Why Employee Resource Groups?

By Jailene Adorno

 

Did you know that employee resource groups can be one of the most vital assets to a company or organization? An employee resource group (ERG) is an employee-led group that brings together people of diverse backgrounds to share innovative ideas, help accomplish business goals, help employees make connections with others, and to ensure their comfort.

“The main goal of an employee resource group is to provide a space and place for people of similar backgrounds or interests to come together,” says Candace Burns, Director of Workforce Development at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

ERGs often provide a platform for employees to share ideas. By increasing employee engagement, they’ll be more likely to stay and grow with the company. According to Burns, ERGs allow employees to feel more connected to their organization as well.

Companies and organizations should allow for the fostering of unity and diversity rather than hierarchy when it comes to showcasing talent and skills. These groups help in engaging employees to work to their full potential. ERGs are also working to bring together employees in colleges and universities as well.

“It’s important that individuals feel they can bring their whole self to work,” says Donna Bonaparte, Vice President of Human Resources at Babson College. “When this is possible, they can do their very best.”

These groups are also important in helping employees network and make connections with others. By allowing these people the time and space to get together and share their common interests with each other, companies are allowing them to be as innovative as they can be. Employees also have the opportunity to meet and greet with people from various departments.  

“There is a cross-section of representation from different departments at meetings.  Typically attendees wouldn’t be in the same room together,” says Burns. “It has been a great opportunity to connect with executive leadership in a more intimate setting”

When it comes to accomplishing business goals, ERGs help in a big way. By creating that safe place and sense of community, employees are more inclined to reach out to people in their own communities.

“Theses ERGs are able to provide valuable information, ear on the ground information that is necessary for the organization to be successful in the communities we serve,” says Ive Gonzalez, Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Inclusion at Eastern Bank. “Members of the employee network groups engage our communities externally and represent our employees internally—their voice and contributions are invaluable.”

For example, if a specific community has a cultural expectation, need, or there is an opportunity to support the community, employee resource group members are aware and engaged in those issues that affect those communities. They help facilitate information and insights through engagement and connections externally, and they have executive management support internally to reach out to our different communities to impact positive change.

Employee resource groups provide an overall value to different companies, organizations, colleges, and universities. “It’s the value of the employee, really,” says Bonaparte. “Value is achieved when you have optimum success of the employee. If they can’t be themselves, they can’t perform as well.”  

Alyce Johnson, Staff Diversity and Inclusion Manager at MIT, believes that ERGs also help to foster a sense of community for employees. “The ERGs enhance our community, and educate our community,” says Johnson.

When it comes to leadership exposure, Johnson explained how the infrastructure of the ERGs gives employees the opportunity to volunteer, and become part of a planning group to develop programming and events.

“It’s an open forum for staff to come together,” says Johnson.

Gonzalez spoke about how giving employees the opportunity to take on leadership roles, changes their whole mindset. “In their position, they may not be able to be expand a certain skill set because the position does not require it,” says Gonzalez. “So when they are given projects and are able to express themselves, they come alive. They are able to acquire new skills in a safe and supportive environment. This enables our employees to take on a role that will expand their skill sets—this is a win-win for the individual, the company, and the community.”

Employee resource groups raise awareness of issues and thoughts about things that employees can’t necessarily say aloud in the office. These groups also allow for them to ask questions about how to move forward in their career and how to become valued employees.  
How does your company or organization utilize employee resource groups?