December 14, 2017 | By Ameerah Jones
No matter how much you try to create an inclusive environment, it doesn’t always work perfectly. There are probably groups of people at your company—or even in your team—who feel left out. And that sense of exclusion and unfairness has a real effect on performance and retention.
Employee resource groups (ERGs), or affinity groups created and managed by diverse groups of employees, can help underrepresented groups feel included and empowered. But some people wonder if they really work.
Deloitte, a thought leader in diversity and inclusion, made a splash last year when it announced it was doing away with ERGs. The company felt ERGs placed too much of an onus to “solve” inclusion problems on diverse individuals. Deloitte reasoned that straight, white men shouldn’t be left out of the conversation since they frequently wield the most power in their organizations.
Another issue that comes up with ERGs is what happens when someone doesn’t feel they fit into any of the diversity categories—where do they go? Are they not welcome? What’s the incentive to being a minority within a minority?
But if and when done right, ERGs can be the exact answer to creating open, inclusive environments and making everyone feel involved. We have an active ERG culture at TEKsystems, and we recently polled 242 participants to see if it’s working. The results were surprising: 90 percent of ERG participants say their ERG makes them feel more engaged with our company.
This is when leadership buy-in and involvement come into play. If your team members see upper-level leadership participating and bringing up ERG events during meetings, the employees will see the value in these events. If leadership is taking time out of their day for ERG involvement, they receive a clear signal that they won’t be penalized for attendance. So next time your employee says they don’t want to take time away to attend an event, say, “I’m going, why aren’t you?”
There’s a fine line an ERG has to walk between creating a safe space for members, but not excluding others. If your ERGs appear to be exclusive clubs, they will not succeed.
A best practice to avoid the divide is to make sure everyone knows they’re invited. It doesn’t matter if your employee thinks they don’t meet the shared background or interest of the ERG. The more people involved, the more ideas, opinions and perspectives will be brought to the table.
Leadership should announce ERG meetings to everyone on their team, whether that’s at meetings or through email. After meetings, allow ERG members to share their experience with your entire team, further underscoring leadership support and encouraging participation. Understanding the ERG’s objectives, issues and concerns will help your team create better relationships with each other and clients.
Let your team know the benefits ERGs can offer the individual members and your office, like the chance to connect, create a name for your company and partner with like-minded business associates. When hosting awareness events or doing other community outreach, invite your clients to join you. You’ll strengthen relationships and make new connections.
Has your company tried ERGs? We’d love to hear about your successes and obstacles in the comments.