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How to encourage diversity and inclusion with employee resource groups

Right now every organization globally has a responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion. Don’t know where to begin? Go straight to the source: your people.

Diversity and inclusion should be a celebration of human experience. Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t give their people enough of a voice. And this applies tenfold for members of minority groups.

But fostering a strong diverse and inclusive workforce has been shown to significantly increase job satisfaction and knowledge sharing.

Furthermore, companies with higher levels of gender diversity and with HR policies and practices that focus on gender diversity are linked to lower levels of employee turnover.

But some organizations aren’t sure where to begin. At Qualtrics, we always recommend first listening to your people, and then acting on that feedback.

Start by going straight to the source: your people. And a solid way to do this is through Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs.

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What are employee resource groups (ERGs)?

Employee resource groups (also known as ERGs, affinity groups, or business network groups) aim to give a voice to those typically unrepresented at work.

ERGs are led by employees in an effort to foster a supportive environment and to enhance company policies around diversity and inclusion

As well as helping to build communities among people with shared identities and experiences. ERGs could be focused on race, gender, sexuality, or any other defining characteristics that group members share.

What are the benefits of employee resource groups?

With the right support, ERGs help to create safe spaces for people to discuss their experiences. They give a voice to underrepresented people whose day-to-day struggles can often lie hidden – or, even worse, out in the daylight in full view, but with no one recognizing, confronting, or taking action to negate them.

What are different kinds of employee resource groups?

There are many different kinds of ERGs, but they all have key goals in common. Which includes:

Typically ERGs represent underrepresented groups, such as people from minority ethnic groups, women, and the LBGTQ+ community. But ERGs can be formed wherever your people see a need.

And these groups aren’t a product of recent times. The first Employee Resource Groups were established in the 1960s. Joseph Wilson, former CEO of Xerox, developed the concept as “workplace affinity groups” following race riots in Rochester, NY in 1964.

Wilson alongside African American employees designed and launched the National Black Employees Caucus in 1970 to address the workplace discrimination they were experiencing.

READ MORE: Diversity Best Practices

Do employee resource groups make a difference?

There are many benefits to ERGs, not only by creating meaningful change to make your people feel safer and supported at work, but they can also:

  • ensure employees have an opportunity to be heard, valued and engaged
  • provide cultural support and diversity insight in company products, missions, or methods
  • foster a learning environment for better company contributions
  • help to make your organization more attractive to potential employees
  • giving insight on business performance, because smart companies understand that if they don’t grow, they won’t be around very long

How to encourage effective employee resource groups

Your people may not be coming to you actively saying they would like to set up an ERG, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need. One way to find out is to ask.

Listen to your people

You could send out an anonymous or confidential survey asking whether people feel connected to their colleagues at work, whether they have a sense of belonging, and if they feel they can be their authentic selves at work.

However, people may not feel comfortable stepping forward initially. If so, it’s the organization’s responsibility to be proactive. You could start by asking the following questions:

  • Which groups are represented or underrepresented in the organization?
  • Is your company having trouble attracting people from diverse backgrounds?
  • Are there retention issues with millennial employees?

Get leadership buy-in

One of the great things about ERGs is that they’re often grassroots, which means they’re addressing an authentic need. But not only that, they also have the potential power to affect real change – in policy and general attitudes.

To do this effectively, they ideally need a member of the leadership team in their corner – potentially as an executive sponsor. This will help push through necessary changes and help them to be an advocate in the c-suite.

Promote your groups

Telling new employees, or even potential employees, about your ERGs is incredibly important. Make sure it’s part of the onboarding process and spoken about regularly by leadership.

Encourage your people to be their whole selves at work

At their best, 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.

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.

What are some typical activities of ERGs?

  • Drive inclusion and engagement: ERGs build a place for community and learning. They provide a safe space for discussions and idea sharing.
  • Help the leadership team to understand what matters to their people: And how best to respond to issues and initiatives.
  • Build a culture of allyship: By providing a forum for discussion and learning.
  • Promote personal and professional development: ERGs provide access to and support for learning initiatives and growth for their members.
  • Contribute to the business: Helping to inform product development or marketing.

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 an ERG is hoping to achieve and why.

Listen and act

It’s also important to learn as you go. Organizations aren’t necessarily going to get diversity and inclusion right immediately, but one huge step in the right direction is to listen. And right now it’s more important than ever to listen to your people and take action on their behalf.

How to apply DEI to your employee experience program