Tag: ERG

Founder’s Corner

In the advent of the Xerox corporation forming the National Black Employee Caucus, what started off as an effort by the marginalized community to confront racial prejudice in the workplace back in the 1960s, has evolved into what are now called Employee Recourse Groups or ERGs, also barring the name, Infinity groups.

This evolution presents many different ways to identify communities within the workplace that have historically not been distinguished or segmented. We’ve now come to see the value of us all being acknowledged and recognized for who we are, what is unique about each of us and how we are a contribution to the health and welfare of our companies and organizations.

Hi, I’m Byron Darden and welcome to this installment of Leading with Purpose On Purpose. We are going to look at what ERGs are, why they are important to us as individuals and as members of an entity where we want to feel welcomed to participate so we can develop and thrive.

This is especially true of the many immigrants who have come to American soil to seek refuge and opportunity, and in some cases meet their demise. One can say that the American system fails many socially and economically with limited opportunities for some and riches for a select few. And yet, we are living in an unprecedented time when it is no longer incentive enough to just have a job, now the workforce demands to be happy, find fulfillment in order to remain motivated to do our work and engaged by colleagues, managers and leadership.

This puts new pressure on leadership to ensure that employee turnover is kept low, greater appreciation for what are contributing differences in the marketplace by each employee and that engagement is kept high in order for staff to remain inspired to be an asset to the company’s growth and prosperity.

While there is no way to always do right by the workforce, ERGs do offer the possibility of employees gaining the greatest chance to be seen and respected for what they bring to the table.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Chances are you gravitate towards those with whom you have something in common. It’s no different when joining the workforce. In larger companies, you are likely to work with diverse individuals. While the work expectations may be clear, many struggle to be understood because of different values, beliefs, gender influences, ethnicity, and/or a host of other differences that distinguish us. Finding common ground and thriving with underlying feelings and past experiences can be challenging and gratifying at the same time.

In the 1960s, African American workers, looking for a way to organize in order to confront the social issue of racial prejudice in the workplace, formed groups where they could come together and tackle issues in their working environment. This was the birth of Employee Resource Groups or ERGs (the first of which was the National Black Employee Caucus at Xerox in 1970).

Since then, ERGs (sometimes called affinity groups) have become common in the workplace. They are a place where those with similar characteristics can gather and discuss issues affecting them. They can provide a united front to bridge the gap between management and employees and between peers. Done effectively, ERGs can provide a unified environment that promotes communication and provides a path for career advancement.

What Are ERGs?

Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, are stand-alone groups within an organization of employees that share characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, faith, social economics, intellect, lifestyle, or other specific aspects with which members identify.

ERGs are found in 90% of Fortune 500 companies, creating a space where employees with common interests can foster understanding.

ERGs are not meant to segregate or separate employees based on their backgrounds. The purpose is to create an inclusive work environment that values diversity and promotes a sense of unity among all employees.

Common ERGs are:

  • Diversity groups centered around ethnic, cultural, or faith-based backgrounds.
  • Gender groups supporting women, men, or non-binary individuals.
  • LGBTQ+ inclusion groups advocating for the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals.
  • Disabilities groups dedicated to supporting employees with disabilities and promoting accessibility.
  • Generational groups for employees from different age groups, like millennials or baby boomers.
  • Veteran’s groups focused on supporting and recognizing military veterans in the workplace.
  • Parental or family groups, such as working parents or caregivers, assist employees with family responsibilities.
  • Environmental groups are promoting sustainability and environmental initiatives within the company.

Create an Impact

ERGs are believed crucial in creating more inclusive, inviting, and nurturing opportunities for its members. As an outcome, active members provide and gain support from one another, allowing them the sense of belonging that can elude an organization without the keen focus that ERGs bring to the table.

Built on the concept of “strength in numbers,” ERGs are better equipped to highlight areas of need in shoring up an organization’s policymaking, bringing challenging issues to light, creating growth opportunities, and heightening employee engagement.

Companies can leverage the power of ERGs in their DEI strategy by paying close attention to what employees are seeking. Aligning DEI with ERGs can foster inclusion, improve diversity, and promote an external impact. Potential employees may include these factors in deciding where to work. Current employees looking for a purpose in their vocation might look to ERGs to feel included before jumping ship.

It’s not enough to form an ERG; they must be effective in their goal. Evaluate ERGs based on these criteria:

  • Does management support the ERGs?
  • Does leadership recognize concerns brought up by the ERG and take steps to address agreed upon critical issues raised?
  • Do the ERGs build community among employees or create division?
  • Does leadership support the advancement of members of each ERG?
  • Are employees who lead ERGs unequivocally recognized for their roles?
  • To what extent, in the event, any financial support is provided by the organization?

Based on these answers, look at how ERGs and management interact and how they can work together for a common goal.

ERGs can contribute to a company in many ways.

  • A diversity of perspectives helps in crafting more inclusive and effective policies and practices.
  • Employees who join ERGs feel heard and valued, resulting in increased motivation and dedication to the organization.
  • Executives can draw on the ERGs’ insights to inform strategic decision-making.
  • Top management can look to ERGs to identify opportunities for improvement when facing organizational challenges.
  • ERGs can foster leadership development in the organization.  Mentorship opportunities can be nurtured with active leadership involvement, paving the way toward more diversity in leadership positions.
  • ERGs can enhance an organization’s cultural competence.
  • Embracing ERGs and promoting inclusivity positively impacts brand reputation.  This can affect the bottom line in dealings with consumers and suppliers and attracting new talent.

Yet just because ERGs can contribute to a company, to what extent do they succeed, and what might be getting in the way?

Shift Your Focus

While ERGs have been around for decades, their focus has changed. What was once focused on diversity and inclusion, more recent studies reveal a heightened focus on organizational challenges. Now the aim is more on leadership development, innovation, and change management, our sweet spot here at Triple Axel Executive Coaching.

Move Away From    Move More Toward
Exclusivity on IndividualsInclusivity in Organizational Change
Focused on Racial tensionFocused on Alienated Workers
You Fit UsWe Fit One Another
Career StagnationLeadership Development
Hidden AdvancementOpen Advancement
Working in SiloWorking in Community
Physical DisabilitiesDisability Inclusivity
What’s Wrong/RightWhat’s Working/Needs Work
Limiting LanguageGenerative Language

Now with greater attention focused on making the workplace an inviting environment for employees, drawing on the strength of ERGs is an executive’s wellspring of knowledge and insight that leads to positive changes making a difference in organizations.

By valuing and collaborating with ERGs, organizations can build a stronger and more resilient workforce, leading to increased productivity, innovation, and overall success. Sounds progressive, and yet, just how innovative do company leaders wish their organization to be? Particularly when the focus seems more on the status quo as long as it increases the bottom line. After all, creating an environment for change necessary for innovation to flourish can be risky.

Let Your Light Shine

Being ignored has a greater impact on us than others can possibly know. While we all have experiences in life where we may sense nobody notices or cares, we all also have a different threshold for insecurity.

We strive to be liked, heard, and valued to “fit in” to our community, school, work, and organizations. Yet, fitting in is not always what is being served up to us. I experienced this often as I yearned to be accepted just as I am. Yet, being an African American man in the US, where my forefathers were enslaved, mistreated, killed, and marginalized, my American story lacks interest in a country that seems to look the other way rather than celebrate my presence. That is until George Floyd experienced an officer of the law kneeling on his neck, leading to his death, who was then charged with second-degree murder.

My story differs because of the level of confidence instilled in me as a child, during which time I was taught that where a door was closed, I should look for an open window. Where opportunity passed me by, I created my own. When so-called friends turned their backs, I became my greatest supporter. This is not easy when you feel you’re doing it alone.

The reminder I live with is that I am never alone; I am always with myself. This inspires me to get to know, like, and trust myself. In doing so, I move away from the need to blame others for my predicament, whatever it may be. Instead, I consider what I can do differently to change my course or outcome. That is precisely the mindset I bring to developing leaders.

We tend to live our lives externally focused, missing what is right in front of our faces; a mirror reflecting back at us what we need to know to accomplish what we are here to do, as well as showing us what we have yet to learn. That does not necessarily include pleasing other people. Instead, our lives are meant to be a contribution.

Exactly in what way we are to contribute is our life’s journey to discover. I find it next to impossible to navigate when focused outside of myself. When I can bring a leader around to this way of thinking, it’s as though they turn a corner where the light shines brightly on what to do next.

A Measurable Difference

In a survey by Gitnux (a company that explores the latest trends in software, HR, marketing, and business management), 57% of US employees reported benefits from participating in ERGs, such as professional development and career advancement.  The same survey highlights up to a 4% increase in minority representation within an organization.

ERGs are a valuable tool for those looking to climb the corporate ladder.  They provide networking opportunities with leadership and an ability to showcase talents outside of their regular job functions.

This can only happen when employees are made aware of ERGs, given the opportunities to participate fully with supportive managers, and company leaders recognize the benefits of an ERG and then make an effort to rally the support of these communities.

A study by A Great Place to Work, illustrates the disconnect between what executive sponsors of ERGs think and what ERG participants feel.  For example, 78% of sponsors believe that involvement in ERGs supports career advancement, while only 40% of ERG leaders agree. 

Leaders can change this:

  • Recognize ERG leaders and their contributions.
  • Reach out and have hard conversations about how the goals and objectives of the ERG align with the organization.
  • Provide a meaningful budget, involvement from senior leaders, and help with career advancement.
  • Promote ERGs at a company level, encouraging more employee participation.

A Worthwhile Endeavor

“The way to achieve your success is to be willing to help somebody else get it first.” – Iyanla Vanzant.

Throughout history, there have been trailblazers and impactful leaders.  While we often attribute their success to singular geniuses, this is rarely true.  Behind every successful person is an army of support.  It might be their family, an investment company, assistant, or a stranger in the coffee shop who was kind enough to listen to a crazy idea and step up to support it.

ERGs provide a level of support often missing from what can be felt in the corporate world.  It reminds you that someone is in your corner, and you do indeed “fit in.”

There are two sides of the aisle.  Employees look to strengthen the impact of an ERG as a group that creates real change in your organization.  Leaders look to strategize with ERGs to create a more cohesive working environment.  At Triple Axel, our goal is to bridge that gap for the benefit of the entire organization.  Book a call to learn how.