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Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups of people with common interests, backgrounds, or demographics (such as gender or ethnicity, for example). Also known as affinity groups, diverse groups, or business resource groups, ERGs can be a powerful tool for employees to bond with colleagues having a similar experience (at work and in life) and to feel supported and included in your organization. ERGs also act as a vehicle for collaboration and positive change.
ERGs are a low-cost way for organizations to support employees, increase feelings of inclusion and belonging, and even improve employee retention — an important consideration amidst “The Great Resignation,” which will likely continue and possibly even worsen in 2022. Quit rates hit record highs nearly every month in 2021, and more than one-third of workers say they are “very likely” to look for a new job before August 2022.
This article will explore why diversity in tech is important, more of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) benefits of having ERGs in your organization, walk you through choosing the best types of ERGs, and explain how you can support your ERGs foster their success.
Benefits of ERGs for diversity and inclusion in tech
ERGs are a valuable tool for employees, and they offer many business benefits as well. Harvard Business Review points out that ERGs help organizations in many ways:
“They identify and help develop internal leaders. They lead to higher retention rates. They educate employees — including senior leadership — through internal events, panels, and more. They help companies recruit underrepresented individuals and develop a talent pipeline.”
Showcasing ERGs in recruiting events can help attract more diverse talent. Don’t just mention that you have ERGs — invite ERG leaders to host a panel discussion on a topic important to your target candidates. Or consider offering candidates a chance to meet with ERG members for off-the-record conversations during the recruiting process, which is part of the recruiting process at Codility.
“It’s about helping candidates know that we understand that they’re interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing them,” said Jeremy Schmidt, Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Codility. “The main motivation around it was how do we let them craft a way where they can feel comfortable getting information about us by offering the chance to meet with an ERG.”
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LinkedIn called ERGs a “…simple way to invest in diversity and inclusion,” and they’re putting their money where their mouth is by financially rewarding ERG leaders for their contributions to the organization’s DEI goals. Twitter and Uber are adopting similar practices and recognizing the vital role ERGs play in fostering an inclusive culture that helps retain employees and helps attract top talent.
What types of ERGs are best for my organization?
1. Start with the group that needs the most support
The best types of ERGs for your organization are the ones that support the most marginalized or underrepresented groups. In the tech industry, that’s typically people of color.
“There are a lot of challenges within that group in terms of helping give them access and giving them pathways and giving them networking opportunities and really feeling like they have clear advocates within organizations because there’s just significantly lower numbers,” said Jason Medley, Chief People Officer at Codility. “That’s where I would personally start. And because I think it’s the biggest gap.”
2. Build a range of groups
Once you identify your most significant ERG need, starting other groups is about tackling the next biggest issues for your employees. Those will vary by industry, geographic location, and how you’re already doing with diversity and inclusion.
Start by asking employees what they want. Survey them about different topics and ask for suggestions on new ERGs before deciding which you should have.
3. Types of ERGs to consider
ERGs are most frequently identity-based — groups that connect around gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc. These groups most likely to have the biggest impact on DEI. But there are lots of other types of ERGs to consider.
Affinity groups, where employees connect around a shared interest (such as social or hobby-oriented groups like book clubs, wine groups, walking/fitness groups), can also help improve employee satisfaction and retention. ERGs can also have a community focus, such as volunteer groups that offer broader community support or work on specific issues like environmental health, children’s literacy, etc.
Encouraging leadership to support ERGs
ERGs are typically volunteer-based with little or no funding, so leadership support is crucial to their success. ERGs are generally led by rank employees and often have executive sponsors who serve as a public advocates and help garner support from other company leaders.
While executive sponsorship and direct involvement aren’t required, according to Medley, ERGs are most effective when sharing their ideas and concerns with the broader employee population. Executive leadership can facilitate ERGs’ efforts by “…creating a process where someone — the CEO, the head of people, the COO — has a cadence of meeting with the ERGs to understand what’s top of mind, how they can help them be successful, and how they can get them the things that they’re asking for.”
As we learned earlier, large employers like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Uber invest financially in ERGs’ success. At Codility, our ERGs regularly share with the general population, primarily with educational sessions that help raise awareness and facilitate essential conversations about topics that matter most to ERG members. Earlier this year, our LGBTQIA+ ERG hosted a panel discussion on the history of Pride and what it’s like to be a member of that group working at Codility.
Setting up ERGs for success
1. Listen to your employees
The best thing leaders can do to set ERGs up for success is to listen. “The most important thing is understanding what our ERG is trying to solve or trying to help in your organization,” said Medley.
He noted that many organizations start an ERG for Black employees or people of color because they think they’re supposed to. And while those groups are needed, motivation matters.
“It’s really important that companies don’t do this so that it feels like a checkbox thing,” he added. “Leaders need to be extremely thoughtful about the need and why, and what are they trying to solve with this.”
2. Clearly define your ERGs
Help new ERGs start strong by defining their mission, vision, and goals. These should be created by the employees who volunteer to lead and belong to the ERG, not an executive.
But you might give ERG leaders a playbook or template to help guide them through the process — there are many available on the internet, or you can create your own to help ERGs align with company values.
3. Measure progress of ERGs
Effective ERGs also track and measure their progress according to key performance indicators (KPIs), which group members and leaders have identified. These KPIs should be reevaluated annually and adjusted to align with new goals to remain relevant.
4. Bring different ERGs together
Another critical factor in ERGs’ success is having opportunities to collaborate with other ERGs in your organization, share insights, and work on mutually beneficial projects. Creating and supporting these opportunities leads to more intersectional connections and fosters inclusion, benefiting your culture and employee retention.
ERGs: a valuable resource you can’t afford to ignore
Moving the needle on diversity and inclusion in tech and many other industries has been a slow but steady process. Starting ERGs — or strategically adding new ones — that directly address your employees’ concerns is a low-cost, high-reward tactic for improving DEI within your organization.
ERGs benefit current employees, improve employee satisfaction and retention, and help you more effectively recruit diverse candidates. Perhaps best of all, ERGs help build community and give a voice to employees who may not often feel heard.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of Codility’s progressive team of innovators, check out our current job openings.