How to get ERGs right: a 5-step guide

While ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) have been around since the 1960s, they have become more relevant today. Benefiting both individuals and organisations, ERGs provide a sense of belonging to underrepresented employees, help companies recruit top talent, improve employee retention, and potentially attract investors. Our DEI Palette Club recently organised a panel discussion on getting ERGs Right with Christine Engel, Ekaterina Syromyatnikova, and Irina Veligan. During the discussion, many insightful tips were shared on how to start an ERG in your organisation, what to do when your company does not have a system and/or a budget for ERG initiatives, and what activities you can do as an ERG.

1. What to consider before starting

There are a few things to consider before starting an ERG. Since starting an ERG is voluntary, it is necessary to be passionate about the goals of your ERG because it would require time and effort on top of your job. When you are passionate about your ERG, it is easier to stay consistent in your efforts to start one. In choosing a topic for your ERGs, Christine advises to talk to people and see what topics they are interested in and whether a group of people shares the same passion with you. 

It is also important to manage your expectations because the engagement or turnout may be low when you start. As Ekaterina stressed during the discussion, “Don’t try to build Rome in one day.” It is better to start with a more organic approach by organising more small-scale and less formal activities to get a small core group going for your ERG.

Lastly, as Irina stressed, it is essential to get leadership support when starting an ERG. Look at how the goals of the ERG align with the company’s strategy. Should the leadership not understand the importance of starting an ERG, it is good to leverage that some investors look at the company’s DEI initiatives, making starting one a smart business decision.

2. How to pitch the idea of starting an ERG to your leadership and get a budget approved

Irina suggests pitching the idea and getting a budget approved as you would any other business initiative. Start with the vision. Tell the leadership what your ERG is going to focus on and do, how this would improve your employee experience, and how the ERG’s goals link to the company’s overall strategy. 

You can also look across the company, specifically the leadership team, and see who could benefit from your ERG. This could be someone in the HR, marketing, or branding team who would be happy that someone is starting one.

Another way to pitch the idea of starting an ERG is a bottom-up approach. You can do this by informally starting a group using company resources. Once you get some traction, you can pitch the idea of starting an ERG and get a budget to do so to the leadership with some evidence of interest and results. 

Whether you are pitching to have an ERG or getting your ERG budget approved, look at some statistics to back up the importance of having an ERG in your company, such as research on annual costs companies had to bear from employees departing due to discrimination.

3. What activities to organise

From our speakers’ experience, organising less formal events work best, especially when you are just starting. People generally appreciate the opportunity to build connections, make friends, and speak to like-minded individuals. This could be in the form of going to brunch or seeing an art exhibition together. These activities become a stepping stone to organising more serious activities because members gradually become more committed to the ERG. 

Ekaterina shares that in Women of Wrike,they host a Slack marathon for Women’s Month, where their members are given little tasks every day, and members post pictures of accomplishing these tasks. Samples of tasks include “Take care of yourself today” and “Do a good deed today.”

Irina shares that they invest a lot in strategic partnerships to assist young girls and women who want to enter the STEM field, which also assists in developing the industry.

Christine shares how to go about activities in a more global and remote team, such as virtual lunch meetings and video interviews In BASF, there are other women's networks. This is an advantage for them because they share information about their events with each other fostering an information-sharing platform amongst each other.

4. How to measure the impact of the ERG

Go back to the goal of your ERG and operationalise it. Irina shared that their goal is to increase the total number of women in their workforce. This means increased recruitment, advancement, and retention of female employees in technical and leadership positions. They track their progress by looking at the percentages in these areas. 

For those that are still starting or haven't devices a measurement for impact yet, you can also measure the success of your ERGs by looking at their reach. You can track the total number of members or participants in your events or the click rate of the content your ERG is sharing to see whether the message resonates with your members and/or the employees in the company.

Qualitative feedback should also not be underestimated and considered when measuring the impact of the ERGs. Christine shared that she received feedback from members of the ERGs saying that they started to talk to someone they probably never would have or discussed a topic they probably never would have without the initiatives of the ERGs. This also reflects the emergence of more networks that ERGs foster within companies.

5. What challenges may arise while starting or maintaining an ERG

Being a voluntary initiative on top of your job, it is possible that you cannot do what you set out to do. Irina suggests having a proactive conversation with your manager regarding your core role vis-a-vis your role as an ERG leader. 

Sometimes, certain negative connotations are attached to an ERG, such as perceiving it to be prescriptive. Due to this, some would argue that an ERG is not needed. Christine advises gently educating those who may push back about the broad range of benefits an ERG can provide. 

If you’re thinking of leading a women’s ERG, we can help by connecting your members with mentors, organising workshops, and helping you create a strategy to set your group up for success.

You can watch the event recording if you’d like to see the whole panel! Would you like to receive invitations to events like this one? Join the Femme Palette community, and we’ll keep you posted on what’s happening!

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