Unlocking the value of Employee Resource Groups


Barry Byrne - Director, HR Recruitment

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Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have come a long way since 1970, when the first official corporate ERG was established by Joseph Wilson, former CEO of Xerox, in response to racial riots in New York. Today, Google has over 35000 employees actively engaged across 16 internal ERGs capturing an increasingly diverse range of communities including an ‘Inter Belief Network’ and ‘Disability Alliance’.

The good news is you do not have to be a tech giant or FTSE 100 to establish and unlock the value of an Employee Resource Group. Whether your business is in start-up phase or rapidly growing, a vibrant eco-system of ERGs can play a critical role in building an inclusive organisational culture, which can in turn align and connect to your customer.

One of the primary objectives of organisational networks, including LGBTQ, BAME and Women’s Networks, is to promote and embed an inclusive culture; however, ERGs also play a fundamental role in improving business performance and contributing to healthier human capital outcomes. We spoke to a range of Diversity & Inclusion leaders and examined some of the areas where ERG activity had played a significant role in contributing to wider business challenges.

Diversity in recruitment
Through a diverse range of platforms, including networking events, graduate and experienced hire recruitment fairs, resource groups can drive meaningful engagement with external talent by offering deep insight into organisational culture, including culture fit and career development opportunities.

Nurturing future leaders
Research has pointed strongly to ERGs having a positive impact on member’s career development trajectories. It indicates that amongst male black employees, group membership significantly increased their optimism in relation to career progression due to greater access to mentors. Women members perceived opportunities for mentoring and skill development to be a benefit of membership, positioning them to build out their future leadership capability.    

Increased retention
High attrition rates can be attributed to a multitude of internal and external factors. But a strong sense of belonging with healthy social connections in an organisation can be critical for improved employee retention. ERGs can offer this platform as well as access to more strategic decision making across the business.

Market outreach
ERGs are increasingly engaged at the heart of an organisation’s business plan and, in more product-oriented consumer-based businesses, provide valuable cultural insight into the organisation’s customer and purchasing behaviour. In many organisation’s, ERGs can operate at a highly strategic level towards the company business plan.  

Inge Woudstra, CEO and co-founder of The Big Fish Academy, a major training provider for Diversity and Inclusion practitioners, comments: “For ERGs to be effective, it is important to clearly demarcate their objectives and responsibilities. They work well as a sounding board and to raise awareness. However, all too often they end up taking on tasks of line management, HR or L&D just without the appropriate remit and resources. When that happens, their hard work has little impact.

When ERGs are well set up, they can indeed play a key role. Recently, ERGs have played a vital role in the response of organisations to Covid-19. They have engaged with their members to check in on the practical and emotional impact of measures and ensured that support for a diverse range of needs was offered. In addition, they have been able to verify if communication around those measures was clear and accessible to all.”

“Inge’s co-founder, Rina Goldenberg Lynch agrees and adds: “It is vital for organisations to recognise and acknowledge the ‘invisible labour’ that ERGs provide for the benefit of organisations and to reward those involved.”

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