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Engaging Employee Resource Groups to Foster Connection + Inclusion

Employee Resource Groups

August 25, 2021

Embedding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into your organization takes every tool in the toolbox. One great tool for doing so is Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are designed to uplift underrepresented groups.

These groups go by many names and are sometimes called Affinity Groups or Business Resource Groups or Networks, depending on the organization. No matter what name is used, these groups can serve as the canaries within your organization, alerting you to conversations, feelings and happenings — if you are willing to listen and act.

As with anything hard or worth doing, we must roll up our sleeves and get to work no matter what you uncover. ERGs play an integral role in filling in organizational gaps and finding ways to meet employee and customer needs, when and how they prefer. They can also uncover ways organizations can communicate more inclusively or build new products and services to meet the needs of a segment or demographic.

Key Elements of ERGs

Fostering connection and creating space where employees feel seen, respected, valued and empowered are key elements that lay the foundation for an ERG program. Successful resource groups:

  • Raise the voices of underrepresented employees
  • Contribute to the business through the customer lens
  • Synergize engagement efforts across the organization

Whether grassroots, Human Resources or DEI Office driven, it is imperative resource group voices are heard and valued in the spaces and places that matter. Providing employees the autonomy to share concerns, identify pain points and gather insights is required to create a sustainable program.

Resource groups are more than a nice-to-have. They truly provide connection to what’s really happening and provide a gateway beyond the annual opinion survey and can identify root cause issues.

Get Your Organization on the Right Track

With this said, as we work to create the space for these groups to thrive, it is important we find ways to listen and embed these learnings in every part of our organizations. Don’t be afraid to ‘press pause’ to ask if there are ways to take new insights and build or rebuild policies, programs or practices to be inclusive of all people.

Here are a few steps to help your organization get started:

  1. Start a conversation about what ERGs are and what they are not. Whether you have a long-standing resource group program or are looking to start one, be clear about their purpose and how they strategically fit into your organization.
  2. Form an exploratory group to gain momentum. Draft a charter document, one that provides strategic connectivity to your organization's business or purpose. Make sure the document outlines structure, governance and accountability.
  3. Create a communication plan. Share when and how employees can get involved. Be sure not to fall into the trap of blaming, complaining or whining.
  4. Formulate your resource group’s strategic plan. What are they doing to move beyond the ‘nice to have?’ Are they sharing insights with decision makers? Ensure these groups are taking action and solving for root-cause issues.
  5. Celebrate successes little or large. Share your accomplishments and the story of how ERGs have made an impact. And, be sure to provide an annual recap of the group’s work to all stakeholders.

There is no one right way to build and lift resource groups. Do what works best for your organization. The important thing is to get started. Strike up a conversation, seek to listen and understand and take actionable steps to engage all voices.

Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need or sign up for Mentor Connection to build relationships with a trusted group of mentors.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Eric Shepard

Eric Shepard is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Talent Director at MidAmerican. He is responsible for MidAmerican’s DEI strategic plan. For nearly 20 years, Eric has been leading, developing and coaching others while creating spaces for all voices to feel respected, valued and heard.