How to build a women's employee resource group

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way to raise awareness about women’s issues in the workplace and ensure a greater level of inclusion, as well as equal access to growth opportunities. Are you thinking of starting a women’s ERG in your company? Or are you already part of one and feeling a bit stuck? Here’s some advice from Femme Palette on how to build a successful women’s employee resource group.

What is a women’s employee resource group?

Generally speaking, an employee resource group (ERG) is a voluntary, employee-led initiative inside a company dedicated to building an inclusive community and supporting diverse employees. Employee resource groups strive to provide opportunities for growth and personal development, create connections, and often host educational or networking events, create training or mentoring programs, and much more.

As the term itself suggests, a women’s employee resource group focuses its activities specifically on women and the issues they face in the workplace. Women’s ERGs bring together a diverse set of women from different backgrounds. The issues women face when it comes to career and the workplace such as lack of representation in leadership positions and certain industries (particularly Tech) or balancing career and motherhood are targeted in the activities of women’s ERGs. One of the main objectives of women-focused employee resource groups is to raise awareness on these issues and foster an open dialogue within the organization on how to target them.

Why is it important to have a women’s ERG at your company?

Ultimately, the outcome of women’s ERGs’ activities should be a greater level of inclusion in the workplace. This means happier employees who feel like they can be their full authentic selves and receive the same level of respect as everyone else in the organization. Workplace happiness and inclusion have been proven to boost employee productivity, engagement and retention. Put simply, a happy employee who feels valued and respected will take greater care of doing a good job and is likely to want to stay with the company longer.

6 tips for building a successful women’s ERG

Start small with like-minded colleagues

It’s okay if you can’t get the whole company on board right at the beginning. What matters more is that your women’s ERG members are all dedicated to the cause and enthusiastic about raising awareness. A smaller group where everyone is on the same page is more effective than a large group where the majority don’t truly care. Start out with just yourself and like-minded colleagues who share the same enthusiasm. It’s fine if it’s just a handful of you, you can expand as you go along.

Have a clearly set mission statement and goals

Your ERG’s initiatives won’t go very far without a clearly set mission and goals. You and your teammates probably have a bunch of ideas for what to improve in your company, but try to take a step back and find what these ideas all have in common. Could it be a greater representation of women in leadership? Improving the parental leave policy? Dedicate one of your first meetings to putting this all on paper.

A mission statement tells everyone why your ERG exists - what its purpose is. Here’s a good example:

“The mission of the university’s women’s resource group is to develop programming on campus that provides support, promotes collaboration, fosters networking, and encourages education and advancement of women on campus.” 

(source: Salem State University)

Your goals are then specific statements of what your ERG wants to accomplish. Try to make them as specific as possible. Here’s an example of a women’s ERG goal:

“Sponsor professional workshops that provide relevant tools that women need to succeed in the workforce.”

(source: Salem State University)

Get the leaders on board

As Hayley Creighton, a speaker at our How to build an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace event says, the key to success with any inclusion effort is to get the company’s senior leadership on board. This will send out a message to everyone that your ERG’s efforts are taken seriously. Hayley recommends to get a senior leader to speak on a panel, so try getting one of the big names on board for your first event. This will set you up for success!

Promote the ERG

Your women’s employee resource group could be doing great things, but if your colleagues don’t know about them, your efforts will be wasted. Make sure to let everyone know that your women’s ERG exists and that everyone is welcome to join or come along to your events. Ask your Internal Communications or HR department to help you spread the word.

Treat the ERG as a community

Let everyone get on board and participate! Approach running your women’s employee resource group as running a community. Give everyone a chance to join in the conversation by asking to share their thoughts and which topics they would like to cover in the future. Run polls to get your members engaged. It’s also great to have a place online where your community can come together - a Slack channel, a Facebook group,... whatever works best for you.

Don’t exclude anyone from the conversation

The cold truth is that many employees and bosses still hold dated views about women in the workplace, and so it’s probable that not everyone will be on board with your women’s ERG’s mission in the beginning. It would be easy to focus only on those who share the same mindset, but the key is not to give up on those who don’t - this is how you can really bring about change! Make sure these colleagues know that they’re welcome to participate in the dialogue and don’t exclude them from your activities. They’re much more likely to eventually change their views if they have the opportunity to be educated on the topic and discuss it openly.

Are you part of a women's ERG and want to provide members with opportunities to grow in their careers? We at Femme Palette are passionate about this topic, and we’re here to help by offering workshops or personalized 1:1 mentoring in your company. Check out our offer for women’s ERGs here!

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