Employee Resource Groups - Should you join?
I am often asked for resources - books, websites, etc. - to help people be better allies. For that reason I put the “Resources” tab on the website. That lists books, websites, Ted Talks and people to follow on social media that I and others have found very instructive in this journey. One resource that exists at many larger companies are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
So what is an ERG? As defined by Catalyst, “Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives.” ERGs are generally aligned to a specific demographic group, for example: African-American, Women, LQBTQ+, Military, etc. The ERGs exist to provide support and help in personal or career development and to create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to the table. In my experience ERGs include allies also.
Many ERGs focus on education and teaching the broader corporate community about the issues their group faces in the corporate environment and beyond. However many ERGs I have joined are also very focused on community and building a welcoming environment. They host happy hours, book clubs, brown bag lunches and other events. These events might have an educational topic but they are really about relating and networking. They WANT to meet you and introduce themselves. Every ERG or ERG type of organization I have joined has been welcoming. They want to engage with he broader community and help tell their story. That is why they exist to begin with - to educate and build a community to help their members.
I remember being initially cautious about joining an ERG. I thought they were really only for members of group in question - only LGBTQ folks could belong to the LGBTQ ERG. I have never served in the military so didn’t feel like I could show up at a military ERG event. I remember embarrassing myself to a friend when they suggested I attend a breakfast coffee the African American ERG was hosting: “Um… but I’m white”. That prompted laughter over the phone. I showed up a little sheepish and was met with a pat on the back, a wave of a hand and an offer of a donut at the coffee they were hosting. Very welcoming.
I learned your personal demographics don’t matter. What matters is that you care about the same issues. That you want to help. That you care. So I joined every ERG. I found that very useful. I learned what people on my team were facing and how they felt. People can be surprisingly open in those settings. I learned about how the work from home policy was not necessarily fair for single parents or parents with a new baby. They needed more flexibility than the policy allowed. So I used the infamous manager’s judgement loop-hole found in most HR rulebooks and let people work from home a little more. I had several people come to me after and thank me. Some even indicated that without that flexibility they would have simply quit.
Joining ERGs also built my network - almost exponentially. Time is a commodity. It is one of the biggest commodities you have in the corporate world. You always hear how someone does not have time. Everyones schedules are packed - meetings, deadlines. So when you take time and give a moment to attend an ERG meeting people notice. And they appreciate it.
They also notice where people don’t spend their time. It shows where they prioritize things. This is especially true of senior leaders. Leaders concerned with building a culture of diversity and inclusion often think about strategies and big corporate efforts. These are wonderful. But I have seen that it is often the lowest hanging fruit that makes the quickest impact. Just have senior leaders be visible members of ERGs. When senior leaders get visibly involved people notice. It is a huge morale boost. When the CEO called into a book club teleconference held by the African American ERG people talked about it for months.
After I joined ERGs and attended events I noticed people from those events would stop and chat or make sure to say hi in the halls when we passed. It started mentoring relationships. Gave me opportunities to be an ally. If nothing else I made a few friends.
ERGs are wonderful ways to get involved and learn about the issues your teammates are facing.
I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
All the best, Dave