Employee resource groups, or ERGs, have been around for a while and are present at most larger organizations. While many of them started as safe spaces for employees from traditionally marginalized groups, today these groups play a crucial role in the business operations of their organizations. In some cases, the name has evolved to business resource groups (BRGs). These groups are an important link in the chain to create more equitable and inclusive organizations. Is your organization taking advantage of the power within these groups? Your answers to these questions will provide insight.
Who’s Signing Up?As a cisgender, heterosexual, black professional male, I have a lot of in-group memberships. And I’m amazed when folks who share those in-group memberships are genuinely shocked when I tell them that at my last job I belonged to the ERGs for women and the LGBTQIA+ community. The most popular question is always, “Why?” The answer is simple. I joined to learn more about the needs of my teammates from these traditionally marginalized groups so that I could ensure that I was doing the most I could as an ally to these communities.
So, consider the rate of ally participation within your ERGs. One best practice many companies employ is choosing executive sponsors for these groups from the ally community—so, white executives for the black ERG, men for the women’s ERG, and so forth. But I encourage you to take that a step further. Ask your ERGs’ members if they understand their demographics and encourage them to recruit more allies if not many have joined. This is important because we all default to the viewpoint that “everyone’s life is like ours,” so we are often victims of advantage blindness. By joining an ERG where you are an ally, you are immediately able to begin to remove the blinders. And as an ally, you will often be better positioned to create the substantive change that needs to happen outside the ERG.
What Is the ERG Reading?ERGs serve numerous functions: as a safe space, a network, a test market, and so on. But what is the ERG learning? And what is the ERG teaching? As more and more allies join ERGs, those groups need to use their platforms to be intentional about helping allies understand the specifics of the group’s unique (but often shared and similar) lived experiences. Ensure allies are engaged with the group on their own inclusion journey and challenge them to think about and even speak about how they will push to change the organization in a positive way. When the women’s ERG invites a speaker in to talk about how women find sponsors to break the glass ceiling, the speaker should also focus on what male allies need to do as sponsors. These learning sessions should happen on a regular cadence and include links directly back to opportunities in the organization.
Are ERG Members Getting Paid?Beyond their normal compensation, are ERG members paid for participating in the ERG? Are ERG leaders compensated? Tying executive compensation to high-level diversity, equity, and inclusion goals has been a trend for a while. But now there is an emerging trend seeking to push these rewards more deeply into the organization, where most of the work really happens.
Some companies use the indirect method, which is when being a member or leader of an ERG is formally recorded in one’s performance plan then rewarded accordingly through the normal performance evaluation and bonus process. Some companies are paying out small bonuses directly for “major participation” in an ERG. If your organization is not there just yet, you can start by creating a recognition award for outstanding support of the company’s equity and inclusion efforts (make sure to recognize an ally or two). However your organization does it, ERG membership needs to “have its rewards”—not only because it signals the value it places on these efforts but because this can be a great recruiting tool to increase ally involvement.
When it comes to building equity and inclusion into the fabric of corporate America and our communities at large, the arc is bending away from more talk and to more walk. Let’s keep the momentum going. If the actions of people from traditionally marginalized groups alone could force the change, it would already be done. The bottom line is we need allies to step up and use their power, their access, their privilege. Because even if they didn’t create the problems, they almost always hold the key to implementing the solutions. And ERGs are great places for those solutions to take shape.