Affinity Groups Are Not Employee Resource Groups
When I worked in the corporate world, I worked for an amazing Fortune 200 company that now ranks in the 100 best companies to work for in the world. They tried to launch an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program for over 20 years but had been unsuccessful. Why was is it so difficult to get the ERG program off the ground? A large part of the problem lay in a lack of understanding of what constitutes an ERG. ERG groups are often confused with Affinity Groups, but Affinity Groups do not have a business case to exist. They operate within a very informal framework and are too often used as forums for socialization and airing complaints. They lack the methodology, framework and metrics ERGs provide.
So, what are best practices for establishing an ERG?
- Make sure championing leadership understands the difference between an Affinity Group and an ERG. Unlike Affinity Groups, ERGs have a business reason to exist and are held accountable to show results. ERGs have metrics that measure attracting, developing and retaining talent. Convincing leadership of a business case may be a marathon that could take months, but the difference is notable.
- Make the Executive Diversity Council (EDC) report directly to the CEO. The Council should be the overarching governing body for the program. ERG should not reside under Human Resources.
- Once formed, the ERG should run like a business. It should have a business plan chair (CEO), a co-chair (VP) and focus area leads for developing and attracting talent. Clear measurable goals should be established by working in conjunction with stakeholders, talent and development and human resources. Do not come up with a business plan in a silo—work with stakeholders to focus on initiatives that align to the vision and goals.
- Secure a budget. If this is important to company leaders, they will make an effort to ensure you have funds for initiatives.
- Report results no less than twice a year to the EDC to continue to get buy-in.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Leaders and employees need to hear that you are running a program that is making a difference and not using company resources to run a social club. Make sure everyone understands what ERGs are, and that although they are focused on a specific ethnic group everyone is welcome join.
- If you are not able to get an entire program approved, start with a pilot program to test the ERG concept for a year.
Collaboration is key. I worked with an amazing female senior vice president who was committed to this initiative and always had my back. Together, we worked with the EDC, company leaders and employees to socialize and launch an initial pilot program of two ERGs. Eight years later this amazing company has a formal ERG program with eight employee resource groups.
TIVC’s mission is to help people work better together, and we are a proven leader in Human Enterprise Optimization recognizing that people are an organization’s greatest assets. TIVC was founded by Jean Payne in 2014. It is a CVE-certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business headquartered in Charles Town, W.Va. We have current and former contracts with government and commercial customers across the nation.
Do you need help creating an ERG? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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