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Diversity & Inclusion - Employee Resource Groups

Employees that identify within diverse subsections of the community can often feel isolated in the workplace as they fail to find common ground with majority populations. Though there has been an increased focus on diverse hiring, this often doesn’t extend into a comprehensive support system for these diverse workers afterwards. One way to foster support for diverse employees is to offer Employee Resource Groups.

Goal


To form affinity groups for diverse populations within the workplace.

What are Employee Resource Groups?
Employee resource groups are voluntary employee-led groups meant for staff that fall within specific identity subcategories of race and gender - though they can also be open to all staff who wish to support the group in question. The first of these groups appeared in the 1960s when former Xerox CEO Joseph Wilson came up with the idea in order to combat racial tensions. The first group of its kind to be formed was the National Black Employees Caucus which had the goal of addressing workplace discrimination. Today many large corporations still use this system in their own workplaces. As members socialize and discuss issues of particular importance to the group, these systems can act both as networking opportunities and catalysts for corporate change.

How do Employee Resource Groups improve employee engagement and culture?
As is the case for many social networks in the office, engagement can be improved by simply allowing employees to have a space for themselves. Within such a space, connections can be made. And as employees band together and potentially propose changes to the business, they will naturally feel more engaged with the organization. Employee resource groups are also a concrete display of an organization’s investment in its employees. Moreover, they act as strong supports of diversity in the workplace, giving marginalized staff a space where they can feel free to be themselves and discuss topics of importance to their identity. Workers are sure to be appreciative of organizations that are this supportive.

What are the benefits?
Potentially unique idea/proposal generation
Promote diversity in the workplace
Create employee social networks and increased engagement
Ideas from employees further down the hierarchy can make it to higher level executives
Leadership skills development for group members

How do you conduct Employee Resource Groups in the workplace?
Employee resource groups should be carefully tailored to the organization in question. This means identifying notable subgroups within the company population and forming groups that will have sufficient attendance. These groups should not be confined to a single office or team but should instead be open to staff across the organization as one of the advantages of Employee Resource Groups is in their ability to connect across physical and organizational boundaries. You would also do well to make sure it’s supported by the company as best as possible, whether this means funding, open communication channels or allowing group activities during work hours.

Action


Form An Employee Resource Group

Get company permission. This can mean permission to form the group but can also mean asking for support in the form of a permanent budget or an executive sponsor. The more leadership backing the better.

Decide on an identity group to focus on. Make a choice as to what specific set of people the employee resource group will be intended for. Look for groups that are underrepresented and consider what your business could benefit from. If you are unsure of what to choose you can ask employees which identity categories they feel could benefit from an employee resource group.

Gather staff members. Gather together and invite employees that may be interested. It’s okay to start small and build up.

Decide group details. This includes factors like whether the group will be open to people who don’t fall within the specific identity but who still want to show support – these people are sometimes referred to as allies and it is recommended that the group is kept open to them. This is also a good time to create a group charter that covers how the group will address and interact with topics of belonging, recruitment and retention, internal and external awareness building, impact on business decisions, community engagement, intersectionality and career development. You want to make it very clear what the group will focus on while checking that you have the autonomy and ability to do what you plan on doing.

Decide the system the group will be run on. It may be useful to come up with a system of cochairs or subcommittees depending on the size of your organization, teams and general geographical locations. A more segmented system may be necessary to avoid putting all the work on the shoulders of one person.

Institute a formal process for ideas to be passed up the line to executives. This could be as informal as coming to group consensus and sending the idea or could involve a spokesperson or dedicated executive liaisons who will take proposals.

Create an online presence. Embrace social media to better connect members. Whether this means Facebook groups or Slack channels, try to connect employees from different areas. Possibly create a site intranet to store relevant information like group charters and projects/events.

Promote the group. Use the above online presence to promote your group. Promotion can also be done via physical posters and word of mouth, existing company communications, intranets, social channels and company meetings.

Plan events. Goal-oriented events can include professional development opportunities, information sharing and community service. Another aspect to consider is the networking side, so feel free to plan light social events. Overall what events are run can vary wildly depending on what the group in question is interested in doing. The group could be involved in things like recruiting, retention and offering cultural perspectives on products and services, depending on the group charter and established goals.

Reference Material
How to Foster Workplace Belonging Through Successful Employee Resource Groups
The hidden power of employee resource groups
Employee Resource Groups: Toolkit for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners

Updated on: 12/24/2020

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