How-To: Start Your Own Employee Resource Group
Corporate Social Responsibility professionals spend a lot of time wondering how to engage their employees. There are many ways you can foster engagement, including new programs or planning a volunteer event. One of the most powerful ways to engage employees is to allow them to self-identify through an Employee Resource Group (ERGs). These groups are a safe space to recount shared experiences, to learn together, and to advance professional development in a more personalized way.
There’s a lot to remember as you work with employees to create ERGs and we’ve outlined it all in detail below. These details are great for starting new ERGs, but can also be applied to existing ERGs as a refresher when transitioning leadership. Be sure to complete the form and receive our worksheet, which is a great tool to ensure your new ERG hasn’t forgotten a single thing!
What is an Employee Resource Group?
Employee Resource Groups are groups of employees with shared interests who come together to support each other and learn from one another. ERGs are often a place where professional and personal development, support, information sharing, community outreach, networking, recruiting and shared experiences are found. These groups are a safe space for those who self-identify to find support, but they are also a place where allies of that group can show and find support as well.
Keep in mind that an ERG’s primary role is to add value to the individual, but can also serve to add value to an organization. ERGs support a company’s vision, mission, values, and strategy. They help companies build strong links to the local community, support professional development that strengthens employee skills, and aid in onboarding, recruitment, and retention of employees as well.
How-To: Start an ERG
Starting an ERG is like starting any business or organization. These groups are meant to be more than just a group of friends who go to lunch and chat about shared experiences. They’re meant to be a source of safety, learning, and inclusion. How can you be sure to cover all the bases?
Check in with HR. HR will likely be able to tell you if a similar ERG exists, and they will be able to guide you as this process unfolds. HR can also approve the activation of a new ERG.
Identify the best leader. If you’re aiming to start an ERG about diversity, it might be germane to identify a group leader who self-identifies as a member of a minority population. If you’re founding a women’s ERG, it would be wise for the leader of this group to be someone who self-identifies as a female. A strong leader should be credible, professional, and passionate. They should have an awareness of diversity and inclusion competencies and are willing to complete training to enhance these abilities as they lead their new ERG.
Create a leadership committee. There is strength in numbers and a successful ERG cannot rest on the shoulders of one person. Identify a group of founding officers, subcommittees, and any other leadership needed to support the group.
Identify an Executive Sponsor. The Executive Sponsor serves as a champion of the ERG and can help connect the ERG to upper management. In this way, they stay aware of the business goals of the organization and how the ERG supports those goals. Sponsors can also provide guidance on the appropriate requests for information and who that information comes from. Some organizations encourage executive sponsors who are NOT members of the specific group to encourage the idea that ERG’s are open to all and that they do not discriminate.
Have a mission. Having a well-defined mission shapes the future of the ERG. Does your mission include different aspects such as: creating community, having a safe space, advancing awareness for your group, creating professional development opportunities for the members of your ERG?
Create Goals. Having SMART goals surrounding your new ERG will help strengthen the company’s support of your group. These goals might be about the number of members, how engaged these members are, participation in a mentoring program, or the culmination of a specific, annual project. Regardless of the goals, understand how success will look for your specific ERG before starting the process.
Create a charter. A charter is simply a document that takes all the information you’ve created, puts it in one place, and is a resource that guides the group moving forward. Charters often consist of: The ERG name, Mission, Membership eligibility, Structure, and Operations. It is a shared document that future ERG leaders and all members can refer to, in this way they can ensure the ERG is staying true to its original target and is successful.
Messaging. Internal messaging is the key to a successful ERG launch. Be sure to include details about the ERG, its mission, goals, and an invitation to the inaugural meeting. Remember that ERGs might have a target audience in mind, but they are open to everyone. Be sure to use inclusive language in your messaging.
Host your inaugural meeting. At this meeting, it is important to reiterate the mission, goals, and objectives of the new ERG. It is also important to gain buy-in from your target audience. Without their buy-in, the group wouldn’t exist! Be sure to talk about details like expected time commitment, whether goals might change after feedback from the group, and any ideas the broader group has that support the goals of the ERG & the organization.
Membership. Because ERG’s are typically open, by company policy, to any employee of your company, it can be difficult to know who has opted in. Let the company know how to become an “official” member of your new ERG. A great way to do this is to create a group in your CSR software. Members can sign up for that group in order to receive updates.
A few things to keep in mind once your ERG has been established.
Partnership. Many times, your company will have more than one ERG. Think of how your new group can work together with other groups to further support the goals of the organization and reduce over-programming and impact on your employees’ time.
Policies. Be sure to look at your company’s policies as they relate to ERGs. Many will have guidelines on internal communications, when the groups can meet (typically outside of business hours and at lunch), and how often groups are able to meet.
Education. It is important that leaders of ERGs seek out diversity and inclusion training to ensure that they are equipped to lead these groups. However, there is another component of education, educating the company about your ERG and how your ERG is actively supporting the goals of the organization. Continue to seek out ways to teach employees about your group’s efforts and mission.
CSR Software. Utilize your company’s internal CSR software when managing your new ERG. Our top tips for finding support from CSR software with new ERGs are:
- Create a Group and ask your ERG members to join
- Create events through the software and track attendance at ERG meetings