Best Practices for Starting a Successful Employee Resource Group (ERG)

starting an ERG

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way to connect with your co-workers with shared beliefs as you. You may find that your employer has one or more established ERGs that you identify with and can join right when you start at the company. However, this isn’t always the case, but you’re not out of luck because you might be able to start your own. 

According to a survey of 1,000 professionals by The Mom Project/Werk Labs, only about 50% said their employers offer ERGs in their workplace, but an overwhelming 84% of respondents expressed interest in participating in one. Based on this data, a lot of employees are going to need to step up to get the process started within their organization. 

It may seem like a big undertaking, and to some extent it is. The process will likely take some time and will require you to reach out to leadership. Don’t let that discourage you, though, because it’s a worthy cause. According to the Werk Labs report, two-thirds of respondents agreed that ERGs contribute to cultivating an inclusive workplace, which is obviously a great thing. 

So, if you’re up for the rewarding challenge, here’s what to do to successfully start your own ERG. 

Define your group

First, you need to determine what kind of ERG your company could benefit from. The idea is to create a place where “employees who share a common identity [can] build community, share and learn” from each other. Options include groups centered around:

  • Culture, race and/or ethnicity
  • People with disabilities
  • Gender identity minorities
  • Religion / faith
  • Women in the workplace (especially if they are in the minority)
  • LGBTQ+
  • Age minorities
  • Parents (general, single, going through a divorce, caregivers, etc.)

Once you have an idea for the kind of ERG you want to establish, you’ll want to find out if there is a need and/or interest for it within your organization. Connect with HR to learn more about the company’s demographics (if possible) as well as to ensure there are potential liabilities with creating your specific group. Once you get the go-ahead from them, you can gauge employee interest by sending out a survey or simply through word-of-mouth. 

You don’t need a large number of employees to create a successful ERG, but you want to be sure there is a need and an interest before you go to great lengths to establish yours. 

Steps to take

Once you know there is a need and interest for your ERG, you can move forward with actually establishing it. 

  1. If you haven’t already, get approval from HR and upper management.
  2. Seek out an executive within the organization who will sponsor your group. They don’t have to be deeply invested, but it should be someone who supports your mission and the demographic you’re trying to serve. This person will basically be your liaison with leadership and can speak up for you if they have any issues/concerns with your group after it’s been established. 
  3. What are you trying to accomplish by creating this group? Use the answer to this question to create a general mission statement and list of goals for the ERG. You’ll likely end up changing/refining both of these once the group is fully formed, but writing something out now will give you something to share with other employees who want to learn more about the group before they commit. 
  4. Determine how you want to brand and promote your group, because marketing is essential to your group’s success. Spend some time thinking about what you want the general “vibe” of the group to be. Is this meant to be a place where you all get together to hang out and chat or are you on a mission to make changes in your workplace in some way? If you’re not sure how to go about this, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in your company’s marketing department or to a friend with a creative eye to help you out a bit. 
  5. Start recruiting. Come up with some ways to get the word out to your co-workers, but make sure you get HR approval before you start executing any plans. You can send an email blast, hang up flyers in the break rooms or even go door to door with handouts. Don’t forget to include remote workers, too.
  6. Create a leadership team. Once you have a few members for your group, find out who is interested in serving as a leader alongside you so that you can ensure everyone’s voices are heard. You’ll likely discover new ways of looking at issues and topics of discussion thanks to a more robust leadership team. 
  7. Revise and finalize the ERG’s mission and goals statement. Now that the group is more established, revisit your mission and goals statement to ensure it reflects what the group as a whole wants to accomplish. This way, everyone will feel like they’re being heard.
  8. Revise and finalize the ERG’s mission and goals statement. Now that the group is more established, revisit your mission and goals statement to ensure it reflects what the group as a whole wants to accomplish. This way, everyone will feel like they’re being heard.

Tips for success

  • Think of your group as a place for community, and make sure fellow members feel like it’s a safe place for them to express their feelings 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask other groups for advice/help during the start-up process; later consider partnering up with them on larger issues/goals
  • Make sure the group is inviting and welcoming to people who may not identify with the group’s culture but who want to serve as allies and show their support
  • When you’re establishing your group’s mission and goals, make sure there is some kind of link to the business to ensure it’s not simply perceived as a social club

Get started

Now that you have all of the tools you need, start planning your new ERG. The most important things to remember are to ensure HR/leadership approval throughout the process and to create a space that is welcoming to your coworkers. Don’t be afraid to be the first one at your company to establish an ERG because you’ll help pave the way for more and more groups to form which will ultimately create a more inclusive and positive culture. 

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