Fundamentals for building successful, sustainable and scalable ERGs in service of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can create meaningful change and DEI improvements in your organisation. However, ERGs are often started as ‘grass roots’ initiatives by a group of passionate individuals and too often are left to function with little structure or governance which can severely hinder their potential. Here are 3 crucial steps to take for building successful, sustainable and scalable ERGs.
Define DEI purpose
If ERGs are functioning without clear understanding (between members and with the wider organisation) on their purpose this can quickly lead to confusion and potential misalignment between members which may result in fatigue, conflict and even disinvestment from the group. Objectives may not represent the view of all members or even be aligned with wider organisational DEI commitments. Successful ERG development starts with setting out clearly the DEI purpose ERGs have within the organisation
- Will ERGs be a community hub for solidarity, celebration and education/awareness events around shared identity?
- Will ERGs have input into DEI initiatives? Will they play a consultative role? Will they have any decision making power? Can ERGs initiate DEI policy or process change? Will they be responsible for delivering DEI initiatives, alone or in collaboration?
Expectations need to be aligned to the established purpose of ERGs. Expectations that the organisation has of ERGs and those ERGs can have of the organisation, need to be aligned too. If ERGs’ purpose is to advise and steer on DEI, the organisation should expect members to have a level of DEI expertise (remember passion and skill/expertise are not the same thing). To measure this you might do a DEI skills assessment for new joiners, or to ensure shared DEI paradigms – offer foundational DEI training to all ERG joiners. ERGs with this strategic DEI purpose should have clarity on the resource and decision making power available to them and who is involved in final decision making. If on the other hand ERGs purpose is as a ‘solidarity hub’ there should be clear expectations of the role of those with lived experience vs allies. Will the ERGs focus on events only, or also play an advocacy role? Will ERGs be a point of contract for DEI complaints? Lines of communication with HR, and leadership should be articulated. To ensure ERG success, establish shared expectations as early as possible.
Establish governance structure
To meet their objectives and to build legitimacy in the organisation, ERGs need clear governance structures. Effective governance is crucial to ensure ERGs objectives represent the views of their members and not just the loudest voices. This requires outlining clear roles and responsibilities for all ERG members and processes for decision-making and resolving conflict. Governance can involve a steering committee, advisory board or executive sponsor – or all three. When establishing ERG governance go back to step 1 and 2 – define the purpose of these actors and set clear expectations aligned with the wider purpose and expectations of the ERG group.
Effective ERGs require careful planning, communication, and execution – but it’s never too late to course correct and unlock the potential of ERGs in your workplace.
For support in developing ERG purpose, expectations, objectives and governance structures speak to one of our expert consultants today.