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What's Next for Employee Resource Groups?

Friday, January 22, 2016
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Employee resource groups (ERGs) have become widely used tools in the organizational quest to create diverse, inclusive environments that reflect a changing workforce and marketplace. Originally designed to create a welcoming environment for underrepresented groups, such as women, veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBT community, they are often assumed to be an unquestioned positive force in organizations today.

However, a number of factors have created the need to take a deeper look at the current role of ERGs and assess the value they provide.

  • Overall progress in diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been notably slow, despite clear evidence of bottom line results, as reported by McKinsey & Co. This seems counterintuitive because ERGs are increasingly widespread.  
  • The role of ERGs is not always updated from their original conception as an affinity group.  
  • Some individuals find that their identity cannot be defined within the ERG approach and are calling for intersectionality as a better way to understand inclusion.
  • Some question if ERGs do more to separate than integrate employees because they categorize employees by differences.

The ERG Evolution

Yet there is evidence that ERGs are evolving with the times. For example, many organizations are now referring to them as business resource groups (BRGs) to reflect an increased business focus.

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The Jennifer Brown Consulting ERG Progression Model provides another framework for ERG progress, with five phases to help cultivate growth: foundational, formalized, operational, integrated, and dynamic.

Here are some additional strategies to elevate ERGs to the next level, so they have greater influence and effectiveness:

  • Ensure that ERGs in your organization have formal governance, including defined roles, reporting structures, and expected outcomes. 
  • Set an expectation that each ERG will have measurable internal and external goals. Internal goals may be to partner with HR to source diverse talent or participate in talent reviews to promote diversity in senior roles. External goals may be to promote the company in the community or partner with marketing to learn more about diverse markets. 
  • Ensure that all of the ERGs collaborate across the organization and do not stay within silos. 
  • Recognize that ERGs and senior leaders are not the only ones responsible for promoting D&I—advocates have to be embedded throughout the organization. All employees and leaders should understand what an inclusive environment is, and what they need to do to build one. 
  • Leverage collaborative technologies to build visibility, share success stories, and promote integration in the larger enterprise.

What is your organization doing to take ERGs to the next level?

About the Author
Marjorie Derven, a director at Valeocon Management Consulting, has worked with many leading organizations to design D&I strategies and initiatives that integrate organizational effectiveness, change management, and learning to create solutions that drive meaningful change.

She formerly served as chair for TD Editorial Board and as a Senior Fellow at The Conference Board in the human capital practice. With 20+ years of consulting experience with top-tier companies across multiple industries, her areas of expertise include emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, global leadership development, talent management, and organizational research. Marjorie has published dozens of articles and is a frequent presenter at global conferences. For more information, contact marjorie.derven@rgp.com.
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