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Employee Resource Groups: What Works, and What Doesn’t

The formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Business Resource Groups (BRGs), and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Groups were listed as one of the positive and most noteworthy changes that have been implemented in the workplace since the death of George Floyd. Several other participants also mentioned that there has been an uptick in the creation of DEI-focused roles.

In other responses, such as the one shared below, employees and DEI practitioners mention that they are stuck and unsure of what to do next, beyond their present targets and the resource groups:

“Personally, I am stuck at what to do next - we've built a foundation on I&D and put some processes in place. We are by no means done, but the "what's next" is a stay awake for me. Apart from implementing a few more basics that we should have had a couple years ago (e.g., an Accessibility Committee), I don’t know what to do next to help my organization moving forward. We have targets for women and underrepresented groups but, I don’t think our leaders know what to do to achieve the targets (other than maybe putting people into roles they aren’t ready for to "meet the numbers". Our organization is also not ready for anti-racism, systemic discrimination type of conversations.”

The Benefits

While there are no quick-fix answers or solutions, we want to emphasize that ERGs and the likes are not – and should not be – the end of your IDEA strategy. Rather, they are more useful to be viewed as a tool that can lead to change. Ideally, the group is (or should be) comprised of individuals at various levels of seniority, all of whom are invested in improving workplace culture and addressing IDEA issues. In these groups, they can share ideas, discuss strategies, and assess the organization’s progress.

Some benefits of ERGs are listed below:

  • Can create a sense of community and belonging
  • Can provide opportunities for leadership and professional development
  • Can support relationships in the workplace between people of similar backgrounds – or of shared interests

The Challenges

The benefits of ERGs are undeniable; however, there are several challenges that ERGs will face which will limit their success. These difficulties occur when the organization, as noted in the above response, is not ready for true change, which includes being unprepared or reluctant to address “anti-racism, and systemic discrimination”, as well as:

  • Being led and/or maintained primarily by volunteers
    • Oftentimes, the volunteers of ERGs are members of equity-seeking groups who have a more deeply vested interest in improving workplace culture than those in more senior and/or leadership roles
  • Being an additional responsibility, outside of the employees’ full-time roles
  • Can result in prioritizing some IDEA issues and equity-seeking groups above others
    • For example, many organizations have been working on fostering a more inclusive workplace culture as it pertains to LGBTQ2+ inclusion; however, there may be members of other equity-seeking groups (e.g.: those who are neurodivergent and/or live with an invisible disability) whose needs are not addressed because they do not fall within the spectrum of LGBTQ2+ inclusion
  • Receiving little to no administrative and/or financial support
    • In addition to being volunteer-run, ERGs often lack buy-in and support from the larger organization. This lack of administrative and/or financial support could be potentially remedied by creating a dedicated budget for the ERG, and ensuring that members who are in senior and leadership positions are also present.

Key Takeaways

The ugly truth is that many organizations are more concerned with maintaining their appearance (creating the image of being inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible) than they are interested and invested in bringing about change. This is why ERGs, while a significant contributor, cannot be the only component of an organization’s DEI strategy.

While conversations and education can increase awareness, we must continue to strive to move from awareness to action. Setting specific, measurable (emphasis on measurable), achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals is imperative for getting unstuck – and bringing in a consulting specialist who specializes in knowing what to look for and how to help build out a strategy that is attainable and realistic is how your organization can move forward, beyond awareness and conversations. 


Further Reflection Ahead

Thank you to everyone who participated in our survey. This survey was the first in a series which will take place over the next 3 years. We will be releasing updates throughout the year as we continue to analyze the data and will return to this data as new surveys and information is released.  Your responses in this survey have been invaluable to us and serve as a reference point for where we are, where we would like to go, and what lies ahead. Our hope, through this longitudinal study, is to observe an upwards trend of positive responses and a noticeable, large-scale shift from increasing awareness to implementing strategies and measuring changes.

While we continue to reflect on the findings from this survey and the legacy of George Floyd, we also want to acknowledge the recent Buffalo shooting. Racism remains prevalent in our world. Countless lives have been impacted by senseless acts of violence, which come not only in the form of vicious attacks like this but in microaggressions in and out of the workplace, in the over-policing of underprivileged communities, in the lack of opportunities for underrepresented communities and more. 

We understand that there is much work to be done to bring us towards a truly inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible world - and we find some hope in knowing, from your responses, that greater priority is being placed on addressing issues in IDEA.