If you work at a large or even midsize company, you probably have the opportunity to participate in an employee resource group (ERG). These groups — led by employees in an effort to foster a supportive environment and to enhance company policies around diversity and inclusion — are quite common; in fact, they actually exist at 90% of Fortune 500 companies. Oftentimes, though, ERGs function in isolation, leaving group leaders with little insight into the best ways to operate the community so that it’s actually effective.
That’s why Fairygodboss, the leading career community for women, has taken a deeper dive into how these groups work and how they can be better leveraged to advance diversity in the workforce. After asking 400 women about the value — or lack thereof — they’ve found in joining their women’s employee resource group at work, we found that while there’s a lot of positive feedback, women sometimes consider the groups to be a waste of time, or sometimes can’t even find the time to even participate.
Fairygodboss surveyed only women who have access to a women’s networking group; 65% of respondents said they do participate, and 70% of those who are involved with their women’s ERG believe it does have the power to effect changes in their company’s policy. In fact, 55% of respondents said their women’s ERG has helped to enhance parental leave benefits; 53% said the group helped to push for more flexibility or better vacation policies; and 44% said the ERG helped to implement a mentorship or sponsorship program.
Still, there’s room for improvement: of the respondents who didn’t join their women’s network, 33% said they hadn’t because they think it’s largely controlled by HR and wouldn’t allow for honest dialogue; 30% said they think it’s a waste of time or that it doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful within the company; and 27% said they hadn’t joined because they don’t believe it would add value to their career.
Of course, if women’s ERGs didn’t exist in a vacuum — and instead, leaders gathered to share best practices and talk through strategies — these responses might look quite a bit different. And, after convening 100 top leaders from a variety of industries and Fortune 500 companies to discuss just that at its inaugural Galvanize conference, Fairygodboss compiled some actionable tips on ways to make women’s networks more impactful:
1.Remember that safe spaces are crucial components of inclusivity.
ERGs provide underrepresented employees with a safe space to make their voices heard. By coming together in more intimate settings, employees — along with sponsors, advocates, and allies — are often more comfortable speaking openly about their concerns, and can then discuss how to create short- and long-term solutions.
2. Focus on transparency.
Open lines of communication are critical to the success of ERGs. The groups must hold themselves accountable to their constituents by soliciting feedback, creating open dialogue with allies, and inspiring continued engagement for new and veteran employees.
3. Engage executives.
Executive engagement in ERGs is crucial because it ensures well-established governance structures that lead to progress, and it also helps ERG leaders to align their objectives with corporate strategy.
4. Engage male allies.
The support of male allies is a crucial form of advocacy for women in the workplace.
5. Be both ambitious and specific.
The mission of ERGs must boil down to specific and actionable items that groups can accomplish within a designated period of time. Establishing SMART goals — or, goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based — can help you realistically measure your objectives and provide a concise plan for what your group is hoping to achieve and why.
Bio: Samantha Samel is the Editorial Director at Fairygodboss, a leading career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.