The first employee resource group, or ERG, was created in 1964 by the then-CEO of Xerox, Joseph Wilson, who found that although the company was hiring Black employees—an extremely progressive move at the time—they still faced discrimination when they got there. Wilson knew that something had to be done to address this—particularly in the wake of the growing unrest and fight for equality going on—so in response to the needs of his Black workers, he created the National Black Employees Caucus, where workers could get together and talk about their challenges and needs at the company.
After creating the group, changes were made in the company that improved the work experience of Black employees. In fact, the ERG experience was so positive that a decade later, Xerox launched the Black Women’s Leadership Caucus to recreate this success.
The Benefits of Employee Resource Groups
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of companies have ERGs that meet the needs of numerous worker demographics—from racial groups historically left out to women to veterans to people with disabilities to the LGBTQ community. And it’s no wonder: Like Xerox, when employers form employee resource groups in their organizations, they reap many benefits—not the least of which is that workers feel more engaged, which in turn increases their productivity and loyalty. In addition, ERGs help to increase innovation, improve customer relations, and amplify the voices of underserved groups so they feel included in the company culture.
5 Steps to Starting an Employee Resource Group
In order to benefit from having an employee resource group, organizations must put them together with care. The following are five steps to help you successfully start an ERG in your company.
1. Outline the ERGs mission and goals
First and foremost, it’s important to outline what an employee resource group is being formed to address. Does your organization want to promote more employees from underrepresented groups into managerial positions, and therefore the group is necessary for mentoring and networking? Is there a specific group in the company that has a low retention rate? Are you trying to attract a specific demographic to work for your organization? No matter what the goals are, it’s important to specify who this group is for and what challenges the group should address. Also, be sure that all goals for the ERG align with your company’s mission and purpose.
2. Get support from company leadership
Since an ERG is designed to help make important changes that will create an inclusive environment for underserved employees, getting your company’s leadership to buy into the ERG is important. If possible, try to find an executive sponsor who can participate in the group and take the concerns of the ERG to the rest of the executive team. This way, the ERG and management can work hand-in-hand to make important organizational changes.
3. Put together an ERG team
After creating goals for your ERG and getting the stamp of approval from management, it’s time to put together a leadership team for the group that’s going to ensure goals are met, activities are planned, and members are recruited. It’s important to get people into these roles who are already passionate about the issues the ERG is intended to address and have a willingness to participate above and beyond regular meetings.
4. Promote the ERG to attract members
Now that you have laid the foundation for your ERG, it’s time to recruit employees to participate. This can be done by including information about the group in the company newsletter or intranet posts. Also, ERG leaders can approach possible members directly to garner their interest.
5. Measure success
Just as any other initiative your company adopts, you want to monitor what’s going on in your ERG and measure its success. Metrics you can look at include how many new members are brought into the group each year, to what extent the ERG is meeting the goals set forth in the beginning, and the frequency the group puts out communications, like newsletters, to keep the entire organization abreast of its activities.
ERGs are a great way to create a sense of belonging among members of unrepresented groups so that they feel the environment is inclusive. By following these steps, your organization can create a strong ERG that is a positive experience for group members, and a force for change in the organization that helps to attract and retain workers.
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