Employee resource groups (ERGs) are essential to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace. Today, many organizations offer women’s and other ERGs to support and engage employees, as well as retain talent and help employees develop in their careers.
What is an ERG?
Originally started in the 1960s as networking and social groups for women and people of color, employee resource groups, also known as affinity groups, business resource groups, and other titles, are groups designed as means of fostering talent, retention, engagement, and diversity in an organization. The goals of an ERG often align with specific company missions and often have broader, community-related objectives as well.
How to start a women’s ERG.
Establishing an ERG takes effort and support from leaders of your organization. Here’s how to get started.
1. Do your research.
Why should your ERG exist? Research your company’s history and policies and look at similar organizations and their ERGs to identify the problem you will be solving with your group. If there are other ERGs in your organization, consider what they’re doing and why yours is essential, too. Is there a noticeable lack of female leadership at your organization? Have other women voiced complaints about the way the organization is run? Identify the need, and then gather evidence as to how a women’s ERG will meet it.
It's important to have plenty of information so that you can offer data and facts when garnering support, gaining funding, seeking out leadership and sponsorship, and recruiting members.
2. Develop a mission.
Every organization must have a mission: a vision for what it will accomplish and purpose for existing. That includes your ERG. You previously identified a need in your organization; now put into words how you intend to meet that need.
Beyond organization-related objectives, such as creating professional development opportunities for female employees, consider how your ERG can look beyond the company to support others, such as your local community. For example, you might want to sponsor activities for girls and young women to foster independence and leadership.
Make sure you actually write down a specific mission. This will help you gain support later on.
3. Identify leadership.
Who is the best person to spearhead your mission? It should be someone who is passionate about your objectives and goals and able to take charge. Since you are starting a women’s ERG, it makes sense that your leader will probably be a woman.
Along with a leader, you should also establish a leadership committee, which might include other officers, including male allies. Officers might be responsible for different tasks within the ERG, especially as you’re getting it off the ground.
4. Find an executive sponsor.
Approach your executive sponsor armed with plenty of data and information about the mission of and need for your ERG. You should have facts that will persuade him or her to lend support. This will be someone from senior leadership at your organization who will assist your group with budgeting, promotion, and influence and will help garner resources and funding for your group, so you need to be persuasive in your argument as to why the group should exist — and why he or she should be championing your efforts.
Keep in mind that the executive sponsor does not need to be a member of the ERG; in fact, an outside perspective can often be beneficial and could help you gain more support from other non-members.
5. Create specific, business-aligned goals.
Establish specific goals that support and enhance your mission. You might consider how many new members you want to recruit by a certain time, the activities in which the ERG should take part, and more.
These goals should align with the overall company mission to some extent, but they can also go beyond the company into the wider community. For instance, as per the above example of fostering girls’ leadership, you might set a goal of establishing X number of mentor-mentee relationships with women in your ERG and girls in the community.
6. Recruit members.
With an eye on fostering diversity, actively seek out new members. Identify the best mode of spreading the word about your ERG within your company, being inclusive of women (and men) of all backgrounds. Keep your group open, making sure you’re not excluding anyone who wants to join.
7. Promote your ERG.
To help spread the word about your women’s ERG, you must promote and keep promoting it. Start by hosting an inaugural meeting, party, or event to kick it off and make your organization’s employees aware of it.
Update employees frequently, even if they are not members, to alert them of the group’s activities, goings-on, and mission. You might produce collateral such as flyers, posters, and brochures; spread the word on your organization’s social media channels and create your own social media accounts to promote the ERG; and discuss ideas with HR or other committees at the company.
8. Continually advocate for your ERG.
Financial support is essential for keeping the ERG running. Your executive sponsor will champion your efforts to gain funding, but you and your group need to be fundraising as well. You will likely be allocated a budget by your organization, but you will need to make the officers responsible for allocating funds aware of why the funds are necessary and what activities they will support.
9. Partner with other ERGs.
There are likely other ERGs within your company. Rather than viewing them as competition for resources and funding, collaborate and work together. Often, you will be championing similar values and missions, so think about how you can support each other in your effort to improve diversity and other aspects of your company. You might, for instance, cosponsor events and develop business plans together.
10. Plan for the future.
When you establish initial leadership, have a plan of succession in mind. Consider other employees who might have the skills or be capable of building skills to elevate to leadership roles. Providing inspiration from current leadership and others through speaking events and mentorship programs can help you build skills in and identify potential future leaders.
Women’s ERGs should also continue to reflect on their mission, how they are supporting it, and what they can do to improve the group. Make sure you are educating your members and other employees about the goals of the ERG and offering suggestions and training for creating an inclusive workplace for the entire organization.