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How can we support employee resource groups?

Updated: Mar 10

In our last blog post, we spoke about why we need to care about employee resource groups. In this blog post, we want to make this more tangible and talk about how companies can set their ERGs up for success.


Who oversees ERG programming?


This varies from company to company. They can be managed by the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) department, Culture Teams, or directly by the People/HR Teams. Who oversees them matters less than the structure they put behind their ERGs. As mentioned in our previous blog posts, employee resource groups are most commonly voluntary and employee-led. While some companies compensate their ERG Leaders, at nearly all companies ERGs are led on top of people’s primary role. This means that empowering them by reducing overhead and providing the right tools is key to ensuring they can have the impact they want to have without the risk of burnout.


What we’ve heard time and time again from our ERG leaders, is the desire to do more. Even at companies with mature ERG programs, we still see critical gaps. And while the role of the ERG lead is often one of the most fulfilling parts of their role at a company, it can also be draining if there’s a lack of support.


In today’s blog, we’ll start with what to consider when structuring your ERG. In the next 2 parts of this series, we’ll speak to setting up your budgets and enabling your ERGs.


Structure

Structure is key to enabling employees to both start an ERG and run it. Within the overarching theme of structure, the critical elements we’ve come across are:


1. Set up a clear process on how an employee can get started. We recommend providing a guidebook that helps employees easily get an ERG off the ground. It’s important to make it clear what information is required to enable the decision-makers to make their decision. For example, you might want to know what the purpose of the ERG is, its respective focus areas, and how they envision receiving support from the company. Providing a template that can be used provides a repeatable foundation. In addition to the guidebook, it should be made clear who they need to engage with and when. Navigating internal hierarchy can be challenging, so outlining clear points of contact and how to best reach them is critical.

  • Provide a structure on how to set up their ERG. ERGs often consist of three primary roles: an executive sponsor that backs the ERG and creates direct access to the C-Suite, ERG Board members that own budgeting, programming, and planning, and ERG members that participate in events and other community forums. For ERGs, it’s helpful to get guidance on how to run their ERGs with room for flexibility that allows them to meet their unique communities’ needs. For example, some ERGs found it helpful to have clear roles such as the Treasurer (oversees budget), Event Planner (identifies programming), Project Manager (organizes the “how we do this and who’s responsible”), Communications (handles internal and external communications), and Community Managers (handles the community where it lives, e.g. Slack).


2. Create a support system for ERG leaders. As mentioned earlier, ERG leads usually do the work on top of their primary role, which can be challenging. You should spend time thinking about how to best support your ERG Leads.

  • Ensure manager support One of the most important elements we’ve seen is manager support. Managers that allow ERG leaders to prioritize ERG-related work have a meaningful impact on ERG leaders feeling less pressure.

  • Compensation and Growth Some companies, such as Justworks and LinkedIn, started to compensate their ERG leaders for their work. We’ve heard both positive and negative sentiments related to this. The positive sentiment is that it does create a more tangible sense of appreciation. The negative sentiment is that it adds pressure but not more time or tools to do the work.


3. Term limits and/or path to a dedicated role

  • Term limits Some companies allow ERG leaders to serve 12-24 months on the board and then provide other employees with the opportunity to engage. We’ve seen pros and cons to this. One pro is that it brings in new and fresh perspectives and approaches. Cons are that the ramp period is often painful, board turnover is common, and engagement isn’t a given. If terms are implemented, it’s important to also implement a streamlined handover process for new ERG leads.

  • Dedicated role Think about a path to a dedicated ERG program management role but be weary of the transition from employee-led to HR-led. The power of ERGs is their deep connection with the employee base through their communities. While dedicated roles may help with time spent on the ERG, it could impact their effectiveness and impact. We'll talk about other ways to enable ERG leaders through tooling in our post on Enablement.


These are a few tips to consider when it comes to the foundational structure of ERGs. As mentioned above, we will touch on the topic of Budgets and Enabling your ERGs in the next 2 parts of this series.

If you’re interested in tapping into some of our free resources related to structuring your ERG, you can contact us here or reach out to me directly at larissa@joyn.one.


We can’t wait to see more companies adopting and expanding their ERG programming and for our community to help other leaders navigate that journey. It’s hard to know where to start but we’re determined to change that.


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