Starting a D&I-Focused Employee Resource Group
Employee Resource Groups, often called ‘ERGs’ for short, provide employees with space, resources, support, and education to reach a goal.
Picture the most admired companies in the world, and chances are they have an ERG - or ten. Sometimes that goal is social and fun, such as an ERG for vegans in the office. More commonly, though, ERGs create space for employees of underrepresented identity groups, such as LGBTQ+ people, women, or people of colour.
For D&I-focused ERGs, follow these steps to craft your group, build out your business case, and get support to launch.
Identify a Champion Who Will Lead the Group
When looking for a leader for your ERG, keep in mind they:
Should be from outside HR (and if you have an HR person leading, have a co-lead from another business unit)
Should be a member of the community the ERG is built for
These points are explained further below.
Should Be from Outside HR
To have someone within the HR organization championing an ERG may send a signal that it’s a required thing. Or, perhaps worse, send a signal that no one cared enough to start the group so HR did it as a legally-required initiative.
This can seem unfair to someone who happens to work in HR but is passionate about the ERG cause. While unfortunate, this doesn’t mean the individual can’t be involved. On the contrary, having an ally in HR - or a co-lead who falls under the HR department - can help immensely when it comes to getting resources or putting issues to the executive team.
Should be a Member of the Community the ERG is Built For
Can you imagine a vegan running the carnivore’s club? The same goes for D&I-focused ERGs. The premise here is not actually about identity, but experiences. Through no fault of their own, a straight person, for example, typically does not have access to the experiences that LGBTQ+ people face.
There are exceptions to every rule, but when choosing a champion for a D&I-focused ERG it’s best to let someone from the community stand up to lead the initiative.
Identify the ERG’s Goal and Purpose
After you’ve socialized the idea and found a leader, analyze the different types of ERGs to see what kind you want for your organization. The leader should be in charge of researching the options and gathering feedback from the folks who expressed interest in the ERG in the first place.
The three main kinds of ERGs are:
The social ERG for connecting a group of people
The advocacy ERG for effecting change in an organization
The external partnerships ERG for connecting out in the community for brand building, community building, or talent pipeline building
The elements of identifying what kind of ERG to found are:
What the company needs (or what it lacks that the ERG would fill)
What the founding members want or need
What the leader feels is feasible and would be impactful for the company and membership
As the HR champion, it’s your job to support the ERG leader in their quest for gathering data to identify what type of ERG is needed and wanted. Help them build surveys as needed, talk to people with them, and help them identify their strengths and weaknesses as a leader in the context of this group.
Once you have this, draft your initial ERG goal and mission statement so you know why you exist and how you tie your ERG to the company’s mission statement and objectives..
Socialize the D&I ERG Idea to Gather Interest
All ERGs need to solve company problems or help the company move forward. Socialize the idea of an ERG with the group(s) of people you think would make up the ERGs founding members to see if you can solve a problem or move the company forward. Often, casual conversation is a great start with a survey follow up so you can collect data.
As you gather feedback, be open to the direction it takes you. You may learn that the majority of people want a social club to start even though you felt advocacy was more needed - go with social to start. Also be aware that not everyone will want to join the ERG, and that’s okay.
If you have significant interest, go forward but don’t make individuals who declined feel bad for not wanting to join initially. Let them join on their own terms if they choose. If no one shows interest in an ERG, it may not be the right time or solution for your company. In that case, ask for feedback from the folks who declined to understand what they want or why they feel an ERG isn’t helpful.
As a reminder, identity-topic groups are ok but identity-based membership is not. If you to create an ERG for women at the firm, for example, employees of all genders are legally allowed to participate and should be encouraged to join. In this case, the group’s focus becomes the group in question (e.g. women) but membership is open to anyone.
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Identify Budget and ‘Wizard of Oz’ Tricks
Initiatives often take money to get going. For example, an external partnerships ERG may need thousands of dollars for event sponsorships before it can do anything. On the flip side, a social ERG may only need a couple hundred dollars to run a social event. Write out the budget you need based on what type of ERG you plan to run.
The primary things you’ll need to budget for depend on what type of ERG you have:
Social ERG: gatherings and events (food and drinks)
Advocacy ERG: executive time and money for advocated initiatives (from bathroom signs to new health benefits)
External partnerships ERG: event sponsorships, swag, and other related expenses
‘Wizard of Oz’ Your ERG Budget
In the business world, the “Wizard of Oz” trick means looking for free or incredibly cheap ways to get things done.
For example, you may want to launch a social ERG with a catered party. The price could easily be $10,000+. The “Wizard of Oz” version would be to use your office space, decorate with things from a party supplies store or the dollar store, and head to a grocery store to get food. Now the budget will sit closer to a couple hundred, but the pictures and memories will feel grander than the details sound.
Event sponsorships can also be “Wizard of Oz’ed”, albeit in a smaller way. To start, know exactly what you want out of an event - branding, talent, marketing, or something else - and pick the lowest sponsorship level that gives you what you want. Event organizers may also be open to in-kind contributions if it helps them lower expenses. If that doesn’t work, consider if your connections can help them. For example, if you have a preferred caterer that gives you a great rate, offer that rate to the event (especially helpful for small or nonprofit events) in exchange for a discounted or free sponsorship.
Pitch for Executive Support and an Executive Champion
An executive champion is helpful when it comes to getting budget, resources, and time to work on ERG programming.
Pitch them as you would any other business initiative. You can use your own internal framework or leverage the “Vroom Vroom GO” framework to explain your reason for existence (your charter) and your community agreements.
Stay Flexible and Grow with Member Needs
Founding an ERG is hard work. Getting support is even harder. It can feel like you have to stick to your guns in order to make things work, but the opposite is true. Remain open to changes and evolution as the group matures. Employees or the organization could ask for more, or different things. The needs of members may change. Or the purpose of the group may start to feel overdone or too small for where you’re going.
If any of these issues arise, know that it’s natural and doesn’t mean your group no longer serves a purpose. Simply look back on these steps, repeating them in order - or out of order - as needed to identify where your group needs to go.
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