Many organizations have employee resource groups (ERGs) that enable employees to build community, offer and receive mentorship, plan social events, and promote inclusivity. Generally, ERGs bring employees with shared identities, lifestyles, and values together—and they don't only contribute to fostering belonging, but also to furthering organizational mission and strategy. And particularly in difficult times, when many employees may be feeling disconnected from their teams and facing similar challenges, ERGs can provide valuable insight and solutions.
This article outlines the benefits of ERGs and concrete steps you can take to get involved if you have one at your organization—or even start one yourself.
Why start or join an ERG?
The benefits of joining or starting an employee resource group are myriad; here are a few reasons to consider getting involved:
- ERGs increase employee engagement. ERG membership will increase the likelihood that you’ll have opportunities to connect with others who share similar backgrounds and interests. Having a strong sense of community fosters belonging, which in turn, promotes engagement. In short, your work will improve if you feel like you’re a part of the bigger picture. Inclusion matters.
- ERGs foster creativity and connection. As a member of an ERG you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to discussions and projects that fall outside of your typical job responsibilities. From planning events for a heritage month to advocating for a company wellness day, there’s potential to pursue meaningful work while developing new skills and learning to work with colleagues from other departments.
- ERGs enhance confidence and skill sets. Your ERG may allow you to contribute in ways your current role or level does not. As you join, think about the skills and experience you’d like to add to your resume. For example, this could be your chance to learn to manage a budget, gain leadership experience, coordinate a large-scale event, or design promotional materials.
ERGs benefit your organization
It’s not all about you; your participation also benefits your team and organization.
- ERGs provide an opportunity to shift organization climate and policy. Ongoing dialogue with others in your ERG will undoubtedly reveal shared opinions about organizational shortcomings or challenges and remedies therefore. Your ERG can craft proposals and invite leadership to consider your vision and suggestions.
- ERGs increase employee engagement. Your organization benefits as much as you do, if not more. Your engagement makes employee retention efforts easier and also makes the organization a more desirable place for future employees to work.
- ERGs give your organization bragging rights. When your organization can demonstrate internal work it is doing to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, people in the community will take note.
Gather support and make your case
If your organization doesn’t have any ERGs, create your own. Or, if none of the existing groups align with your identity or interests, propose to start a new ERG. Here are some concrete steps you can take to get started:
- Assess the climate and organizational needs. What’s it like to work at your organization? What do you wish senior leadership knew? Are there people who share identities who might benefit from having an affinity space? What DEI initiatives exist and are they genuine? Reflect on this before you start conversations with and gauge interest from colleagues you trust.
- Narrow your aim. No need to be overly ambitious when you’re just getting started, but you’ll want an idea of what the group is going to provide or work toward. This will help you attract buy-in and make your purpose clear.
- Get others onboard. While you’ll want to start small, the truth is that this could quickly become a lot of (worthwhile!) work. See who else is committed to furthering the cause and reach out to HR to see what support your organization is willing to offer. Include your manager in the conversation if you think they’ll be supportive.
- Put something on the calendar. Promote your first meeting and invite others. Make sure your materials show who this group is for, why it exists and what you plan to accomplish. Good luck!
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Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.