What Is An Employee Resource Group?
An employee resource group (ERG) is a company group comprising employees with shared characteristics, interests, or backgrounds. They gather to support one another and create a positive work environment where all employees can bring their whole selves to work without fear of isolation or discrimination.
The first ERG was created at Xerox when black employees gathered to discuss racial tensions in the workplace following race riots in Rochester, New York, in 1964. By 1970, Xerox had officially formed the National Black Employees Caucus to encourage black workers to share their experiences and advocate for an inclusive company culture. A decade later, Xerox also created the Black Women's Leadership Caucus.
Fast forward to the modern workplace, and voluntary, employee-led groups passionately support underrepresented workers to achieve their personal and professional goals. ERGs provide a forum for employees to voice discrimination concerns, spread awareness of shared experiences, and build connections with like-minded individuals.
Common Types Of Employee Resource Groups
A company may offer multiple ERGs to represent different aspects of diversity in the workplace. Logically, this depends on the size and makeup of the workforce. Common ERGs may be based on the following:
- Gender identity
- Culture, race, and ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Political affiliation
- Religious affiliation
- People with disabilities
- Mental health awareness
- Socioeconomic backgrounds
- Shared interests
- Parental or caregiver status
Employees can belong to several groups. For example, a Black woman who is a practicing Christian might join three separate ERGs related to her race, gender, and religion.
Why Are Employee Resource Groups Important?
ERGs are often misunderstood as being social clubs where participants "wine and whine." But research shows that these groups resonate with employees and drive positive organizational change. Some of the top benefits of ERGs include:
1. Building Community
ERGs create a psychologically safe space for members to build peer-to-peer relationships and increase their sense of belonging in the workplace. They can bond with team members, learn about the company culture, and know where to turn if they have a problem.
McKinsey's research found that 66% of employees rated their ERG as effective in building community within the organization. This was the top benefit of belonging to an employee resource group.
2. Improving The Physical Work Environment
ERGs flag when workplace adjustments are required to support employees. This process can involve surveying group members to understand their issues before proposing solutions to company leadership, such as:
- Gender-neutral bathrooms
- Halal canteen meals
- Accessible office layouts
- Comfortable uniforms for menopausal employees
3. Enhancing DEI Strategies
ERGs shouldn't replace but can supplement the core and strategic elements of your DEI initiatives. For example, Dynata research highlights that 28% of employees consider ERGs the most important element of a DEI program in fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.
ERGs can be mobilized to challenge the status quo when needed. For example, they can:
- Ensure company policies promote fair working practices such as pay equity and support for working parents
- Promote cultural awareness through diversity celebrations
- Create initiatives to drive education around DEI topics
“Having colleagues who understand, advocate, and are allies of acceptance in neurodiversity is a blessing. I am definitely *that SEN parent* who fights every poor decision, every denied source of support or funding, every legal challenge on behalf of my SEN family, and it’s exhausting without a posse. I have experienced firsthand the same denial of support, the stares, the judgment, and the hurtful comments of those who lack understanding. This is exactly why my amazing colleague and I have joined forces in forming the first Neurodiversity Support Employee Resource Group at Siteminder.”
4. Providing Career Progression Opportunities
Companies with ERGs can open the doors to multiple professional development opportunities for group members. McKinsey highlights that 40% of employees rate their ERG as effective in advancing their careers.
Internal networking opportunities with peers and leaders enable employees to gain exposure, find mentors, and upskill into new roles. ERGs may also be treated as a talent pool for succession planning. Executive teams get to know group members and pinpoint potential future leaders before equipping them with the skills needed for career advancement.
5. Signposting Resources And Support
Access to trusted peers can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a confidential avenue for members to discuss sensitive topics. In addition, ERG leaders point members to valuable online resources such as support services, helplines, or counseling and suggest ways to navigate workplace challenges.
Employees in ERGs can also ask group leaders for support in filing HR complaints against unfair practices—collecting evidence, documenting discrimination, and following complaint procedures.
11 Employee Resource Groups Best Practices
Whether you're setting up a brand-new ERG or need advice on making the most of a mature group, follow these best practices for employee resource groups.
1. Establish An Inclusive Framework
A north-star mentality from the get-go will guide your ERG in the right direction and ensure you're offering an inclusive, welcoming space for all who want to be involved. Steps include:
- Defining a mission statement and the core values of the group.
- Establishing clear guidelines and a code of ethics for membership and participation.
- Ensuring all ERG programs, events, and initiatives are inclusive and accessible.
- Creating channels for remote participation to accommodate varying schedules and time zones.
Your framework must be flexible to meet the evolving needs of your ERG and its members, allowing for changes as membership grows or shrinks.
2. Define Key Roles And Responsibilities
Plan and assign key roles to ensure your ERG runs smoothly. Ideally, these will include:
- Spokesperson: To represent the group to the wider business and be the face of the ERG.
- Membership officer: To keep a running list of members and ensure all communications from ERGs are sent out on time.
- Scribe: To maintain a record of all meetings, decisions, and minutes.
- Treasurer: To manage ERG finances and budget, including securing funding from organization stakeholders or executive sponsorship.
3. Involve Your ERG Members
ERGs are built by the people, for the people. So, listen to what members want rather than imposing a company agenda on the group. For example, ERG members may be motivated by career development opportunities or the desire to break down barriers, while others may struggle to articulate their goals.
The best way to gauge what ERG members are looking for? Set up meetings with current and new members, or run anonymous surveys to understand their needs accurately.
Alecia Page is the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Leader at the online collaboration software platform, Mural, overseeing a network of employee resource groups across 22 countries. She believes in the power of tailoring ERGs to the unique needs of their participants:
“All ERGs are not alike—and that's a good thing. In the same way that DEIB is about creating environments where everyone can thrive and share a safe experience, each ERG should be structured to reflect the needs, desires, and interests of the members in the group—and the best way to do that is to ask!
Across Mural's ERGs, we have some teams that function as a social network and support group, some as a business resource consultation group, and some that fall somewhere in between. The key is to understand the "state of the experience" for each group.”
Side note: Employee resource groups may also be referred to as the following, although the focus and formality for each can vary:
- Employee interest groups
- Affinity groups
- Business resource groups
- Business resource networks
- Diversity groups
4. Find A Shared Experience Among ERG Members
Whether seeking new members or encouraging existing participants to take a more active role in the ERG's direction, shared experiences encourage audience engagement. Ask questions like:
- “Have you experienced prejudice in the workplace?”
- “Do you feel you’ve been passed over because of your gender or ethnicity?”
- “Do you feel your team is lacking diversity?”
The aim isn't to provoke but to establish a sense of camaraderie and encourage empathetic conversations about the intersection of gender and race in the workplace. These shared experiences allow members to bond and inspire them to work together to pursue common goals.
5. Empower ERGs To Impact Company Culture
The impact of an ERG goes beyond its members—the goal is to drive positive change throughout the organization. Think about empowering your ERG by providing resources and support for their initiatives. That could take the form of:
- Financial support
- Access to key stakeholders and decision-makers
- An actionable plan to present to senior leadership
Alecia Page recommends focusing on “small but significant wins that are part of the desired end state. Since ERGs include members from across the organization, identifying stakeholders and providing background on processes is an important part of enabling success.
Often, DEIB leaders are situated in HR or People teams and take for granted that not all employees will know how to draft an operating procedure, request an invoice from Finance, or advocate for a new product feature. Our role in empowering ERGs is to create a clear path for leaders to navigate and serve as an amplifier along the way.”
6. Achieve Executive Buy-In
Employees don't need permission to set up ERGs. But gaining executive buy-in opens communication channels between ERGs and leadership, making obtaining support, funding, and endorsement easier.
We spoke to Aisha Suleiman, an award-winning diversity and inclusion leader, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. Her company, The Inclusive Culture, helps organizations build a sense of community by empowering employee resource groups and encouraging allyship in the workplace. She told us,
“Executive leaders can support ERGs by being sponsors for the group. They can provide guidance, mentorship, and resources to help the ERG achieve its goals and champion the ERG to other senior leaders.
ERG leaders often have great ideas and a lot of passion, but they also have their day job to do. They become burnt out trying to juggle their ERG tasks, responsibilities, and regular jobs. Leaders, HR, and DEI teams must work together to ensure ERGs get the proper support—investing in training and supporting ERG leaders is essential to creating successful ERGs that build community in the workplace.”
To inspire leaders to get involved, prepare and share the value proposition of your ERG and be crystal-clear about how it will drive organizational change.
7. Share Success Metrics
Meaningful data allows you to assess the impact of ERGs and course-correct as needed. Establishing clear and measurable goals will enable you to track progress, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate the value of your ERGs to the broader organization. Results may be slow initially, but once the snowball starts rolling, you'll have impressive metrics to present to stakeholders. Alecia Page agrees:
“As the successes roll in, amplify, amplify, amplify! Openly discuss improved employee engagement survey results, increasing participation levels, performance and team improvements, and other success metrics that are often correlated with creating strong, supported ERGs. Provide contrasting information about organizations that may be doing more or less with and for their ERGs to solidify the value and importance of the work.”
Tools like Nectar can help you amplify the success of your ERGs through our peer-to-peer recognition software. For example, as employees in your resource groups celebrate new wins, you can share that joy with the company by giving them a staff shoutout. Also, as the ERG reaches a milestone, you can shout out group leaders, so the entire company knows about their excellent work.
8. Benchmark Your ERG
By understanding how other companies invest in their ERGs, you can make better decisions about improving your own. You'll develop a roadmap for the future of your ERG and inform conversations with leadership.
Andrea Paola Oputa is a Senior DEI Program Specialist and ERG Consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. She shared her insights with us about setting up and benchmarking ERGs.
“To establish ERGs, assess employee pulse survey data or other data sources on employee belonging to develop a custom change-management plan. Once established, ERGs should align annual business plans to a 4C framework—Career, Culture, Community, and Commerce—if relevant.”
As mentioned, Dr. Robert Rodriguez’s 4C framework is a standard benchmarking solution that provides perspective on ERG effectiveness by capturing scores in these four areas and comparing them to a database of ERG scores at 150+ corporations.
9. Build Awareness Of ERGs
Your ERGs will only be successful and well-attended if people know they exist and feel comfortable contributing to them. Research suggests that the larger your ERG, the more support you’ll receive, with groups of 100+ members being 2x as likely to serve as a strategic resource for the organization.
Communicate internally to build awareness and ensure all employees know how to join and participate without feeling intimidated.
Caro Griffin is the General Manager of Tech Ladies, the largest community of women in tech. She shared her knowledge of interviewing dozens of ERG leaders with us and, specifically, why she recommends considering the entire employee lifecycle when spreading awareness of ERGs.
“Adding an overview to your careers site and orientation materials is a great way to put it on a new hire's radar, for example. Treat it like a marketing exercise. Where does your target audience (in this case, your employees) gather? For a lot of teams, it's a combination of email, Slack, and meetings, so you should look for opportunities to create a routine of sharing the ERG in these spaces. It can be as simple as letting the group's leaders share highlights in every all-team meeting or asking executive sponsors to highlight great posts in the ERG's group chat by cross-posting them in the general team chat once a month.”
10. Avoid ERG Exclusivity
The purpose of ERGs is to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace. But there's always a risk they encourage exclusivity instead, as each group attracts people with a common employee identity. So it's essential to strike the right balance between offering a supportive space where members adhere to the group's core purpose without becoming further siloed from their colleagues.
To avoid this, Matthew Ramirez, CEO of Rephrasely, recommends that "people from different departments are represented on your ERG or else you risk creating an echo chamber effect and furthering a divide between people from different parts of your organization."
What about if an employee doesn't meet the membership eligibility? Are they not welcome? In this scenario, ERGs invite "allies" to join them. These employees don't meet the typical membership criteria but are passionate advocates of the group's mission and goals.
Example: An empathetic white male leader named Rob attends a monthly working moms' ERG to provide advice and support. He uses his privilege to represent the group in broader leadership conversations and advocate for changes such as flexible working hours and a better parental leave policy.
11. Obtain Executive Sponsorship
ERGs often start without a dedicated budget. Volunteers give up their time to lead and organize events, seminars, and workshops.
But as your ERG matures, executive financial support will be integral to its success. A Great Place to Work study reveals 51% of ERGs have an annual budget of $5,000 or less. This could extend up to $75,000 to $100,000 annually for a successful group at a large corporation.
Some companies choose to distribute equal funding to all ERGs to ensure equity. In contrast, others will evaluate the budget depending on the ERG's specific contribution towards business goals such as employee engagement, retention, talent development, and diversity training. The funding can go towards lunch or dinner meetings, expenses for national conferences, leadership training, and speakers at group events.
But executive sponsorship isn't just about budget. Executives may also spread the word about ERGs and their activities in the workplace and among other business stakeholders.
5 Examples Of Employee Resource Groups
90% of Fortune 500 companies use ERGs to engage their people, increase diversity, and improve inclusion efforts. Here are five examples of companies making a difference.
Blacsana is a thriving employee resource group that connects and empowers Black employees at Asana. It began as a Slack group in 2021 during a swelling of support for the Black Lives Matter movement before transforming into a company-sponsored ERG.
The group celebrates all the ways Black culture lifts the spirits, minds, and souls of their collective community. This year's theme is "Lifted: the Black Experience Through Culture," which aims to offer encouragement throughout the continuing challenges of racial injustice, war, and economic instability.
The group is also focused on:
- Building a sustainable mentorship program.
- Elevating Asana's career development framework.
- Supporting its global and growing Blacsana community.
- Partnering with other ERGs throughout the tech industry.
- Increasing productivity through silent coworking sessions.
- Hosting celebrations and speaker events.
2. Charles Schwab
Charles Schwab offers ten effective employee resource groups, with 19,000 collective members and 11,000 belonging to one or more (representing a 49% increase since 2020.)
- APINS: Asian Professionals Inclusion Network at Schwab
- BPACS: Black Professionals at Charles Schwab
- CSAN: Charles Schwab Abilities Network
- GLOBE: International Professionals at Schwab
- MVN: Military Veterans Network
- NEXT: Empowering Schwab's Next Generation
- PRIDE: LGBTQ+ Network at Schwab
- SOL: Schwab Organization of Latinxs
- SPAN: Schwab Parents Network
- WINS: Women's Interactive Network at Schwab
Among the many benefits of belonging to one of these groups, members can access the firm-wide ERG Mentorship program, designed to accelerate professional growth and employee engagement of underrepresented employees.
Experian offers 16 ERGs and clubs as a cornerstone of company culture, allowing employees to embrace common identities and celebrate affiliations and interests with their colleagues. Experian's ERGs include:
- Asian American ERG: Committed to cultural education and empowerment of Asian American employees.
- ASPIRE: A supportive community based on mental health awareness and advocates for caregivers and people with disabilities.
- Juntos: A community for Hispanic-Latino employees.
- Karibu: An inclusive group for African American and Black employees.
- Military, Veterans, and Patriots: This group showcases Experian's commitment to hiring veterans.
- Namaste: Celebrates employees from the Indian subcontinent by raising awareness of their cultures, family traditions, and community events.
- Pride Network: Aims to create a better future for LGBTQ+ employees and allies by focusing on empowerment and inclusion.
- Women in Experian: Seeks to elevate every woman at Experian by supporting them throughout their careers.
"As we think about being connected, at the core of that are our people being able to express themselves, show themselves, and connect with themselves for exactly who they are and where they are in their life's journey.
Experian's employee resource groups allow our colleagues to connect to an affinity that matters to them. And you don't have to be a member of that affinity; you simply have to be an interested party that wants to learn and grow along the way. Our resource groups create that sense of belonging and ensure that each of our teammates feels included in our overall Experian journey.”
The Environmental Sustainability Network at Petrofac meets to discuss the small steps Petrofac employees can take to support decarbonization and preserve energy. Petrofac is spread across 60 countries, and this particular ERG welcomes members from the Algerian desert, Iraq, the UAE, Thailand, and the UK, among others.
Just a year ago, the group was little more than an exchange of ideas between colleagues, but the growing community is now 170-strong. Meatless Mondays, office parking lot EV chargers, reusable coffee cups, and recycling points are some of this employee-led group’s achievements.
But sustainability is only one ERG focus at Petrofac. The company also boasts a commitment to being menopause-friendly and aims to reach a 30% representation for women in executive leadership roles by 2025 (brought forward from 2030 due to progress.)
In 2020, Zapier created a process to set up its first three employee resource groups, starting with Prizm (LGBTQIA+), Women of Zapier, and BIPOC of Zapier.
The following year, they shipped the company's first-ever ERG Playbook, which outlined an additional ERG budget of $10,000 per ERG per year and $2,000 in employee development funding for each ERG leader.
Zapier has also invested in sponsorship training to improve minority workers' access to informal relationships that could provide career opportunities.
How To Encourage ERG Membership With Nectar
As you can see, joining an ERG has a plethora of benefits for employees and employers alike. Before we wrap up, let's discuss how you can use Nectar's challenges feature to connect employees to your resource groups.
Nectar's challenges feature helps organizations drive impact. Whether you want to drive awareness or encourage employees to do something they wouldn't normally do, our challenges feature is excellent.
Joining An ERG
If you want more employees to join an ERG, you could create a challenge to join an ERG and assign a small number of points to that challenge.
Company leaders can create a general ERG challenge (or create specific challenges for each ERG if you want each ERG to have its own Nectar budget.)
To make this process smoother, you can:
- Link a membership form survey to the challenge.
- Ask for a screenshot to prove that the employee joined an ERG.
- Add ERG leaders to approve challenges related to their membership (if you separate them.)
Participating In An ERG
Once you have more members, you can host specific ERG-related challenges throughout the month with Nectar.
Many ERGs are in charge of specific events, and you can easily create challenges that encourage participation. For example, if you host a prominent Women's History Month event each year, you can add a challenge to attend that event. Furthermore, you can link to a quiz on the event or have employees write something they learned when claiming the points. Adding this step will encourage employees to go beyond just showing up and help them participate in the activity.
Support Your Employees And Spark Change
ERGs are a powerful way to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging throughout your organization. They encourage empathy and connection within the workplace while creating a sense of community that will start your company on the path toward an equitable future.
Learn more about recognizing and rewarding your employees for their unique contributions to your workplace by arranging a Nectar demo today.