Join the discussion with Barbara Spitzer and Karen Forward, two passionate talent leaders from New York and Toronto, as they delve into the transformative power of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in driving stakeholder inclusion and responsible leadership. From discussing practical ERG approaches to emphasizing critical success factors and the role of the C-Suite, they highlight the importance of creating inclusive environments beyond the workplace. The discussion leaves no doubt that ERGs are powerful tools for creating lasting change, fostering innovation, and building organizations that thrive in today’s world.

Karen: I’ve been reading a few Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) company reports and noticed a step change in how they are talking about talent strategies and their alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They seem to be creating a new window to their organizations that set them up as responsible leaders and employers and a great way to help attract talent. Are you seeing this too?

Barbara: For sure. They are aligning their talent activities around a number of these goals including equity, fair pay, decent work, safety, health and wellness and education. They are also prominently featured in their public ESG reporting, thanks to recent and coming SEC regulations here in the US. Essentially, it’s about creating inclusive environments, both within workplaces and the communities they serve. But I think it’s time to rethink the Employee Resource Group model in how they support these goals. In many ways, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) started as “support groups” and some organizations still think of them this way while many others are beginning to evolve the model. I think they should be renamed Business Resource Groups (BRGs) where the members are vital resources to the business around how to make the organization more inclusive and how to make products and services more inclusive and equitable for diverse customer populations.

Did you know that some retailers charge women of color more for their make-up, that mortgage red-lining still holds minorities back from home ownership, and that some medical diagnostic criteria discriminate – limiting treatment and insurance coverage eligibility? Yes, R&D, product management and marketing departments are becoming more diverse, but employees are a vast untapped source of innovation and insight. ERGs or BRGs have a tremendous unexploited return on investment. 

Karen: I like the idea of calling them BRGs. I’m also seeing a realignment of performance management at an organizational and personal level to address these Sustainability Development Goals. For example, Accenture has a 360 value framework, which helps set goals that excel financially and leave a positive mark on society. 

Barbara: Yes, and ERGs are often positioned as a value driver of equity, diversity and inclusion strategies. They are proving to be invaluable in promoting inclusion.

Karen. Tell me more about that.

Barbara. As you know, ERGs provide employees with shared interests or characteristics and a sense of community and belonging. The impact they are bringing to organizations is remarkable and serves as catalysts for positive change. They really help amplify the voices of underrepresented groups, improve employee engagement and by fostering diverse perspectives, they even fuel innovation. And as I said earlier, they are a priceless resource for accelerating a company’s unique differentiation as an equitable business that will attract more customers, revenue and shareholder value.

Karen: Let’s get tactical for a moment and talk about the types ERGs and what makes them successful. In my experience I have seen several types including Ethnic ERGs, Affinity ERGs, Career Development ERGs, Health and Wellness ERGs, individuals with disabilities, and many more. I’m also seeing leading organizations supporting in the range of eight to fifteen organized ERGs that cater to a range of employee needs including sources of support, spaces for networking, mentorship and development.

What do you think makes them successful?

Barbara: From a success perspective I see three critical factors. Firstly, executive sponsorship is key as it demonstrates top-level commitment; this clears a path for access to resources and provides space for people to drive activities. Secondly, ERGs should be integrated into the organization’s DNA, embedded in its values and practices. And thirdly, they should be supported by global and local policies and processes that facilitate equal opportunities and educationOne of my projects was with a global retailer where we helped them develop a strategy for their ERGs because the number of chapters and off-shoots had become unmanageable and un-fundable, severely diluting their impact.

What are your thoughts?

Karen. That’s a great example. One more I would add is recognizing the opportunity to extend ERG’s influence to positively drive change in the external community too. I have the privilege to be the Executive Sponsor of our Military ERG in Canada, and one of the things our team is focusing on is how we mirror our commitments internally but also externally to the communities we serve.

An example of what this looks like is the work with True Patriot Love on the Captain Nichola Goddard Women in Leadership Series. The organization provides a forum for the sharing of ideas between the military and corporate worlds and feature panel discussions with Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and corporate leaders discussing their experience as leaders and what has shaped them into the leaders they are today. It also provides a networking opportunity and learning opportunity for employees on leadership skills and dealing with challenging situations that military members face regularly. On top of this, we helped raise thousands of dollars.

Barbara: You mentioned executive sponsorship. The Board and C-Suite have a pivotal role to play as culture makers and accelerate stakeholder inclusion. Boards are more and more focused on non-financial metrics to drive talent outcomes. By using data and creating a safe environment for people to self-disclose information, they can identify gaps and implement initiatives to promote talent equity, career pathways, and social impact. They can also invest in workplace processes and policies such as flexible work arrangements and diverse hiring practices.

Karen: It’s always fun chatting with you, Barbara.

Barbara: Looking forward to our next let’s talk talent topic. Also let’s leave that ERG Planning Canvas that may help leaders take their Employee Resource Groups to the next level and boost stakeholder inclusion.

Download our ERG Template to rethink how you use your ERGs.

Copyright 2023. The views expressed in this post are Karen and Barbara’s own and do not represent the opinions or views of any organization or entity. If you would like to quote or use snippets from this post for other purposes, please get in touch with Barbara and Karen for permission.

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