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Promoting equal opportunity: A guide to employee resource groups

Fostering an environment that is diverse and inclusive, and empowers team members to feel like they belong is hard work. Keeping employees engaged requires major investment and it’s a focus that is constant and ever-evolving. The value of such an investment is that when employees are given opportunities to express their identities and create agency for themselves, they will flourish.

I’m an advocate of using employee resource groups as a tool and opportunity for organizations to engage their employees in shaping the culture of where they work and to further employees’ commitment to the organization and its goals.

The following is a guide on employee resource groups (ERGS).

This guide covers:

  • What is an ERG? 
  • What are the benefits of an ERG?
  • Why are executive sponsors so important?
  • What does an ERG need to be successful?
  • What are some recommended ERG activities? 
  • What are some examples of common ERGs?
  • Who gets to join a specific ERG?

What is an ERG? 

An employee resource group is typically an employee-managed volunteer group that brings together people with a shared identity and a particular set of interests and goals. An ERG’s purpose is to align these diverse groups with executive sponsors and organizational goals. Employee resource groups create a bridge between the organization and its employees, and this alignment promotes awareness of and commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging. An example of a common ERG is a young professionals’ network with a focus on supporting employees in the early stages of their careers.

What are the benefits of an ERG?

At their core, ERGs foster inclusion by creating a strong sense of community among employees. By strengthening their voices and identities, ERGs offer employees leadership opportunities and a means to communicate what matters to them. As a result, these groups provide organizations insights into their employees’ needs—what do they prioritize, and what do they need to feel supported throughout their workday? Lastly, ERGs help strengthen a company’s recruitment efforts and employer brand by showing candidates how the organization invests in its employees.

Why are executive sponsors so important?

Executive sponsors help fund and develop, ensure visibility of and provide assistance to ERGs as they seek alignment with the broader organization. These executive sponsors are also positioned to remove any potential roadblocks team members may face as they seek to build a coalition of support outside their ERG.

What does an ERG need to be successful?

  • A mission statement and a charter
  • An executive sponsor
  • A budget
  • Defined membership criteria (expectations around meeting attendance, participating in events, etc.) 
  • Established yearly goals
  • An events calendar
  • Measures of success
  • A communications plan to outline how events and initiatives will be publicized (think of both employees and the broader talent community as being key stakeholders)

What are some recommended ERG activities? 

  • Monthly roundtable discussions
  • Yearly attendance at conferences and professional development events
  • Yearly cultural celebrations and other opportunities
  • Yearly speaker series, and lunch and learns developed across the organization
  • Yearly employee recruitment and retention events

What are some examples of common ERGs?

  • Asian professionals: focused on supporting employees who identify as being of Asian descent
  • Black professionals: focused on supporting employees who are part of the African diaspora
  • Jewish professionals: focused on supporting employees who identify with Judaism religiously and/or culturally
  • People with disabilities: focused on supporting employees who identify as having a visible and/or hidden disability
  • Pride: focused on supporting employees who are LGBTQ
  • Professional women: focused on supporting women employees at all levels 
  • Working parents: focused on supporting employees with children, from newborns to young adulthood
  • Young professionals: focused on supporting employees in the early stages of their professional careers

Who gets to join a specific ERG?

As mentioned earlier, ERGs bring together employees with shared identities. So for example, if your company launched a resource group for LGBTQ employees, it should be self-evident that all LGBTQ team members are welcome to join. However, what’s less obvious is whether employees outside this identity group can or should participate. In this case, we’re talking about allies and their role in an ERG.

In my experience, attendance to any one ERGs should be open to all employees. However, if you’re an ally seeking to participate in an ERG you aren’t immediately connected with, I recommend asking yourself the following questions before you join: 

  • How can I focus on listening to the experiences of others?
  • How can I educate myself and show initiative to continuous learning?
  • How can I be aware of my own implicit biases?
  • How can I help amplify and advocate for those around me?
  • How can I encourage new allies? 

All in all, there are many benefits to launching ERGs at your organization. They provide an authentic opportunity for employees to build connections with one another, be mentored and mentor others, increase professional and leadership development, and engage in self-advocacy. Employee resource groups also offer an opportunity for organizations to meaningfully engage with their employees. 

Further resources

To learn more about employee engagement, check out the following resources: