How To Start An Employee Resource Group

11 min. read

Employee resource groups are a powerful way to build community and create connections for marginalized people in the workplace.

While many organizations have existing diversity and inclusivity initiatives in place, a large number of companies are looking for ways to increase their efforts to meaningfully support marginalized employees. These initiatives include hiring Chief Diversity Officers, implementing bias awareness training programs, initiating DEI surveys, embracing inclusive recruitment practices, and by establishing employee resource groups.

Employee resource groups are becoming a popular and powerful way to build community and create connections for marginalized people in the workplace. These groups empower people from underrepresented groups to collectively advocate for improvements to the workplace experience. In this article, you’ll learn what employee resource groups are, why they are important in adding value, and how you can start a new group at your organization.

What is an Employee Resource Group?

An employee resource group (ERG) is an employee-led, voluntary, diversity and inclusion initiative that is officially supported by an organization.

Companies use various names to refer to ERGs, including affinity groups, business resource groups, network groups, and inclusion resource groups.

ERGs are generally organized based on common identities, interests, experiences, or backgrounds with the objective of supporting employees by providing opportunities to communicate and establish more inclusive workplaces. Groups are often formed around specific identities that can be characterized demographically, such as race, gender, sexuality, or ability. As an example, a company might have a resource group for employees who are Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, veterans, disabled, and so on. ERGs also exist for employees in specific roles, such as working parents or remote employees.

Most ERGs aim to give employees a safe space to connect and raise awareness about issues facing their communities - both within the organization and society at large.

Why are Employee Resource Groups important?

An effectively run ERG combines employee and business goals to provide maximum benefit for everyone involved. For the organization, ERGs can provide cultural support and diversity insight in company products, missions, and methods. This allows the development of products and branding for diverse target markets. In addition, ERGs can provide resources for career development, founding a learning environment for more valuable company contributions. ERGs can also be utilized to build brand awareness and increase company reputation through active community involvement.

Many employee resource groups are active in employee recruitment, engagement, and retention, attracting employees who identify with the organization from the very beginning. When the members of an ERG are benefiting from its existence, it will lead to increased employee satisfaction because employees feel better about working when they know their workplace has a legitimate interest in issues that are meaningful to their personal life. This links to improved productivity and performance.

ERGs encourage the inclusivity of all the employees within a workplace. Diversity is important as it contributes to the overall well-being of a workplace, and employees can find help and support by joining ERGs that align with their identities, backgrounds, and experiences.

ERGs promote diversity, equity, inclusivity, and a sense of belonging by providing safe spaces for people from marginalized communities to connect with like-minded individuals and share their experiences. ERGs can be valuable to employees in multiple ways, and these benefits trickle down and ultimately strengthen the organization as a whole.

Employee resource groups allow employees across the company to:

  • Meet and connect with colleagues, new and old
  • Be an active voice for change in the workplace and the wider world
  • Learn and grow personally and professionally
  • Share cultures, values, and experiences with co-workers
  • Contribute towards a more open and humanitarian workplaces
  • Give back to the local community

Employee resource groups are beneficial to organizations because they help to develop employees, attract talent, build communities, and promote your brand. Plus, they empower employees to create a more inclusive company culture through education, open communication, and awareness.

Types of Employee Resource Groups

Numerous types of employee resource groups exist at different organizations. Here is a list of the most popular ERGs:

  • People with disabilities
  • Workplace wellness
  • Cultural diversity
  • Volunteering
  • Veterans
  • Community support
  • Health and Fitness
  • LGBTQ+ employees
  • Women in the workplace
  • Gender equity
  • Faith/Beliefs
  • Generational
  • Working parents
  • Single parents
  • Remote workers

How to start an Employee Resource Group

Every company is different, so it is important to look at the makeup of your organization and gauge your employees’ interest in forming one or multiple employee resource groups. Your employees will be the ones leading the ERGs so you need to know they are excited about the prospect. For a resource group to be successful and meaningful, employees must be passionate about participating.

Once you have established that you are ready to create an employee resource group at your organization, follow the steps below to start and maintain an ERG:

1. Survey employee interest

Before you start an employee resource group, you need to make sure you have enough employee interest to make your time and effort worthwhile. You also need to decide which type of ERG would suit your organization. You can use employee demographic data to determine if you have a target population that would be big enough to help with the upkeep of an ERG.

It is vital to communicate with your team to ensure that you understand which groups would help within your workplace. You may not realize where support is required, or which issues resonate the most with your employees. You can gauge interest in starting an ERG using an employee survey or by simply asking for a show of hands during a team meeting.

2. Assess company needs

As well as surveying your employees it is important to assess your organization and ascertain which ERGs would be beneficial. Figuring out which ERGs to develop should be based on company needs.

Ask questions such as:

  • Which groups are represented or underrepresented in your workplace?
  • Is your organization having trouble recruiting women?
  • Does the company have retention issues with millennial employees?
  • Are you looking to attract more employees of a minority group?

Once you have assessed your company’s needs you will have a clearer idea of which ERGs will promote positive change.

3. Define the ERG’s mission statement

Before you start an employee resource group you need to define the group’s purpose. Create a mission statement, comprising of a few sentences, that clearly and concisely outline what the ERG is, who it can help, what it’s for, and why it matters.

Here is an example of a mission statement for an ERG:

“The Women’s Leadership Network seeks to make a difference for the company by researching and recommending solutions to issues affecting women; raising the visibility of women; providing opportunities for women to develop leadership skills and broaden their network; and reaching out to women, students and teens in our community.”

Writing a mission statement can take time, but it will be worth it. This statement will hold your members accountable and act as a focal point for all of the ERG’s initiatives. Once you have your finalized mission, make it easily available to all your employees.

4. Set Goals

When starting an employee resource group, you must establish what you are hoping to accomplish. What goals are you looking to achieve? It helps to be very specific when it comes to the group’s purpose and objectives. A successful ERG requires effective goal-setting and consistent tracking to progress. Align ERG goals with organizational goals to maximize the impact of the group.

Example goals for ERGs:

  • Raise cultural awareness and strengthen allyship by hosting two company-wide speaker events per year
  • Further career development by hosting two career development workshops for entry-level and mid-level employees

5. Executive/Leadership buy-in

Once you have established that your employees are interested in creating an employee resource group you should look to secure executive buy-in to help the new group thrive. While it is not mandatory to have participation from senior leaders, having their support will certainly help with successful implementation. The group could also have an executive sponsor, ideally someone who holds a leadership position within your company.

In your next executive leadership meeting, if necessary, explain what an ERG is and why they are beneficial. Clarify the new group’s purpose and share any qualitative and quantitative data you have gained from employee surveys and employee demographics to demonstrate that there is an internal need for an ERG. You should make a plan for how the ERG will run and if required, suggest a budget to support the group’s target activities. At this point, you can also identify an executive sponsor and any other ongoing support your employees will need to make the ERG a success and drive any necessary changes in the workplace.

6. Recruit group members

To start, you need to find members by raising awareness of the new employee resource group. For others to be aware that an ERG has been created, the group should be advertised. This can be done through the company intranet or via internal documents such as the team newsletter. Some workplaces have designated channels on platforms such as Slack that promote diversity, equity, and inclusiveness where you could advertise the group and invite anyone who would like to join.

Consider hosting a kick-off event to attract internal support. You can also reach out personally to specific employees if you know they are passionate about particular causes, or if they’ve previously expressed interest in creating a similar group. These employees might be good candidates for ERG leadership positions. It’s okay if you don’t drum up huge numbers in the beginning. Start small and the group will grow over time if it’s filling a need.

It’s important to define whether or not allies should be allowed in an ERG. Allies are individuals that do not necessarily share the group’s characteristics, but are passionate about the group, want to learn more, and want to show their support. It can be extremely beneficial to have allies in the group but you might find that people have different opinions on the matter which need to be respected.

7. Host a meeting

Once you have advertised the new ERG and the group is up and running, it’s time for the first meeting. Depending on your level of involvement you may wish to attend to show support and it is good if the executive sponsor can also make the meeting. The group can review the mission statement, discuss goals, set targets, agree on causes to support, brainstorm, plan workshops, and share any relevant experiences, topics, articles, or media that would promote engaging discussions.

There are no strict rules when it comes to running an ERG so the group can take its time to see what works most effectively and evolve as it grows and progresses.

When an ERG reaches a certain size, it can be beneficial to build a leadership committee by nomination or vote. ERG leaders will be responsible for keeping meetings organized and holding members accountable. It is a good idea to set a term length for ERG leaders and regularly vote or shift positions on the committee so your employee resource group can benefit from different leadership styles and learn from an influx of new ideas and perspectives.

8. Maintain support

Employee resource groups may be employee-led, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need your support as an organization. You can’t go through the motions of setting up an ERG only to abandon it to run itself, or it will quickly lose momentum or fail altogether.

Work alongside your senior leadership team to define how your business will support the group, its initiatives, and its members. This can include financial support, budgeting for annual events, monthly workshops, speakers, local community causes, etc. It could also involve your time, communicating to the group, commenting on recent goals met, or showing up to a charity function. Maintaining your support will give the ERG its best chance to succeed.

Once you have implemented an employee resource group into your organization, it is essential to track and measure the data they provide. Performance metrics and quantitative data such as employee engagement levels, retention rates, and promotion rates should be measured before and after you have started the ERG to understand how the group is impacting the workplace, its employees, and the organization as a whole.