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Key takeaways:

  • Set clear ERG goals: Establish specific and clear goals for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to align with larger organizational objectives. Ensure that ERGs understand their purpose and how they contribute to the company’s overall diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.
  • Tie ERG activities to business goals: Connect ERG activities to larger business objectives to demonstrate the importance of diversity and inclusion within the company. Provide support and leadership structures within the organization to help ERGs achieve their goals effectively.
  • Established structured ERG governance: Implement a structured governance model for ERGs to facilitate goal-setting, resource allocation, and measurement of success. This model should involve executive leadership and representatives from various business units to ensure alignment with organizational priorities.

Implementing employee resource groups, or ERGs, at large enterprises comes with many benefits. At many companies, participating in ERGs gives employees opportunities for ​​professional development and to be more involved with larger organizational goals.

But as a leader of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it’s key to understand the complex roles of ERGs and ensure a proper governance structure is in place to align their goals to larger DEI strategies.

Highlighted in a Great Place to Work study, ERG leaders face uphill battles with budgeting and obtaining resources, making it challenging to achieve goals.

It’s critical to establish specific and clear goals, dedicated roles, and processes that can help provide a way to manage large ERGs and measure their success.

Here are some key steps to set ERGs up for success with established governance structures, which were shared during a recent DEI Board panel discussion where DEI leaders Tanya Spencer, Tyson Bauer, Cheya Dunlap, and Siobhan Calderbank provided insight.

Create Clear Goals for Your ERGs

A critical first step is to establish what ERGs are not responsible for in your organization, as Tanya Spencer, Chief Diversity Officer at General Electric, pointed out during the panel discussion.

“They are not a replacement for grievances, they are not [Employee Assistance Programs], they serve a different purpose,” Tanya says.

She explains being clear on the parameters of ERGs can help DEI leaders establish clear goals. This includes setting priorities and establishing what ERGs influence in larger organizational goals.

Tanya states whether it’s goals for belonging, engagement, culture, or things that ERGs don’t have direct responsibility for, it’s essential to understand how they tie into the business process while not being responsible for the outcomes.

“They are not a replacement for grievances, they are not [Employee Assistance Programs], they serve a different purpose.”

Tanya Spencer, Chief Diversity Officer at General Electric

One of the key areas that Tanya says ERGs can help with is diverse recruiting.

“I think it’s important to be really clear that the ERGs don’t own the headcount. And so, to make them responsible for it is probably not the right priority,” she says. “But how do they tie into the business process of recruiting so that they can be a very visible face to the communities that want to see and want to engage with those different diverse communities as they’re joining a company? I think it is important.”

Tie ERG Activities to Larger Business Goals

An established structure can help drive the goals for ERGs, as Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Illumina Dr. Lisa Toppin pointed out in a Forbes story about the value of ERGs to organizations.

“ERG activities communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion at a company because they are lived, fully expressed experiences that allow all employees to develop a practice of inclusion,” she says.

DEI Board member Cheya Dunlap, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Honeywell, explained how understanding what ERGs are responsible for in organizational goals could help advance DEI goals.

Cheya says one of the first things you can do to help ERG structure is making sure there are people directly leading ERG goals.

“At Honeywell, we’re restructured, and there are probably lots of different ways to do this, but we have an executive inclusion of diversity council that’s chaired by our chairman and CEO, as well as the Chief Human Resources Officer, myself, and Chief Labor Counsel. There’s representatives from each of our major business units as well as our employee networks,” she says.

Cheya shares how this structure helps provide additional support for their employee networks and helps to address things such as representation and retention activities. This same structure is used throughout their organization. Representatives of each business unit’s employee network partner with their HR team and legal team to address business concerns.

“That really sets the tone for how important this is and that you’re going to get support, and you’re not going to spin your wheels for months and months to try to get things moved through the system,” Cheya says.

“ERG activities communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion at a company because they are lived, fully expressed experiences that allow all employees to develop a practice of inclusion.”

Dr. Lisa Toppin, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Illumina

Benchmark with Senior DEI Leaders to Help Establish ERG Governance

Establishing an effective ERG governance is no easy task. DEI leaders must be sure to tie ERG goals with bottom-line strategies while at the same time ensuring employees who participate in ERGs feel they’re adding value to larger initiatives.

With how complex this task can seem, many DEI leaders look to their peers for answers — those who have already established successful governance and are leading effective ERGs.

Tanya and Cheya recently joined DEI Board Members Tyson Bauer and Siobhan Calderbank for a virtual panel discussion and gave insight into creating successful ERG governance. You can catch all the leadership tips they provided by watching the video recording here.

DEI Board members have conversations on emerging DEI topics like this every day. The DEI Board is the one place senior leaders of diversity, equity, and inclusion can get unbiased answers directly from their peers, in total confidentiality, without any vendors.

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