How to Build an Effective Employee Resource Group (ERG) Program

What programs truly contribute to a culture of community and connection, and how do we create an environment where all employees thrive?

A robust Employee Resource Group (ERG) program is one way to do just that. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve traditionally marginalised or underrepresented employees. This differs from affinity groups, which are non-funded and more loosely structured around interests. ERGs act as culture-builders that can provide members with a voice and visibility, create a sense of community and drive change toward a more equitable workplace.

How to Start Employee Resource Groups — and Maximise Existing Ones

We spoke with Laura Folks and Gill Quinn, Indeed’s Inclusion Resource Group (IRG) Program Managers, to gain insight on Employee Resource Group best practices. Here’s what they shared on how to launch and sustain impactful ERGs:

Seek input from employees. After all, these are grassroots, employee-led groups. Consider administering a survey to gauge interest on the types of ERGs employees want. Take an inclusive approach by collecting feedback from a mix of departments, locations and people. You can also use this input to recruit potential ERG volunteers and leaders.

For companies with global operations, Employee Resource Group needs may differ. Quinn says, “ERGs are commonly seen as a U.S. program, so it’s important to understand the nuances of local culture, norms and approaches to diversity and inclusion. Work in partnership with local stakeholders to adapt ERGs to best meet each location’s needs.”

Get leadership buy-in. Support from executive leaders and managers is critical for ERG success. Make the business case for diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives — showing that they can help yield above-average financial returns, increased innovation and enhanced productivity, for example — to illustrate how ERG programs can positively impact your company’s bottom line. According to Folks, “Managers at all levels should understand the business need behind diversity and inclusion. As such, ERGs are not a ‘side gig,’ but rather, a huge contribution to the company.”

Executive sponsorships are another great way to demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. An executive sponsor serves as an advocate, sounding board and champion for the ERG by providing guidance and promoting the group’s activities and impact company-wide.

Establish your mission and structure. Using the insights you’ve gained from employee input, think about what you hope to accomplish by forming this group. Once you’ve articulated your mission and purpose, establish a structure that will help you reach your goals. You can start by outlining the roles and responsibilities of ERG leaders, executive sponsors and volunteers, and setting standard operating procedures — like meeting cadence and terms of service.

Once the basic structure is in place, you can start thinking about long-term plans. “Creating a succession plan is crucial,” Folks says. “I’m personally a fan of the ‘one off, one on’ model, where an experienced leader is partnered with an inexperienced one. When the experienced leader moves to another role, the new leader is brought on. This helps to bring fresh energy to the ERG, while keeping experienced leadership in place.”

Don’t be afraid to start small. A small, but mighty team of engaged members can make a big impact. When asked what advice they would give to a newly-formed ERG, both Quinn and Folks say that setting realistic expectations is key. Folks shares, “New ERGs don’t need to ‘catch up’ to others that may be more advanced. Each ERG has a unique need and style — this should be valued and not compared. I recommend allowing each group to find what drives them. In year one, it’s completely fine to do social events and build the community. Anything else is icing on the cake.”

Encourage others to join. Now that you’ve established your ERG, spread the word! Send a company-wide email announcing the new group, add information about ERGs in onboarding materials and promote events and programs via newsletters, Slack or other corporate communication platforms.

Quinn points out the importance of keeping inclusivity in mind when recruiting new members: “For example, members of a women’s group should not be homogenous, representing only women of the same age, race, sexual orientation or ability.” And while ERGs are there to support underrepresented and marginalised groups, all employees should be welcome to join. Allies can listen, learn and support their efforts.

Allocate resources. As Folks puts it, “Many companies like the optics of a robust ERG program. However, they count on the passion of volunteers and don’t provide the structural or financial support needed for these groups to succeed. The end result will be burnout and events that aren’t truly impactful.” Start by allocating a small budget for programs and professional development opportunities. As your ERG program grows, consider hiring full-time staff or offering a stipend to ERG leaders. 

Measure your impact. Track engagement metrics by looking at membership growth, event participation and survey results to assess program effectiveness. Since each group will have a different focus, you should tailor your metrics tracking to suit each ERG’s specific goals and objectives.

Collaborate with other ERGs. Encourage Employee Resource Groups to work together to amplify mutual interests — a great way to pool resources and embrace intersectionality. “I can be a woman, parent, veteran and Latina,” Folks says. “Every issue we explore encompasses more than one identity, so it makes sense to look at your ERG program from a holistic perspective.”

Grow and adapt over time. Your ERG program should evolve as the demographics of your workforce shift and employee needs change over time. For example, here at Indeed, we have 10 IRGs, with our newest group added in 2020 to support parents and caregivers.

Many companies are also shifting to a Business Resource Group (BRG) model, which aligns ERG activities with the organisation’s mission and goals. Involve ERGs in talent recruitment, marketing and product development initiatives — their diverse perspectives can help you jump-start innovation, reduce bias and break down barriers.

Whether you’re forming a new group or reviving an existing program, you can set up your ERGs for success with structure, resources and purpose — ultimately helping to build a culture of inclusion and belonging while also making a positive impact on your business.

Interesting in reading about the state of diversity and inclusion in Australian workplaces? Download Indeed’s report, Diversity and inclusion in the workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive.