You found our guide to employee resource groups best practices.
Employee resource groups are internal committees that revolve around certain identities or experiences, such as race, spirituality, parenting, and sexual orientation. The purpose of these groups is to provide support to diverse team members and to promote more inclusive practices throughout the organization. These groups are typically voluntary and lead by workers. Employee resource groups are also known as ERGs.
This guide includes:
- how to start employee resource groups
- tips for employee resource groups
- benefits of employee resource groups
- employee resource group activities
Here is everything you need to know.
How to start employee resource groups
Here is a list of steps to launching employee resource groups within your organization.
1. Gauge interest
Groups need members, and members need interest in joining the group. The best strategy for rolling out employee resource groups is to start with a couple of groups, preferably in the areas with the most demand. To determine what kind of groups to start with, you can send out a survey.
2. Gain support from leadership
Some experts may advise that getting leadership’s blessing should be step one in the process. However, convincing leaders that the timing is right to launch employee resource groups can be easier with data. You can use results from surveys as evidence that there is need and demand for ERGs within the organization.
When pitching to executives, outline a clear plan to launch the groups, including objectives and metrics. Be ready to talk about the results you hope to achieve and the benefits of these groups. When requesting a budget, it helps to do research about what organizations invest into these efforts.
Since ERGs are employee-run, these groups do not necessarily need permission or funding from higher-ups to operate. Employees can choose to meet and support each other informally. However, it is typically a good idea to cue leaders in on the groups’ formations. Since ERG’s are a matter of company culture and human capital, you should loop in the HR director, at least.
The process of gaining leadership support for employee resource groups is known as finding an executive sponsor.
3. Set goals for the group
ERGs are most beneficial to employees when there is a set structure, and goals give groups structure.
Example goals for ERGS include:
- To provide networking, professional development, and career advancement opportunities for group members.
- To foster positive and inclusive environments for all employees, and influence policies and procedures that make a more equitable and welcoming work environment.
- To offer support and camaraderie, strengthen confidence, and provide a sense of belonging to members of the group.
- Spread awareness and promote allyship, particularly in terms of the concerned group.
Be sure to think up ways to measure these goals as well.
Note that the group can have more than one purpose, and the goal of the group can shift as the group evolves. However having an objective in mind and crafting a mission statement in the early stages of development gives the group a stronger foundation.
Here is a list of goal setting activities for groups.
4. Decide a meeting schedule
Consistency is important to the group’s early success, and it helps to decide on a meeting schedule before the first gathering. This schedule gives potential group members an idea of the time commitment needed to participate, which can affect whether or not members join. Plus, regularity helps to build momentum.
The group should gather regularly enough to build a sense of community and make steady progress on goals, yet not so frequently that membership adds to participants’ workloads and stress. Meeting once a month is a good place to start, remembering that you can ramp up as you grow or add optional meetings for folks who want to get more involved.
5. Promote this resource continually
Once you flesh out the basic structure, you can begin promoting the group. Places to advertise the resource include:
- Employee forums, such as Basecamp and break room bulletin boards
- Company gatherings, including regular meetings and team outings
- Slack channels
- Internal email
- Social media
- Company events calendar
- New hire onboarding materials
Mentioning meetings once is not enough to promote membership in ERGs. New team members join the company constantly, and staff’s priorities and schedules shift. Not to mention, some folks may not pay attention to the first (or fifth) announcement, and repetition increases your odds of getting noticed.
6. Grow the group gradually
Launching an ERG is a careful undertaking. As with any endeavor, trying to do too much too quickly can make the process less effective and more stressful than necessary. You should lay a firm foundation before expanding your offerings.
In the early days of the group, the focus should be on recruiting members and drafting a charter and a mission. Once you reach steady membership, a regular meeting rhythm, and a solid group dynamic, then you can start focusing energy into other avenues, such as hosting events, proposing policies, and perhaps even splintering off into subgroups.
It is better to start small and grow organically than to take on too much at once and fizzle out.
Tips for employee resource groups
Here is a list of basic employee resource group guidelines and best practices to help groups achieve success.
1. Keep it voluntary
ERGs work best when there is a community of committed members that show up and do the work. However, no team member should ever feel pressured to join and participate. ERGs exist to serve employees, not the other way around.
Not to mention, since ERGs often revolve around identities, pushing people to join can seem like tokenism, no matter how good-natured the intention. Direct invitations to check out meetings should come from group members, not management. Management can promote the group and work to spread awareness of its existence.
You can also structure the group to have different levels of commitment. For instance, a more active role in running the group, or the role of a more passive participant. Members can run the meetings, or just show up as able.
While there should be a core staff that keeps the group consistent and on track, not every member needs to attend every meeting for the group to succeed. Also, even group leadership can be flexible, with other members filling in when a leader gets bogged down by outside responsibilities.
Allowing the level of involvement to be flexible, helps members to feel buoyed by the group, not burdened by it.
2. Let members shape the group
Employee resource groups are employee-run. Members should have a say in structuring and running the group. For the first meetings, ask attendees to work together to craft a mission statement and to brainstorm ideas for the group. You can also have members vote on group leadership. Feel free to install an interim leadership team for the first few meetings and then hold elections once the group gains momentum, or ask for volunteers to guide the group during the first meetings.
There should also be a process where general members can contribute, such as open forums or member presentations. ERGs should empower employees, and this means empowering each individual member with the ability to make an impact.
3. Start small and scale up
The most sustainable way to form an ERG is to start smale and scale up gradually. Do not try to start too many groups at once, or try to accomplish too many tasks and goals in one group right away. Balancing too many projects can squander limited resources and prevent members or leaders from fully focusing on the tasks at hand. Overestimating your bandwidth can lead to underperformance, which can hurt the group’s growth and jeopardize its future. It is better to build firm foundations and perfect the process than to become scattered and stressed and fizzle out. Start strong, and gradually grow. Once your group has a solid member base and makes significant progress towards initial goals, you can take on extra challenges, host more activities, and perhaps even nurture new groups.
4. Do not neglect the niches
When creating ERGs, organizations tend to start with larger demographics, for instance women or Black employees. However, there may be a need for more niche groups as well. Each company has a unique makeup, and some organizations may have larger than average populations of certain identities. For instance, a certain religion or nationality. Sometimes these groups branch off from larger ERGs, and sometimes they spring up individually. It is okay to cater to specificity if there is sustained support for it. Furthermore, these demographics may need the community and support, and you should not deny classification as an ERG just because the group can only gather a few members. A better move is to give proportional stipends or provide meeting spaces to support these niche groups.
5. Provide professional development
One of the main reasons for employee resource groups is to provide career support. Be sure to plan professional development opportunities as part of the group’s regular programming.
- Guest speakers and coaches
- Connections to industry groups
- Stipends to support professional learning
- Skills training and professional courses
- Subscriptions to professional publications
- Educational activities like panels, webinars, and book discussions
- Conferences and industry events
- Lunch and learns
Education can also be as simple as inviting in a team member from a specialized department to preach their area of expertise. For instance, a sales leader sharing negotiation tactics or a member of the art department teaching design basics.
If unsure of what kind of development to provide, then ask group members to tell you what learning offerings they are most interested in or feel would be most beneficial.
Making this gesture shows that commitment to supporting group members’ careers by helping these employees grow professionally.
6. Involve the rest of the organization
Groups are safe spaces where employees can be with like minded individuals. However, in the spirit of inclusivity, these groups should also mesh within the larger company culture. Interactions between the group and other members of the organization can come in many forms, such as occasional open-to-all meetings or events, collaborations with other ERGs or company clubs, parties and cultural events, education on allyship, Q&A sessions, and philanthropy events. Collaborating and interacting with the rest of the company inspires a much broader feeling of belonging and can promote synergy.
7. Track and measure objectives
When starting an employee resource group, it is important to set goals. While running the group, it is important to measure these goals. Leaders should come up with metrics to gauge group progress. For instance, the number of promotions applied for or obtained by people of color, number of certifications held by group members, levels of job satisfaction as evidenced by surveys, or number of general population employees who identify as allies.
To start, take a baseline reading of these conditions. Monitor changes in these elements, and make up quarterly and yearly reports to show the results of the group’s efforts. Note that progress will likely be in both short and long term formats, and some goals will take longer than others to show significant results.
Not only will this data show return on investment and reassure leaders of the group’s value to the company, these measurements also serve as an affirmation of the impact members’ efforts have on the organization.
8. Own up to mistakes and make efforts to change
Employee resource groups can sometimes uncover unpleasant truths about current company culture. The purpose of ERGs is to improve the work environment, and many groups set out to make meaningful change within the company. Receiving criticism can be difficult, especially since offenses can be unintentional. However, these confrontations are critical to the goals of the group. Employers should be open to hearing shortcomings so that they can fix the flaws and strengthen the culture. Owning up to mistakes and making meaningful efforts to change is the difference between starting ERG’s for appearance and allowing these groups to make an impact
Benefits of employee resource groups
Here are some compelling reasons to start employee resource groups within your organization.
1. Innovation and diversity of thought
Employee resource groups provide safe spaces for team members to embrace their full selves. This acceptance and empowerment can bolster confidence and bleed into the regular work environment. When employers celebrate differing perspectives and employees feel safe speaking their minds, team members take risks and communicate bolder ideas. Such circumstances can foster innovation and prevent errors in judgement. Diversity of thought and opinion improves problem-solving and boosts creativity.
2. Inclusive work environments
Since one of the main aims of employee resource groups is to increase inclusivity, it should be no surprise that participating organizations enjoy stronger and more blended communities. ERGs help to alert employers to opportunities to make the workplace more equitable and accessible, for instance by introducing policies that give flexibility to workers with special needs or offering professional opportunities to underserved demographics. In fact, the very existence of employee resource groups sends the message that all identities are welcome in the organization and every employee should have a voice and support system.
3. Lower turnover and better recruitment
A lack of diversity and inclusion can lead to a sense of alienation that can drive talented individuals to seek employment elsewhere. Employees increasingly hold organizations accountable to create fair and equitable work environments. It is not enough for companies to hire diverse candidates if those employers make little effort to support those employees on the job. Employee resource groups can help diverse candidates feel more supported, appreciated, and welcome within the organization. As a result, these organizations tend to retain diverse team members much longer than average.
Not to mention, advertising these resources signals to applicants that an employer is progressive, forward-thinking, and concerned with the employee experience. This resource is likely to attract not only diversity candidates, but talent that cares about equality and inclusion. Modern professionals want to work in organizations that support their values, and a willingness to strengthen underheard voices is an attractive feature in an employer.
4. Better company culture and higher morale
Employee resource groups can remove several sources of employee dissatisfaction, such as a sense of not belonging, a lack of opportunity, or feelings of helplessness. These groups give team members a support system and a means of addressing injustices, which in turn leads to happier, healthier employees. ERGs can show that employers care about employees, and serve as a constant reminder for workers to treat each other with respect. Also, organizations who provide these services to team members tend to be more attentive to employee needs and make efforts to create a better work atmosphere in general.
Employee resource group activities
Here is a list of activities to keep employee resource members engaged and informed.
1. Lunch and learns
Lunch and learns are educational events where employees meet to listen to a lecture during a midday break, typically while enjoying a snack or meal. These activities are ideal for ERGs. You can book a professional to talk about topics within the specific niche.
- Financial literacy
- Time management
- Salary negotiation
- Finding a mentor
- Personal branding
- Stress management and coping skills
- Occupational health
You can also find a renowned member of the community with an interesting topic. Or, you can invite group members to lead lunch and learns. You can even have ERGs sponsor these events yet open the talks up to the whole company to maximize the impact and awareness.
Here is a list of virtual lunch and learn ideas.
2. Parties and social events
Parties are one of the more fun options for ERG activities. For instance, kickoff parties, anniversary celebrations, and cultural events. These gatherings can be a good opportunity to invite the wider work community to interact with members of the group and to spread awareness of the group’s existence and mission. Occasions such as Pride Month and Latinx Heritage Month, for example, are opportunities for groups to celebrate with the community at large and promote their culture to colleagues.
Check out this collection of work holiday tips for celebration inspiration.
3. Group meals
Group meals are one of the easiest and most popular team building activities. Food has strong communal powers, not to mention cultural ties. Sharing a meal together is a great way to bond and socialize. Group members can cook together, meet up at a restaurant, or order in. Since eating is a normal part of the day, this activity is easier to work into the schedule for many employees who cannot spare extra time to meet off-the-clock. Also, group lunches and dinners can happen virtually as well. Participants simply order takeout and eat and chat during a Zoom meeting.
As part of employee benefit and perk programs, employers typically cover or reimburse the cost of the meals.
One of the main purposes of employee resource groups is career development. Holding networking events helps group members get to know each other and like minded individuals within the industry. Companies can host these events and open attendance up to other professionals and companies, or group members can attend outside networking events as a group. These occasions can be as simple as a group happy hour or bagel breakfast. Organizers can also match up group members for random casual coffee chats to help participants get to know more colleagues.
Q&A’s are examples of educational activities that can benefit employee resource groups. You can invite an expert in to give a talk and answer group member questions. Or, you can have ERG leadership run a Q&A to help educate employees about issues that are important to the group. These events are informational and educational and can help to spark dialogues about relevant topics within the organization. Since moderators are present and panel members expect inquiries, these gatherings offer a low-pressure environment for curious minds to understand more about complex or sensitive subjects.
Retreats give employee resource groups the opportunity to bond, relax, and work on group business in an interruption-free environment. The focus of these events is group members and group goals, and these gatherings are immersive opportunities for members to turn their attention exclusively to aspirations and each other.
You could hold informal, hours-long retreats that consist of a series of team building and brainstorming activities and workshops on campus, perhaps with complimentary lunch and snacks. Or, you can move offsite and plan days-long retreats at resorts or rented houses. You can also hold retreats online by planning webinars and workshops on Zoom.
Check out this list of virtual retreat tips.
7. Conferences and summits
Conferences and summits serve as professional development and networking opportunities, which are two of the main purposes of many employee resource groups. Established ERG’s may feel up to the challenge of coordinating and hosting one of these events by reaching out to speakers and similar groups within the larger community. Or, groups may simply decide to attend a conference together. Going as a group may give more employees the confidence and incentive to attend, and coordinating together can cut costs and lessen the burden of logistics such as travel and registration. Employers may choose to help cover or reimburse expenses, and can assist in finding opportunities and securing invites.
Check out this list of virtual conference ideas.
8. Team Building Outings
Employee resource groups are a type of team, and bonding activities can help the group feel more cohesive and group members to collaborate more effectively. Not every meeting needs to be strictly business. You can organize outings to help team members get to know each other and to improve group dynamics. These fun events are also a chance for the group to unwind and have fun, and can be a nice compliment to the weighty subject the group likely deals with on a regular basis.
- Escape rooms
- Go-kart racing
- Beer or wine tasting
- Drag brunches
- Museum tours
Here are more outdoor team building ideas.
9. Coworking Days
Employees in hybrid or remote work spaces often use coworking spaces, or flexible, rentable office space. Some remote teammates coordinate meetups with colleagues to work in the same space on the same day. Employee resource groups can follow this model and meet up with groupmates for coworking days, either to work on committee business, or to do their regular work side by side.
Coworking memberships often give access to events such as classes, panels, courses, and networking events, which can help further the ERG’s goal of professional development. Not to mention, coworking venues consist of employees from many industries and companies, and can be a great place to network in general.
There may even be spaces that cater to the group’s core demographic, for instance, all-female spaces or spaces with an emphasis on Black professionals.
Check out this guide to coworking.
Team members may not often interact with colleagues outside of their department. If these teammates feel too different from immediate peers, then they may not feel as if they belong inside the company. Employee resource groups offer team members the opportunity to connect with colleagues throughout the company, particularly with like minded individuals with shared experiences who can commiserate and offer support and advice. This sense of community can help diverse team members find ways to get closer to and collaborate more effectively with their immediate teams.
The existence of these groups shows that inclusion is important at work. Companies with ERGS also have better retention and recruitment, tend to be more innovative, and have healthier and happier work cultures. As employees increasingly call for more diversity and more equitable work environments, ERGs are becoming less of a standout and more of a standard. By following the basic employee resource group guidelines outlined in this article, you can more efficiently launch and run groups that serve and empower your unique and varied workforce.
For more tips for making a more equitable work environment, check out this list of books about inclusion and diversity.