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Employee resource groups: 4 best practices to make them effective

By Dina Smith

An employee resource group, or ERG, is a volunteer group led by employees and designed to foster an inclusive workplace. They typically focus on nurturing affinity groups, like employees with disabilities, BIPOC employees, veterans, women, and LGBTQ+ employees. ERGs can help create a welcoming environment for new employees while building loyalty across the entire workforce.

Why is this so important? Studies show the first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays with an organization for the long term or leaves before the year is up.

And those first few months can be particularly challenging for traditionally marginalized groups, like people with disabilities. Inaccessibility, bias, and stigma can all negatively affect an employee’s experience during the onboarding period. These groups also report higher burnout, lack of social connection, and lower rates of career progression.

So how can you create an effective ERG? Here are four best practices for employee resource groups.

1. A safe space

One of the functions of an ERG is to provide under-represented employees with an opportunity to discuss challenges they might be facing unique to their identity. For this to work, people need to feel safe to talk about sensitive topics without fear of judgment or conflict. 

The most effective ERGs set ground rules to help participants feel comfortable. For example, they might outline expectations on appropriate language, or request that information shared doesn’t leave the group.

By coming together in safe and intimate settings, employees, sponsors, advocates, and allies are often more comfortable speaking openly about their concerns. That can lead to better ideas for both short- and long-term solutions.

2. Good communication

Open lines of communication are another best practice for ERGs. Participation in an ERG tends to be optional. Regular, two-way communication with group organizers can help inspire both new and veteran employees to stay involved. 

For example, you can keep people engaged by consistently asking for feedback from ERG members. This helps to keep the ERG accountable to its key stakeholders, while making participants feel more personally invested in the group.

3. Executive sponsorship

Executive engagement in ERGs is crucial. An executive sponsor can often funnel the right support and resources toward ERG priorities. 

As employee-run groups, ERGs typically complement the company’s formal inclusion work. Executive sponsors can help ERG leaders align their objectives with the overall corporate strategy for building a more inclusive workplace.

4. Achievable goals

Ultimately, the success of an ERG is defined by its ability to improve the workplace experience for its members. Like any working group, an ERG should outline specific, achievable goals that can be accomplished within a defined time frame.

Setting, documenting, and communicating these goals fosters accountability within the group. It also provides an opportunity to drive accountability among organizational leadership.

Like any workplace initiative, ERGs can benefit from leadership direction and commitment. But the most successful groups are employee-driven.

As a peer-led resource, ERGs also offer a valuable opportunity for new employees — and all employees — to find support and community in the workplace. 

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom