Why have an employee resource group?

Jan 24, 2021

ERGs get your people involved to make changes from the heart of your organization, rather than being imposed from the top down.

Does your organization have a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) initiative? Do you have an employee resource group? If you don’t, you are missing a golden opportunity to better your firm and incorporate the voices of your employees. Our DEI&B initiative began in the summer of 2018. We started our ERG about six months later. This has been a hugely beneficial experience for us as a firm, and we’ve learned so much throughout this process.

Here are some of the steps we’ve taken that have helped us successfully create a meaningful ERG:

  • Create a team. One of the first things we had to do to make this work was create an employee group to help champion this huge, ongoing program. We knew that if we didn’t get our employees involved and excited about DEI&B, the initiative would not succeed. We also knew that these initiatives must be supported by leadership and championed by the employees themselves. The initial intent of the ERG was to have an all-employee, no-manager group consisting of representatives from each of our 30-some offices.
  • Get employee buy-in. We learned from experience that the best path forward for any initiative is creating buy-in from the employees. We’ve done this several times with great results. For example, our employee engagement survey results had follow-up action plans, all developed by the employees. We also conducted an exercise to formalize our values statements; this group was made up entirely of employees without any management involved. Using these experiences as a model, we put out a companywide call asking for volunteers to help us get the ERG off the ground.
  • Establish a mission. Once we had our initial members, we needed to have a discussion about what this initiative should look like at our firm. We then followed up with two in-person sessions to discuss DEI&B in general, establish the group’s mission, and develop ideas for how to move the initiative forward.
  • Define and diversify. We also formed four interest subgroups: women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. As those are the four areas we report on for affirmative action, this was simply an easy starting point. Eventually, these groups will most likely change; some may continue, others may morph into something else, and we will undoubtedly add others along the way. It’s important to always be changing and growing.
  • Formalize your processes. The structure of our group was pretty loose at first until we had a better grasp on the role of the group; once we had a firm idea of what the group wanted to accomplish, it was time to formalize it to keep it sustainable. We’ve formed a steering committee and put processes in place for different procedures – how to create new interest groups, for example.

When it comes to DEI&B, it’s always a work in progress and a journey of learning. Without our ERG, we could continue our efforts, of course. But it’s a lot more productive (and rewarding) when our people get involved. It means more when change comes from the heart of the organization itself, rather than being imposed from outside, or from the top down. Working with these dedicated and passionate employees, I have no doubt that lasting, substantive change is possible.

Wendy Culver is Mead & Hunt’s chief human resources officer. She has been with the company for more than 20 years. She can be reached at wendy.culver@meadhunt.com.

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