What is an Employee Resource Group and Why Are They Important?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) have become an increasingly popular part of many companies’ diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. But what exactly are ERGs, and why are they beneficial for both employees and organizations?

What is an Employee Resource Group?

An employee resource group (ERG) is an employee-led group within an organization that brings together employees who share common interests, backgrounds, or demographic factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

ERGs emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as forums for underrepresented groups, such as women and Black employees, to find community, advocate for change, and promote inclusion in the workplace Today, ERGs exist in many forms and focus on an array of different identities, experiences, and interests

While each ERG is unique they generally serve several common goals

  • Fostering a sense of community and inclusion. ERGs provide a safe space for members to find social support, shared understanding, and a sense of belonging. This is especially important for employees who may feel isolated or marginalized in the broader workplace.

  • Supporting professional growth. ERGs offer leadership opportunities, mentoring, networking, and training to help members develop new skills.

  • Advising on diversity issues. ERGs provide insights on the needs and experiences of their member communities, consulting with company leaders on diversity programs and policies.

  • Driving business impact. ERGs can provide new perspectives that influence product development, marketing, and customer outreach efforts.

Though ERG members often share a particular identity, the groups are open to any employee who wants to join as an ally or supporter.

Examples of Common ERG Types

While each company’s ERG offerings are unique, some of the most common types of groups include:

  • Women’s ERGs, focusing on the professional development and empowerment of women employees.

  • LGBTQ+ ERGs, providing community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning employees.

  • Black or African American ERGs, offering culturally relevant programming and professional development.

  • Hispanic/Latinx ERGs, creating community among Hispanic/Latinx professionals.

  • Asian/Pacific Islander ERGs, providing resources for employees of Asian heritage.

  • Veterans ERGs, supporting veteran employees’ transition to the workplace.

  • Ability/Disability ERGs, focusing on inclusion for employees with disabilities.

  • Interfaith ERGs, bringing together employees of diverse religious backgrounds.

  • Multicultural ERGs, encompassing many backgrounds, races, and ethnicities.

  • Generational ERGs, providing community for early-career millennials or older generation employees nearing retirement.

The Rise of ERGs

Though ERGs emerged in the 1960s, their numbers grew exponentially over the past two decades. A 2010 study found ERGs in 58% of Fortune 500 companies, up from just 4% in 1999.

Several factors contributed to this rapid growth:

  • Workforce diversification – As more women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and other groups entered professional roles, ERGs arose to provide support.

  • Grassroots advocacy – ERGs have often formed through bottom-up employee action, rather than top-down directives.

  • Inclusion priorities – Many companies began prioritizing diversity and inclusion, with ERGs as a central part of strategy.

  • Millennial influence – Younger employees value diversity and inclusion, driving adoption of ERGs.

Though the structure and focus on ERGs evolve over time, they remain an important resource for underrepresented groups seeking community.

Why are ERGs Valuable?

Research indicates that when implemented thoughtfully, ERGs provide value to both employees and to the organization as a whole. Benefits can include:

For Employees

  • Increased engagement, satisfaction, sense of belonging, and inclusion

  • Access to mentors, networking, and professional development

  • Leadership opportunities within the ERG

  • Improved retention, recruitment, and advancement of ERG members

For Organizations

  • Increased employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention

  • Enhanced employer brand and talent acquisition

  • New insights and perspectives on products, messaging, and customers

  • Closer connections to diverse customer segments

  • Input on diversity issues and representation gaps

  • Development of future leaders from within ERG ranks

Keys to Developing Successful ERGs

While ERGs offer many potential upsides, effectively leveraging their value requires careful planning and execution. Some best practices include:

  • Gain leadership buy-in – Ensure that senior leaders visibly support and resource ERG efforts.

  • Strategically align goals – ERG objectives should map clearly to business goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  • Provide structure and funding – ERGs need dedicated staff resources and budgets to pursue strategic initiatives.

  • Formalize governance – Have clear processes for launching an ERG, defining leadership roles, and setting expectations.

  • Facilitate collaboration – Encourage partnerships and sharing of best practices across ERGs.

  • Measure impact – Track ERG engagement as well as influence on business goals like retention and customer penetration.

  • Recognize and reward – Provide incentives and recognition for ERG leaders and members who go above and beyond.

Fostering Inclusion Through ERGs

ERGs play an important role in helping employees feel welcomed, valued, and able to contribute their full selves at work. By providing community, enhancing professional development, and advising organizations on diversity issues, ERGs lead to more inclusive cultures where all employees can thrive.

As companies increasingly prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, well-planned and thoughtfully implemented ERGs will continue to provide value for both individual employees and the organization. Employers who leverage ERGs strategically have an opportunity to position themselves as leaders in building diverse, inclusive workplaces.

what is employee resource group

Thinking About Starting an ERG?

As you review the Steps to Certification listed above, consider these items:

  • Establish the objective of the proposed ERG. Consider whom the ERG will support and serve as well as its purpose for existing.
  • Gather interest. Seek a committed Executive Sponsor to help fuel growth, foster buy-in, and amplify the collective voice driving change. Identify four to six individuals to be founding members of the ERG.
  • Begin to develop the basic structure and processes of the ERG, including establish an organizational structure and delineate internal procedures and processes. (The preceding step may require a significant amount of time as you draft the charter). It is recommended that you build in more processes at the beginning since it is much easier to remove inefficient practices than it is to adopt new ones later. Refer to the charter template here to get started: https://policymanual.nih.gov/2207.
  • Schedule some meet and greets or coffee chats with potential members to begin the necessary outreach for establishing and growing the ERG. The ERG members will help bring the overall purpose and vision to life and your chats may even reveal other topics and needs that you did not consider!

what is employee resource group

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines ERGs as non-union voluntary employee organizations led and comprised of members of the organization, formed around common interests. Examples of these groups at the NIH, are professional networking groups, chapters of national affinity groups/professional organizations, and grassroots groups formed by employees across all demographics. ERGs traditionally chartered by employees provide many benefits to the NIH, such as helping create engagement and promoting an inclusive work environment.

The NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) supports a collaborative relationship with ERGs on matters that are beneficial to the organization’s diversity and inclusion goals, through the list of parameters and expectations described in our policy.

ERGs can be based on the following characteristics: Race/Ethnicity Gender Disability Status Cultural/Multicultural Sexual Orientation Religious Beliefs Military Service Professional/Academic Interests Other

ERGs help to build a sense of community within an organization and can serve as a resource for employees who share similar backgrounds or experiences.

Any group seeking recognition as an ERG at NIH should submit the following information to EDI. Please refer to the NIH Policy Manual for more information on 2207 – Office of EDI Affiliation with NIH Employee Resource Groups (release date: 6/17/2022): https://policymanual.nih.gov/2207.

Be sure to include the following information for all ERG recognition requests:

  • Name of the organization
  • Description of the ERG statement of purpose/mission
  • List of officers as of the date of the request for recognition, which includes: name, Institute, Center, or Office (ICO), work location, work telephone number, email, office held, and term of office (date on which tenure expires).
  • Provide total number of ICO-wide membership; membership requirements; copy of roster and specify whether there is a membership fee.
  • Indicate affiliation with a national organization, if applicable.
  • Provide a dated copy of a charter/by-laws as an attachment
  • Provide website and domain name, if applicable.
  • List of other related ERG resources.
  • Provide contact information listed in Appendix 4.

Submit all EDI recognition requests to NIH OD EDI, Attn: DID via email: [email protected]. Please refer to Appendix 2: Employee Resource Group Requirements to Request EDI Recognition in the NIH Policy Manual for more information on how to apply: https://policymanual.nih.gov/2207. If you have any other questions about the process, you can send an e-mail to [email protected].

Please note that the ERG policy does not apply to official work groups, temporary or ad hoc employee organizations, credit unions, or informal groups (e.g., hospitality/condolence committees, sunshine funds, etc.), which may be subject to other requirements. Nor does this policy apply to unions, organizations of former NIH employees, any organization whose membership is primarily comprised of NIH supervisory or managerial personnel with whom the establishment of a consultative relationship is required by 5 C.F.R. 251.201 (e.g., Professional Managers Association, Senior Executives Association, and the Federal Managers Association, or any organization with who NIH relationship is established or prescribed by statute, regulation, or other law.

Employee Resource Groups: How to Move from Talk to Action

What are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)?

When it comes to employee management, business leaders and HR professionals may find themselves considering how employee resource groups (or ERGs) fit into their DEI approach and broader organizational culture. ERGs have been around since the 60s, and they can boost DEI efforts and employee engagement. What are ERGs?

What is an employee resource group?

Employee Resource Groups are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. They’re usually led and participated in by employees who share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or interest.

What is an effective employee resource group?

An effective ERG makes a positive and lasting impact on its members and the company. What Are Employee Resource Groups? Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups with a shared purpose.

What are the different types of employee resource groups?

In general, there are four main types of Employee Resource Groups. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) ERGs are formed to help an organization become more diverse and inclusive. They typically focus on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability.

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