There’s no doubt that diversity is good for business. From higher revenues to decreased employee churn rates, executives are increasingly investing in strategies to foster diversity within their companies. But diversity isn’t just a top-down exercise. It’s equally - if not more - important for employees to create a safe and inclusive working environment—after all, you are arguably most in-tune with company culture.
As an employee, one way to foster inclusion is by creating a company-sponsored employee resource group, or ERG. ERGs are essentially employee-run groups of people who share common traits, which could be related to sexual orientation, race, religion, or any other shared attribute (such as working parents). ERGs can help to both spread awareness to the rest of the company about issues commonly faced by the group, as well as help group members to build a sense of camaraderie with each other.
If you’d like to set up an ERG, it can be difficult to know where to start. This article will walk you through some steps to get your ERG up and running.
There’s no one-size-fits-all advice for starting an ERG, as the best way forward will depend on factors including whether or not your company has existing ERGs, the level of management and HR support, and interest levels from other employees.
Regardless of the situation, a good starting point is to speak to your manager as well as to HR to get a sense of the process for setting up an ERG. They will be able to help you navigate how to secure the company resources you need. If yours will be the first, you may get to be a part of creating that process, which could be exciting as well as a great resume booster—particularly if the company ends up with a thriving population of ERGs.
It might also be worth identifying someone on the executive team to “sponsor” (in a non-financial way) your ERG, which can help to get the rest of management bought in as well as to raise awareness of the group to other employees. If you work for a smaller company, it may be possible to go to this person directly with your idea. If there are more levels of hierarchy in the organization, you may prefer to first speak to your manager or HR about how best to approach the person you’d like to sponsor you.
When you speak with them, make the goals you have for the ERG clear, and explain that their support won’t necessarily require a huge time commitment (unless, of course, they’d prefer to be more actively involved), but rather that you’d like them to be your advocate to the executive team—particularly if you’re planning to propose organizational changes which will require executive sign-off.
You don’t need tons of group members to get started, especially if you identify champions early on. Think about who else in the organization might be interested in topics related to the ERG. Maybe they’ve voiced concerns in the past or you know they’re involved with related extracurriculars. Keep in mind that group members don’t necessarily have to be members of the target demographic group: A women’s ERG, for example, shouldn’t be limited to women, as allies may be interested in both helping as well as understanding the issues that their women colleagues face.
Approach your potential champions directly about joining the ERG, and do so with an open mind. They’ll likely have ideas and goals you hadn’t considered, and incorporating their thoughts into the group’s actions will help to make them even more engaged—and therefore better advocates for the group.
Once you’ve gotten a few champions on board, spread the word to the rest of the organization. Post it to Slack, print out flyers, get it added to internal newsletters—you’ll know the best way to reach employees at your company.
To help formalize things, schedule regular (but not necessarily frequent) meetings, draft a statement of mission and goals to share with the group, and think about what types of programming the ERG will provide. This might involve bringing in speakers, volunteering as a group, attending relevant events together, or even planning your own events. Much of this content can be determined by group members, but it’s worth putting some structure around things to ensure that people take their commitments seriously when it comes to organizing and attending events and meetings. If you are requesting company resources to fund these events, it will be especially important to have all of your ducks in a row
Lastly, make a point to report on the ERG’s progress to your executive sponsor and any other relevant stakeholders. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to toot your own horn, but remember that you’re the one putting in the effort to make this work, so it’s worth sharing successes (and learnings) widely.