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Why should we care about employee resource groups?

In our most recent blog post, we spoke to shifting our focus to better support employee resource groups (ERGs). In this blog post we’ll speak to what they are, and why supporting them is crucial to move the needle on belonging in the workplace.

A brief history of Employee Resource Groups

ERGs seem like a relatively new concept to many, but according to DiversityInc, they’ve been around since the 60s. In response to the Civil Rights movement, Xerox formed the first official ERG (The National Black Employee Caucus) with the hope of creating a safe space for Black Employees that continued to face discrimination in the workplace. Shortly after, many other larger corporations such as AT&T and HP followed suit forming ERGs surrounding communities of Women, LGBTQIA+, and Black employees.

Fast forward 60 years later, ERGs have become common practice with 90% of Fortune 500 companies having ERGs, 40% of all U.S. companies, and adoption growing year over year.

How do Employee Resource Groups form?

While early examples were often formed as a top-down initiative in response to race-based or identity-based tensions, recent ERGs often start as grassroots initiatives and are commonly defined as voluntary and employee-led. Today, they cover a diverse set of identities, experiences, and interests such as neurodiversity, disability, parents, racial identities, sexual and gender identity, and more.

Prior to ERGs, employees often didn’t have the right forums to discuss challenging topics surrounding their identities and experiences, nor did they have the right avenues to directly influence the workplace. While HR aims to serve as a resource, their ability to relate to a diverse set of identities and the perceived focus on only company interest continues to prove challenging. ERGs provide a framework to fill in these gaps by creating a safe space for employees to find a community of people that can relate and create a collective voice.

ERGs being led from within is key to their success but they can’t succeed without leadership support and buy-in. In our next blog, we’ll touch on how companies can best support their ERGs to ensure their success and impact.

Why are ERGs important?

A critical area for retaining and growing employees is their sense of belonging at the workplace. Belonging is defined as “the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place.” Many companies are aware that lack of belonging comes at a significant cost due to higher turnover, sick days, and decreased productivity and is one of the primary reasons why employees leave or stay at a company. We see that investment in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts are on the rise, but moving the needle on belonging is a continued struggle.

So how are ERGs key in changing this?

ERGs touch on many critical areas that help foster a sense of belonging.

  • Connection ERGs provide a safe and trusted space for employees to connect based on their shared identities, experiences, and interests; creating room for discussion and feeling heard without judgment or fear of repercussion.

  • Influence ERGs have the unique ability to influence internal company hiring practices, policies, and benefits. ERGs serve as a collective voice that provides insight to leadership on where the company may continue to experience critical gaps. We’ve heard from ERGs that drove the implementation of gender-neutral restrooms, expanded mental health benefits, extended parental leave, and policies on trans-rights at the company. Through the collective voice of their community, they’re able to make a meaningful dent in creating a better workplace.

  • Awareness While it’s critical to not burden ERGs with ownership of educating allies or potential allies of their community, programming accessible to all employees often serves as a method to create awareness and education. ERGs may bring in a speaker on LGTBQIA+ rights, an expert on managing burnout, or run a cooking class on traditional LatinX cuisine. There are many opportunities to create awareness in ways that are engaging and informative that don’t burden an individual with owning the education of other employees.

  • Professional Development ERGs create new ways for employees to grow their skill-sets across leadership, collaboration, community-building, and influence. They also create opportunities for mentorship and peer-based learning.

  • Innovation Several studies have shown that diverse teams drive better outcomes and foster innovation. Innovation often depends on employees being in a space where they feel psychologically safe, ERGs help create that space.

To some companies, it may seem intimidating to empower their employees to have a voice in how their workplace operates but we believe that companies need to lead with trust in their employees and empower them to create communities of support. We deeply believe that employee resource groups are building the future of the workforce through community and companies that amplify their impact will only benefit as a result.

The belonging gap remains, but by empowering ERGs companies can move the needle helping their employees feel valued, heard, and understood in the workplace and impact key metrics across attracting, retaining, and growing talent.

In our upcoming blog, we’ll speak about how companies can support their ERGs to ensure they’re set up for success.

This article isn’t reinventing the wheel, a lot of great research and content is already out there! If you want to dive deeper, we highly recommend these articles:

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