How to run an ERG program
Forward-thinking companies recognize the way we work is changing. When it comes to inclusive workplaces, diverse hiring practices are just the beginning. Once hired, employees expect more than a place where work happens — they want to be part of the culture building. They want to come together and socialize, learn, innovate and drive change. They’re looking for purpose at work. But how can you transform a company into a community?
Employee resource groups (or ERGs) can do just that. They bring employees with shared goals or life experiences together to create a culture of belonging. ERG programs empower each group by giving them a collective voice to speak with decision makers and leadership. And when employees become part of a larger community and feel they’re heard, it leads to better retention and recruitment too.
Maybe you’re starting an ERG program from scratch, formalizing an existing program or auditing a program you just took over. No matter where you are in the journey, we hope to provide you with valuable advice and best practices for running employee resource groups.
Steps to running an ERG program
1. Review your program’s purpose
Your overall program purpose should be clear and easy to understand for both ERG members and the larger company community. Here are some ideas:
- Our ERG program will create an open forum for employees who share common passions, interests or experiences to meet and support each other in building their community.
- Our program will offer ERGs financial and organizational support and access to decision makers.
- Our program will work toward creating a culture of respect, belonging and inclusiveness at work.
“Guided by the Inclusive Communities framework and governed by the Inclusive Communities Experience team, we’re demonstrating transformational value in how we attract, retain, develop, and promote diverse talent, how we drive business results, and how we positively impact people in communities across the globe.”
If you have company data you can share around representation and inclusion, use it to support your ideas. It’s also helpful to align the purpose of your ERGs to your company values.
2. Set up your ERGs
If you’re starting a program from scratch, consider getting input from your people and asking about groups they’re interested in launching, or reach out to grassroots groups that may already exist informally. You can collect feedback from different departments and see who may be interested in leading or volunteering for your ERGs.
You can start small and be clear you’ll be creating other groups later. Ideally, your ERGs will be working together rather than existing in a silo. Each employee resource group should create a safe space for employees who have an affinity or shared experiences. These might include:
- BIPOC employees
- Employees with disabilities
- LGBTQ+ employees
- Neurodiverse employees
3. Get to know your ERG leads
Having the right leads is crucial in steering your groups in the right direction. You may find yourself in one of these scenarios:
- You’re helping an informal ERG become “official” by supporting its existing leadership team in getting governance in place or by including it on your list of company-supported ERGs.
- You’re assisting a new group in forming a founding committee or helping them identify a cochair.
- You’re stepping into an ERG program leadership role and building a relationship with the existing ERG leads.
ERG leads usually serve as a bridge between executives and group members, so it’s important they are competent in inspiring others as well as in inspiring change. These individuals should have strong communication and conflict management skills, and they should understand how the ERG strategy aligns to the company’s business. They’ll need to create an inclusive space for all members, but also be capable of making firm decisions when necessary.
ERG leads are often members of the group they represent. For example, a veteran’s group is likely to be led by a vet. As a program administrator, you’ll need to be a champion for your ERG leads. Be ready to support the folks doing the hard work of representing historically marginalized populations.
Show your leads what initiatives, communications, events and reporting are expected, but let them decide how to run events, deliver communications and build their teams. Give them the autonomy to make the group their own.
4. Engage leadership or executive support
Sponsorship from your leadership team shows your company stands behind its ERGs with support in different ways. If you can, secure an executive sponsor who will make the success of the group a priority. They may help in the form of guidance, budget, mentoring, visibility and networking.
The executive sponsor can:
- Serve as a public advocate for the group.
- Ask company leaders to lend support to the group’s initiatives.
- Mentor ERG members.
- Help the group grow with funding and connections.
Ideally, your CEO should also provide vocal support for your ERG program and provide a tangible investment in money and time.
Tech start-up Mogul’s Founder and CEO, Tiffany Pham, celebrates International ERG Day annually to give ERGs the support and recognition they deserve. According to Pham in this Forbes article, ERGs play a crucial role in developing a truly diverse and equitable workforce, and it comes down to inclusive leadership with top-down buy-in and support.
5. Establish a charter
Your employee resource groups should have consistent structures and processes, which will help drive collaboration and organization across all of them. You can create a charter to document the structure, roles, mission, goals, communication channels, rituals and meetings. (Vibrant Pittsburgh has a great charter template you can use for your own groups.)
A mission statement can help guide the actions for each ERG. Establish who the group is for, what members can expect from participating and the issues the group seeks to overcome. Once this is defined, the group can create goals that align to the needs of its members and the company’s business objectives, if applicable.
You’ll need to outline the roles and responsibilities of your ERG leaders, executive sponsors and volunteers. ERGs should include several leadership roles and make a succession plan before one is needed. Decide in advance how often groups might meet, and formalize voting rules and other decision-making processes as necessary.
6. Allocate a budget for ERGs
While many of the people involved with your ERGs are volunteers, your groups will require financial and structural support to succeed. Each ERG should have a budget for training and development, including conferences and speakers, as well as events and food. A best practice is to provide each ERG with their own budget for the year. You may also want to invest in ERG software to make it easier to manage and run your program and get the data you need.
ERGs tend to receive more financial support once they demonstrate they are achieving business-related goals. Ask ERG leads to submit budget requests explaining how and when they plan to use the funds. This will help you build connections across the business and create records for ERG purchases and spending for year-end.
Organizations with established, progressive ERG programs have dedicated team members whose entire focus is supporting their employee resource groups. As reported in this Forbes article, companies like LinkedIn have even begun compensating their global ERG leads for their efforts, recognizing the real labor these folks put in on top of their day jobs.
7. Start recruiting group members
Work together with ERG leads to encourage others to join. They can spread the word by sending out corporate emails, adding ERG information to onboarding materials and promoting events and programs in communication channels like newsletters or Slack. Information about your program and individual ERGs can be shared on the company’s intranet.
Ask leaders to leverage their personal networks within the company to encourage ERG involvement.
8. Measure your impact
Track your engagement and assess your program effectiveness with data such as membership growth, event participation and survey results. If you use ERG software, you may be able to tailor your reporting to reflect each ERG’s specific mission and goals.
Take it a step further and keep track of each ERG’s impact on company initiatives such as retention, turnover, employee engagement and recruitment. You can also connect ERGs to curated giving and volunteering opportunities and causes in your purpose program.
Here are some useful metrics to track by Vibrant Pittsburgh:
- Add questions about ERGs on employee diversity and inclusion satisfaction surveys.
- Administer post-event surveys to attendees.
- Keep track of talent referrals from ERG members.
- Map the group’s activities to the mission, goals and objectives in the ERG’s charter.
- Capture testimonials/quotes from event attendees and others who have benefited from the ERG’s activities.
- Track the number of internal/external events.
- Determine the ERG member retention rate.
- Record the number of volunteers and hours volunteered.
9. Collaborate, grow and adapt
When your employee resource groups work together, they can share resources and amplify the impact they can create. Look at your ERG program holistically and try to promote allyship among groups to encourage networking and knowledge sharing.
And as your workforce shifts and your employees’ needs change, be sure to evolve and adapt your program. By providing structure, resources and purpose to your ERG program, you can set your ERG leads up for success.
How to support your ERG leads
Your ERG leads will often face common obstacles — they’ll need your organization’s support and resources to reach their full potential. For example, they may feel unsupported and overwhelmed. How can you help them with day-to-day and administrative support? Could you provide new ERG leads with a best practices guide?
Some ERGs have trouble keeping momentum and engaging their members. Will you provide them with a place for discussions, feedback and events to keep the ideas flowing? Centralizing communication across ERG leads can help them work more efficiently with you (and support each other).
And finally, ERG leads are likely using a combination of tools to manage it all: intranets, chat tools, spreadsheets, email and more. This can lead to inefficiencies and manual work no one has time for. Consider making life easier for everyone with purpose-built software for ERGs.
Learn more about common challenges faced by ERG leaders in our blog, The 10 biggest ERG challenges (and how to solve them).
Company + community = DEI growth
Having a well-supported ERG program is one of your company’s best levers for DEI. When you create a more unified workplace, you ignite a powerful community that can create a ton of impact. ERGs can help your company achieve key strategic goals from recruitment and retention to building a more diverse culture.
Benevity Affinity Groups is designed to support these broader business objectives while helping ERG leaders manage the day-to-day of creating communities of belonging. Learn more about Benevity Affinity Groups or book a demo.