Our current climate, with a global pandemic alongside the growing Black Lives Matter movement, has made companies realize that the workplace isn’t just someplace you go to do your job each day. It is a place to form and grow both personal and professional relationships and allows like-minded individuals to connect in ways that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do.
Sure, employees were making connections prior to March 2020, but with work now being confined to the four walls of a kitchen or bedroom, employees need to take extra steps to make those connections outside of their team or direct report. Gone are the days when an employee could make a connection based on a photo on someone’s desk or a comment made in an all-hands meeting, or even based on colleagues that looked like them.
Underrepresented individuals need someone to connect with in order to feel like they are part of the larger workplace community. How can these employees continue to not only make connections, but foster them into personal and professional relationships?
The answer lies in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
ERGs are not a new concept, but the novelty and mission of ERGs have been lost for some companies as they navigate the current landscape of communicating and encouraging social justice practices on a virtual scale. Companies just aren’t leveraging ERGs in strategic ways.
ERGs were designed to connect employees who share similar values or have similar experiences. Some of the earliest ERGs focused on working mothers and bringing these employees together to discuss issues of work/life balance, raising awareness of flexible workplaces and more. Now, Black and Latinx ERGs are needed more than ever as they can be the linchpin to increase diversity, equity and inclusion across the workplace and shine a light on the underrepresented individuals at a company.
However, these groups can’t exist in a vacuum. Company leadership must embrace diversity from the bottom up to move the needle and make an impact. Underrepresented individuals need to have a space and opportunity, not just join a call with thousands of other employees to discuss one news article on diversity that an executive recommended they read. Black and Latinx ERGs can create new approaches, bring new voices and be involved in diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization.
The Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
Not only do ERGs create a sense of belonging, they can be extremely helpful tools for recruitment, for both awareness and talent acquisition.
Take Amazon, for example. Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN) recently held BEN Startup Week, a weeklong virtual conference that empowers and celebrates Black entrepreneurship. Attendees of this virtual conference were introduced to like-minded individuals who work at Amazon and have a glimpse into what it may be like to work at Amazon. On the flip side, Amazon now has a new potential talent pipeline that holds similar values to the members of BEN.
ERGs can also be used as market opportunities. If ERGs are thought of as a core to a business, companies can activate or incentivize ERGs in a way that can serve its customer base. For example, if a company wanted to expand into the Black female market, they could work with Black ERG leaders and incentivize them to brainstorm solutions or be a thought partner to the products and services that they will bring to market.
Finally, as employees come together within a group setting, this also provides a natural path for career advancement and allows employees to hone leadership skills. ERG leaders have the opportunity to create opportunities for themselves and other employees, as they increase the visibility of their ERG’s purpose and for their career overall.
How to Lay the Groundwork for an Employee Resource Group
So an employee is at a company with little to no diversity efforts nor no official ERGs, what’s the first step?
Executive sponsorship is one of the easiest and most effective ways to start laying the groundwork for an official ERG, or even an unofficial, unified group of people. This type of sponsorship can allow new, two-way communication between company leadership and underrepresented groups, providing a better pulse and understanding of how the company is operating.
Alongside executive sponsorship is the recruitment of fellow employees to join the group. This may be the natural next step when a group is already connected via a Slack channel, Facebook group or email chain, or employees may need to seek out others that may want to join them. Partnering with human resources can help to identify and connect with others who may have similar interests and values.
Larger organizations may have specific steps and guidelines to create an ERG, but no matter the size of the organization, don’t be afraid to take that first step. ERGs can be used for recruitment, retention, marketing, strategic guidance, and more. Use this knowledge to your advantage to help take the necessary steps and raise awareness to show why an ERG can help benefit underrepresented individuals and the organization as a whole.
The Future of Employee Resource Groups
Whether we continue to work at home or in an office, ERGs aren’t going anywhere. They have been used in the past to raise awareness for moments in time, from Black History Month to Hispanic Heritage Month, and will only continue to evolve as companies embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Being involved with ERGs will allow underrepresented talent to have a voice, and these types of groups are poised to disrupt how companies interact and engage with their employee base.
A global pandemic didn’t stop people from coming together to enact change across the globe and shouldn’t stop employees from coming together to achieve similar goals.