Employee Resource Groups have been around for decades.  Also known as affinity groups, business resource groups, or diversity and inclusion groups, they are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives.  A noble purpose indeed.  Yet, their impact on the bottom line is often questioned, and many organizations find it difficult to justify the time and funding necessary to ensure success.

After talking with a number of women’s employee resource group leaders experiencing similar pain points, I wanted to share the challenges and ideas to overcome them.  This article is for you if any of these barriers sound familiar.

Does your ERG…

  • Have a reasonable budget? If not, your organization is not serious about its success.  Studies show organizations that achieve gender equality invest to make it happen.
  • Have a strategic plan? When ERGs have a mission, vision, value proposition, and goals aligned with the business it supports, engagement and traction increases.
  • Have senior leadership support? To be successful, the most senior leaders need to be present and in the loop on ERG initiatives.  With organizations still hovering around 20% women in the C-suite, having male ally support is critical.

As Chuck Shelton at Greatheart Consulting shared in our recent podcast, women’s ERGs are the springboard to other diversity and inclusion initiatives within an organization.  We found in our research for ONE, that experts in this space tend to agree that having male ally support and prioritizing the women’s ERG efforts first leads to success in other diversity groups (race, LGBTQ, disability, etc.).

Other expert organizations like Catalyst and Forbes have been actively researching and consulting with ERGs for years.  They offer these key themes for ERGs that perform at a higher level and move the needle on diversity:

  • Have a reasonable budget. It is not fair to expect members to give their time for free (in addition to doing their day job), and to operate with a skinny budget.  Having a plan for speakers, events, and/or recognition programs is not expensive, and increases engagement.
  • Measure the impact on the business. When you have a budget, you need to be able to show a ROI.  Most organizations cite increased retention, decreased HR complaints, and increased collaboration across business units.  How does that lead to increased business results?
  • Live a strong purpose statement. ERGs need to document their strategy, and most important to that is why it exists.  What does success look like?  Where will you be in 3 years?  What makes this group different?  Having a strategic plan with a road map of activities cascades from there.  If you do not know where you are going, how will you ever know if you have achieved success?
  • Create a safe place. Paramount to success is trust.  Trust is table stakes.  The highest performing ERGs trust each other implicitly and have difficult conversations about real issues without fear of retaliation or “getting in trouble.”
  • Have strong leadership. Leadership sets the tone for the ERG.  A strong leader communicates openly inside and outside the group with senior leadership.  The leader gets input, shares the strategic plan, updates sponsors on achievements, and includes them in pivotal discussions.
  • Provide thought leadership. Organizations should be looking to their women’s ERG as a source of innovation.  What do women think about customer needs, internal policies, competitive positioning, ideas to be more efficient, etc.?

In her book, Inclusion, Jennifer Brown offers these strategies for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to be successful:

  • Charter a clear purpose around three pillars of workforce, workplace, and marketplace – key business objectives for most companies
  • Honor a community that is valued by the company (likely underrepresented or misunderstood)
  • Communicate that everyone, from employees to senior leaders to customers to the business itself, benefits from involvement as a member or ally – it is not exclusive

At Pivot Point, we could not agree more with Jennifer.  As collaborators in this small, yet mighty male ally space, we recommend employee resource groups be inclusive to male allies.  In fact, a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group shows women only efforts stall in organizations with a 30% success rate vs. 96% when men are involved.  Women’s employee resource groups are critical.  We just need to ensure they are include everyone if we want to create positive change for everyone.

Calling more #maleallies for #genderequality!

How will you leverage these strategies at your organization?

Interested in learning more?  Subscribe to our podcast and blog series, download your Male Ally Action Plan, and order your copy of ONE at NextPivotPoint.com.

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