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Key takeaways:

  • Visibility with senior leadership: Implement performance reviews that include ERG participation as a non-voluntary aspect, allocating a percentage of time for ERG-related activities. This approach ensures ERG members receive recognition and professional development opportunities, enhancing their motivation and commitment.
  • Tie ERG participation to organizational goals: Align ERG activities with broader organizational objectives to create accountability and integration within the company’s priorities. Establishing ERG goals that directly contribute to leadership objectives fosters a sense of purpose and relevance, diminishing the perception of ERG involvement as voluntary.
  • Leadership support and accountability: Demonstrate visible support for ERGs from all levels of leadership, emphasizing the importance of ERG participation in achieving organizational goals. Incorporate ERG goals into leadership objectives and performance management systems to maintain momentum and drive continuous improvement in ERG initiatives.

As leaders of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) continue to expand on their efforts for inclusive work environments, many are looking to employee resource groups, or ERGs, to aid in making sure employees feel valued and have an opportunity for career development.

The benefits of ERGs can be critical in advancing DEI. According to a recent Kindred report, ERGs help advocate for inclusive benefits for marginalized communities, provide opportunities for associates to connect with mentors and senior leaders, and develop talent.

But, while many people utilize ERGs for connections, participating comes with more responsibilities. Many companies leverage ERGs that are voluntarily led, and as Corus Entertainment Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lenore MacAdam pointed out, this volunteerism is causing concerns of burnout.

So, how can DEI leaders create effective ERG structures to help their employees succeed? Here are some key steps DEI leaders shared that can help navigate the challenges that come with employees who volunteer in ERGs.

Create Opportunities for Visibility with Senior Leadership Teams

With companies relying heavily on volunteerism to effectively run ERGs, many people may question what their personal benefits are of participating in one. Outside of finding the work rewarding for personal growth, what kind of professional development can ERGs provide?

Tyson Bauer, Director of DEI Employee-Led Initiatives at Beam Suntory, shared insights at the DEI Board panel discussion about setting up ERGs for success. He went in-depth about how performance reviews that integrate ERG participation can help professional development.

“Our ERG leaders have 10% of their time that they dedicate to ERG impacts, and it’s part of their performance review. And so, it’s not voluntary,” Tyson says.

He explains how members in their ERGs have opportunities for career development, networking, having their voices heard, and the ability to get access to decision-makers in their company.

“I think that really helps people feel like it’s worth their time. They’re able to add additional bullet points on their resume, because they’re making big changes that are recommended across the organization,” Tyson says.

Tanya Spencer, Chief Diversity Officer at General Electric Gas Power, adds how the opportunity for visibility with the C-suite prioritizes DEI initiatives and helps advance them.

“Make sure that those leaders have opportunities for visibility with senior leadership for the business about adding it to their priorities,” she says.

Tanya shares how the visibility helps add resources to ERGs to help employees who volunteer balance their work and keep them focused on the DEI priorities.

Make sure that those leaders have opportunities for visibility with senior leadership for the business about adding it to their priorities.

Tanya Spencer, Chief Diversity Officer at General Electric Gas Power

Tie ERG participation to Organizational Goals

While it’s clear how ERGs help your company, whether through a sense of belonging or networking opportunities, it’s also critical to know how employees in ERGs contribute to larger organizational goals.

This can be done by creating accountability in ERG strategies. Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance, shares how leadership accountability helps align ERG participation.

“When you have positive experiences of an inclusive leader, this benefits employees and employers in areas such as problem-solving, work engagement, intent to stay, innovation, and overall work environment,” Dawn says in the article.

Cheya Dunlap, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at Honeywell, also spoke at the DEI Board virtual panel about setting ERGs up for success. She explains how making inclusion and diversity a foundational principle makes it feel less like a side project for their employee networks.

“I think starting from a place of making sure that what we’re doing in our networks in terms of our programming is aligned to our organizational priorities is really key,” Cheya says. “So, that it is integrated and it doesn’t feel like volunteering or sort of a project, and that way everyone who’s participating, they’re involved.”

You need to have that visible support being shown from all the leaders for others to follow.

Siobhan Calderbank, Senior Director of Talent Management at LCBO

One major strategy that was discussed during the panel discussion is tying ERG goals to leadership objectives, as Siobhan Calderbank, Senior Director of Talent Management at LCBO, shares.

“I feel incorporating it into the leadership goals and objectives is also really important, because you need to have that visible support being shown from all the leaders for others to follow,” Siobhan says.

She adds that it’s also essential for leaders to demonstrate their goals to keep momentum moving forward in ERGs.

“Make it important for them, and demonstrate the importance of it to the organization by linking it to the performance management goals that all leaders are to demonstrate and are going to be measured at the end of the year,” Siobhan explains.

Keep Momentum Moving Forward by Benchmarking with Your Peers

Setting up employee resource groups for success at large enterprises comes with many complex challenges. DEI leaders must support their ERGs by aligning their strategies to the larger organizational goals, while at the same time being aware of the balance that comes with participating in an ERG.

And while many employees look to ERGs for opportunities to develop professional skills or to network, participating is still mostly volunteer-based.

So, it’s vital to be aware of how these ERGs not only help your organization but allow for employees to further their careers in a well-balanced manner. But as a senior DEI leader, you don’t have to do it alone.

Keep momentum moving forward in the DEI Board, where members meet daily to confidentially discuss emerging topics. It’s the one place you can go to for unfiltered, unbiased opinions from your peers who lead diversity, equity, and inclusion at billion-dollar enterprises.

Learn more about how membership can help you set your ERGs up for success here.

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