Across companies around the globe, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a common organizational feature. Also known as ‘Affinity Groups’ and ‘Employee Networks,’ these structures are typically centered around different identities and offer spaces for colleagues of similar identities to connect outside of their daily responsibilities or teams. In fact, among Fortune 500 companies, 90% have ERGs in place. However, not all companies are created equal, and depending on a company’s size and maturity, there may not be an ERG group to engage with when you join that firm.
Clarkston Consulting is a people-centric company, and during a time when work settings are in flux between in-office or remote, we strive to provide a forum for employees to feel community with each other. One of three ERGs, or what we call Support Networks, currently active at Clarkston is the Pride Network – a recent example of employees organizing a new ERG. When I founded the Pride Network in 2019 with my mentor and Executive Sponsor, Irene Birbeck, it was important to me that queer-identifying employees had a set space to gather with each other for fellowship as well as a platform to provide the spark for progress where it was needed.
As I reflect on my role in establishing an ERG, here are 5 of the most important lessons to consider when creating a new Employee Resource Group at any organization.
5 Key Considerations for Creating an Employee Resource Group
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Early on, focus on building a team of network members who can work together to effect change. For the Pride Network, our initial team was a combination of queer-identifying employees and passionate allies. While it may be exciting to tackle projects that lead to quick wins, make sure to balance this with areas or projects where results can lead to long-term cultural change within the company. Both kinds of projects can lead to great accomplishments and progress, but you need to be successful at enacting changes both quickly and slowly to have the most effective impact. Certain long-term cultural changes need to be taken in doses and to be felt and seen by the wider firm.
2. Define the ERG audience.
During the beginning stages when ERG details are being planned, make sure to define the audience and describe how members can interact with the network. The Pride Network primarily focuses support for members who identify as LGBTQ+, but in the same vein, not every member of the group shares this identity, and we wanted to make sure the Pride Network was inclusive for allies to learn as well. As a result, membership levels were defined and thought through to reflect the nuanced needs of providing safety to queer-identifying employees that were not yet comfortable with different groups (allies or even anyone other than leadership) knowing their identity. Clarkston and the Pride Network have made great progress in promoting education and visibility for issues affecting sexually marginalized stewards within the firm and are continuing to promote topics pertinent to the queer community.
3. Find your champions and allies within leadership.
As with any larger initiative, it’s critical to gain the support of leadership that will sponsor and act as champions for the cause. Be sure to find who your sponsors and allies are going to be as you take the steps within an organization to officially establish and promote the network. Find and establish a group of allies early on as well who can help spread awareness for the group and help engage potential members. An effective way to do this can be through virtual events that encourage people throughout the organization to know about the network and its initiatives. The Pride Network hosted a series of quarterly calls early on in its tenure around various topics relevant to the queer community to educate allies and generate excitement. Since then, hosting these kinds of events has spread to other ERGs within Clarkston and continues to facilitate dialogue between people who may not work together as often.
4. Let your team explore their passions.
It’s important to allow ERG members to have the space and support to work on projects and topics that interest them. More often than not, people tend to accomplish more when they work toward a goal that is also a passion. To this extent, the Pride Network conducts yearly planning and goal setting where members get to review past priorities and suggest new initiatives that they feel strongly about. In parallel, members and leadership need to feel empowered to do what they think is right, and good guiding principles help individuals feel like they can start working on that change. As a network with activities that are extracurricular to daily responsibilities, members need to feel energized with what they are doing.
5. Create a safe space for learning
The goals of the ERG should build upon the values promoted by the company to create a safe space for learning and education. This consideration is particularly relevant for the Pride Network, as there are some topics related to LGBTQ+ news and culture that make for a sensitive discussion. In a leadership role, consider leading by example and be willing to talk about new or scary topics. For any ERG, however, members need to be able to speak openly about the topics that concern them. Make it clear that the ERG is a safe space for people to express their concerns and thoughts. If needed, create meetings for only identifying members of the ERG to connect and express their feelings and thoughts.
Going Forward with Support for Employee Resource Groups
While these five considerations speak to the experience of establishing the Pride Network at Clarkston Consulting, they are key takeaways for any organization looking to create an ERG. If your organization is in need or is ready for the creation of ERGs, please visit our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consulting page. Our team of DE+I experts can also assist with services in DE+I training and delivery, DE+I assessments, and DE+I strategy development.
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Contributions from Dawid Gil