that probably means exploring the average cost of your company’s internal social engagements, formal and informal. Consider, for example, how much is typically budgeted for guest speakers, group gatherings, networking events, holiday parties, or professional development. Pair that with estimates of anything novel that the ERG might bring in. The goal is not to have a line-item breakdown (yet). Instead, we encourage identifying a “meaningful average” that will allow you to present your ERG to your sponsor with support from background data familiar with them.
If you’re asking these five questions, then you’re already well on your way to creating a strong new ERG for your company. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, unsure, or would like more advice for your specific company, consider contacting an expert third party, like Unsiloed, to guide you.