Are you or your organization interested in creating an ERG? Do you have interest from others to form a group? What support do you have from leadership? Is there a framework in place for you to launch a new network? Are you considering starting multiple ERGs? If so, which group should be prioritized? Where do you even start? If you have any or all of these questions, you are not alone! ERGs are constantly being formed at organizations around the world and for many different demographics and populations.
As you are thinking about forming an ERG, reflect on the purpose of the ERG, as well as whom it will serve. Who would be the main members of this ERG? How will it support both the organization and the employees who are a part of the group?
As an ERG is formed, it is important to have a charter to document the founding date of the ERG, leadership positions and governance, and additional operating guidelines. Let’s discuss the formation of an ERG, including structure, guidelines and best practices for how to operate an ERG.
How to Start an ERG
- Establish the objective.
- Garner interest (identify at least five to seven founding members of the ERG, including allies).
- Establish the charter.
- Assess stakeholder disposition.
- Establish governance, including lines of reporting and advising, and structure for receiving feedback and approvals.
- Utilize the 5 Ps framework for operating guidelines for your ERG.
- Address key issues as your group develops through dialogue and careful decision making.
How to Form an ERG
The first steps for forming an employee resource group include establishing the objective of the group, and also garnering interest and gathering at least five individuals (to demonstrate interest and leadership) who would be founding members. You may already know a couple of people who are interested, but you should go beyond your immediate network and invite others to participate.
After the ERG is formed, make a public announcement that this group is coming into existence. This ensures that the process is open to all and is equitable for those who may not be in the same circles as the individuals who are forming the group. Note that the formation of the group may be initiated by company leadership or by a group of interested individual employees. The circumstances for forming an ERG are different for every organization.
As you begin forming your group, it’s time to note key elements into a charter. Your charter is the founding document that accounts for the formation of the employee resource group, specific guidelines around who is involved, the purpose of the group and any operating principles that are important to note, including the role of the executive sponsor (the senior leader who will champion the ERG internally), budgetary guidelines, term limits and requirements for communication and meetings. The charter should be a fairly brief document that outlines the main points of the group. Any type of document outlining operating guidelines in more detail beyond those in the charter can be changed from year to year as needed. The charter is a foundational document that remains in its original form over a few years. HR, DEI leads or company leadership may have a template to keep the information specific and consistent. It may be helpful to get together with other ERGs that have already formed or are forming at your organization to compare notes and share ideas about what should be included in the charter.
How to Operate an ERG
To help support your charter and also define the operating principles of your ERG, I have developed a framework to aid in the functioning of your ERG. At its core, the role of the ERG is ultimately to serve its members and your organization at the same time. How can this be done in the most effective way?
The 5 Ps of ERGs
What is the purpose of your employee resource group? It is important to identify the key reasons for having this employee resource group exist in a formalized way. If these reasons can be articulated in the form of a vision or mission, that will help your group stay focused.
Write down your vision and mission and share it with the rest of your ERG leaders (and eventually your members). The purpose of your ERG should be clear and articulated in a way that is easy to understand for members and your general company community. There are many people who will not be a part of the employee resource group who would like to know its purpose.
The people involved in employee resource groups are the core of how the group operates. Without its people, there is no employee resource group! Key stakeholders involved in the ERG range from the members themselves to the leaders, to executive sponsors, to a diversity council (a cross-functional group focused on diversity goals in the organization). Make a list of the key stakeholders involved with your group and think about your goals for engaging each one of them.
Let’s discuss the processes needed to effectively operate an employee resource group. The first step is to establish a regular cadence of meetings. You will also need to understand and define the reporting structure of whom the ERG shares updates with and from whom it receives approval for decisions. To whom do the ERG leaders turn for advice, approval, support and any questions? There should be an established line of reporting and advising from the ERG to human resources leaders, DEI leaders or another point person at the company who oversees the groups. This manager helps streamline processes and offers support for decision making and budgetary requests. They are also invaluable at guiding ERGs through the dynamics of the organization and addressing any needs that arise.
Having regular meetings with the HR, DEI or community relations manager in charge of the ERGs can help foster a sense of confidence in ERG leaders that they are on the right track.
In addition to reporting structure, there are other processes that need to be determined. How much money is an employee resource group allocated per year? How are budgetary requests approved? How do you get the input of executive team members on a large company event and have them say a few opening remarks?
These types of questions are common, and regular communication with the group’s advisors can help answer them. Having regular meetings with the HR, DEI or community relations manager in charge of the ERGs can help foster a sense of confidence in ERG leaders that they are on the right track.
Once you have the people and processes in place, it is important to plan the year’s activities and even have goals for each month. First, the group should specify what meetings will occur each month and what communications will be sent out to the ERG membership. How often will communications to the ERG membership be expected? What is needed to prepare for the membership meetings each month? How often will the ERG leaders make preparations for the other activities? What types of surveys and feedback forms can be helpful to plan events? It is important to start with feedback from the members in addition to ideas from the leadership to make sure that they are in alignment.
In addition, it is essential to come back to the purpose, vision and mission of the employee resource group. If the vision is to promote career advancement of a certain demographic within the organization, then perhaps there can be mentoring programs and other activities that support individuals’ career development and professional goals. If the objective of the ERG is to impact organizational culture to make it a more inclusive place to work, then activities that promote a sense of belonging, equity and inclusion for individuals from marginalized groups will be of the utmost importance. If an ERG’s goal is to have more connections with the community or to build partnerships with associations in the industry, then perhaps there can be initiatives and subcommittees dedicated to this cause.
If you’re planning your own group’s events, make sure to check in with the leaders of other groups to see if there can be some joint events.
All in all, the importance of the planning phase of employee resource groups cannot be overstated. Activities such as a leadership retreat or an all-hands meeting can be used for planning and incorporating ongoing dialogue with members.
Planning can be prompted by current events and also issues that arise within the organization around the employee population of the ERG. As we have seen in recent years, there have been a number of instances when societal and global events have grabbed everyone’s attention, and employee resource groups have stepped up to address needs.
Common activities that are planned throughout the year for employee resource groups include social mixers, guest speakers, leadership retreats, mentoring conversations and programs, wellness and mental health workshops, community volunteering days, and more. With your own group, you can plan for a calendar year of activities and aim for certain objectives to be accomplished in each quarter.
The approach I encourage is cross-collaboration across employee resource groups. This is such a phenomenal way to connect with others, preserve budgets and show solidarity and support to others within the company across demographic groups. If you’re planning your own group’s events, make sure to check in with the leaders of other groups to see if there can be some joint events. It also helps lighten the calendar to have events that tie in together so that employees are not overwhelmed with having to choose between activities that may occur at the same time.
How do you prioritize activities throughout the year? Brainstorm all the activities you’d like to do in a year and set out to organize when each of these events can take place and how they align with key moments throughout the year, such as heritage months, and also the company calendar. For example, it may be advantageous to consider inviting an African American speaker to address your company in conjunction with Juneteenth events at a celebration already planned at your organization. Planning with priorities in mind is both strategic and a way to ensure sustainability of your ERG.
The 5 Ps framework can be a starting point for brainstorming and organizing with your employee resource group each year. These fundamentals are essential to consider when operating your ERG to maximize its success.
How to Form and Operate ERGs: Questions for Reflection
- What expectations are in the ERG charter around term limits and the commitment level of ERG leaders?
- What is the average number of hours that the ERG leader or officer is contributing per month? What about any other ERG committee leaders?
- How many events per month are being conducted by this ERG? What is the frequency of participation in events by each ERG leader?
- How many ERG members are being served by this position?
- What are some key outcomes that have been achieved through this ERG?
- What resources are needed by the ERG?
- What can be provided to ERG leaders as financial compensation or that is as valuable as financial compensation, such as additional vacation time or other fringe benefits?
- What other questions are important for your group to discuss in order to define how to operate your ERG most effectively?
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Adapted from The Power of Employee Resource Groups: How People Create Authentic Change by Farzana Nayani, with permission from Berrett-Koehler Publishers, June 2022.