- Successful employee resource groups (ERGs) are established through robust planning, careful implementation and regular evaluation.
- Firm, continuous, top-down commitment is essential to the longevity of a successful black and minority ethnic ERG. C-Suite executives should understand the business case for establishing ERGs and ensure that time, finances and other resources are allocated to the groups.
- A workplace that is seen to value its employees from underrepresented groups will be more likely to retain and engage employees, leading to increased levels of job satisfaction and productivity.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led, voluntary groups that can help employees feel more engaged and motivated at work. A key benefit of an ERG is its ability to help employees connect and to foster a more collaborative and inclusive environment, and establishing a successful ERG requires ongoing effort and commitment.
In a workplace where people from Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups lack representation, ERGS provide a space for BME employees to voice their concerns and share their experiences. ERGs that are established without clear goals, objectives or active commitment are prone to becoming talking shops.
On the other hand, through robust planning and implementation, ERGs have the potential to become agents of positive change within an organization.
In 2018, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) UK successfully established a BME ERG — EmbRACE. The forum is fully inclusive (open to employees from all ethnicities), but the focus is firmly on championing the needs of those from BME backgrounds. The key to this ERG’s current success appears to be in its commitment to certain key policies and its willingness to have conversations that other organizations often shy away from.
“Over time we want to see that the issue of race is moved out of the ‘too difficult’ pile and into the open so that we can work together to break down those barriers facing those from different ethnic backgrounds,” said Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD. “For this to succeed it is vital that the senior leaders of an organization are committed to improving diversity, and this is very much the case at the CIPD.”
Setting up a successful BME ERG — the CIPD way
Based on the success of their EmbRACE group, the CIPD has produced an informative guide on establishing a BME ERG. The guide is based on eight steps, which are summarized here:
- C-Suite executives and leaders within the organization need to establish and promote a strong business case for establishing BME ERGs. This will ensure long-term, top-down commitment to the success of the group.
- Willing and able influential allies from the majority group (often, but not exclusively, white) should be identified and internally recruited to promote the value of setting up a BME ERG. Allyship is essential if the ERG is to flourish within an organization where its members are not part of the majority group.
- Finances must be allocated (annually) to ensure the ERG can carry out its core functions. Management must recognize the allocation of ring-fenced funding to the ERG as an investment in its people.
- Adequate time must be ring-fenced for employees to commit to the group during working hours. Expecting employees to attend meetings and perform ERG functions in their own time sends a negative message that the ERG is not valued as part of the company’s core business strategy.
- Recognize the high levels of diversity within a BME ERG. BME people are not a homogenous group — in the workplace, a BME group’s commonalities relate mainly to their underrepresentation within a majority-white organization.
- Remain open to collaborations with other groups and networks. These collaborations can occur within the organization or externally between groups with similar causes and objectives.
- There must be credible channels for communication. This includes spaces for active listening and professional support (where needed) for BME people who wish to discuss their experiences and challenges within the workplace.
- Provide ERG members with advice on governance and implementation. Empowering employees to support the implementation of an ERG could lead to their involvement at a more strategic level within the organization.
Robust commitment, planning and implementation
BME ERGs can foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture, often leading to greater employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity, as well as improved business performance. The CIPD guide is a useful tool to help organizations effectively plan for and implement BME ERGs.
ERGs that are set up without possession of a toolkit similar to this one will find it challenging to realize their aims and objectives; the ERG must determine what it wants to achieve and ensure that its goals align with the organization’s aims. Identifying how the ERG will benefit its members and the company as a whole is not only essential to obtain a commitment from the top; it also ensures that the group will endure.
An ERG’s willingness and ability to be self-critical are also vital to long-term success. Regular impact evaluations and feedback to the entire organization will help bolster longevity and remind people why the establishment of an ERG was not only positive for its members, but also strategically important for the company.
Value the group itself
A BME ERG can help to create a more inclusive workplace by providing a platform for employees from diverse backgrounds to connect, collaborate and share their experiences. A workplace that is seen to value its employees from underrepresented groups will be more likely to retain and engage employees, leading to increased levels of job satisfaction and productivity.
A BME ERG can also help an organization to make better-informed decisions on a wide range of issues that reflect the perspective of a wider range of stakeholders. Customers and clients who value social responsibility and ethical work practices are also more attracted to businesses that actively promote inclusion.
According to the CIPD, it is crucial that there is no pressure on the BME ERG to justify its existence in terms of profitability and productivity. It is also not the responsibility of the BME ERG to oversee the organization’s compliance with diversity, equality and inclusion policies. The ERG should exist primarily for the benefit of its members; the business case is merely an added bonus for the organization.