Written by:
Iain Blair

Tech has the most to gain from employee resource groups

A while ago, I read that an overwhelming 96% of CEOs said that diversity, equity and inclusion has become a “personal strategic priority” for them. Yet, a more recent survey found that 31% of businesses were not taking a strategic approach to D&I, and had not taken any steps towards implementing one.

Something doesn’t quite add up here.

While business leaders clearly understand the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce, this is not translating into considered actions to improve their company culture.

Perhaps it is not knowing where to start.

As HR guru Sheila Attwood writes in HR Review, “a prominent barrier to creating a fully inclusive workplace is a misinterpretation and a too-narrow focus.”

In other words, employers can be guilty of honing in on one diversity issue, leaving others behind. It can feel like it’s easier to just not have the conversation at all, with opening the dialogue akin to opening a can of worms.

But failing to make progress towards equality for all groups is simply not an option. Employee resource groups might just provide business leaders with the answer.

What are employee resource groups?

The most concise definition of an employee resource group (ERG) that I’ve come across is that they’re “an employee-led group that fosters inclusivity and builds community”.

The idea is that an ERG provides personal and professional support to its members, all of whom have certain things in common e.g., gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on.

Setting up employee networks demonstrates that the employer recognises the need for under-represented groups to have access to social support.

Not only do ERGs provide a platform for the under-represented to speak about issues with like-minded people who understand them, it’s also an opportunity to raise any concerns with decision-makers as a collective, rather than on an individual basis.

From an employer’s point of view, by empowering employees to air their thoughts and experiences, they become more culturally aware and – providing they act on the information – more inclusive.

How can employers support ERGs?

ERGs can add value by providing support, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance and contributing to a more inclusive workplace.

Research from McKinsey has shown that diversity can help businesses increase innovation, review entrenched ways of thinking, and improve financial performance.

But if you’re going to commit to creating ERGs, you’ve got to do it right. You’ve got to give ERGs the support and time which reflects their value to the organisation.

So, in setting up on ERG, you need to:

  • Provide each group with a ‘sponsor’ or ‘ally’ who is an influential, credible leader and is committed to actively and visibly supporting the network.
  • Allocate sufficient finances to each group which they can spend on external speakers, development programmes etc.
  • Create time for ERG leaders to participate in network activities.
  • Create a diversity council that is separate from the ERGs whose job it is to develop and implement diversity action plans.
  • Actively encourage new hires to join ERGs.
  • Allow all employees to participate in ERG events to learn about other cultures and experiences.

Tech industry accused of taking advantage of ERGs

Failure to give ERGs adequate support, time and funding will hold back progress.

In an article for The Washington Post, tech companies were accused of “saddling volunteers with a small budget and disproportionate responsibilities”.

“We joined the ERG because we needed help, but we became the help,” said Dominique Hollins, a veteran of Google and eBay who has been part of Latino ERGs.

Tech is not the only industry with a diversity problem, of course. But it arguably has the most to gain from promoting diversity and inclusiveness given the knock-on effects for innovation.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace also has potential benefits for recruitment, too. In this candidate-driven market, you’ll do your chances no harm at all by demonstrating how you promote and support all of your employees.

We know diversity and inclusion is important to everyone and at Revoco we’re always looking to help. If you’re interested in learning more about the broader topic of D&I, we were recently joined by Dr Zara Nanu, Lynsey Harbottle and Lyndsey Britton-Lee for our Workplace 2.0 webinar, where we discussed how best to create an inclusive and diverse team in a talent short market. You can view it here.


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