Glenda Swain Jan 22, 2014

The Future Of Employee Resource Groups

How Employee Resource Groups Can Stay Relevant

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, have come a long way. They started over  25 years ago as a way for employees who were similar in background, ethnicity or gender to get together and socialize and support one another. Today their influence is thriving. Nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an employee resource groups.

There are many reasons for the growth, but what is of concern now is their future. Many wonder if their existence and influence will continue to grow or if they are reaching a plateau. In order to avoid this , there are three suggestions that diversity leaders should incorporate if they want their ERGs to continue to be relevant.

Engaging Senior Leaders
While catering to employees at the individual contributor and manager level has served ERGs well, they must broaden their appeal to more senior levels in an organization. This means they must attract high performers who are at the senior director and vice president levels.

Doing so will improve group performance. Senior-level employees know how to get things done and often think at a much more strategic level. Being more strategic enables the ERG to have a greater impact.  It is also helpful to have an Executive Sponsor for the ERG.  Executive Sponsors serve as a catalyst for strategic planning and direction of the group, as well as provide financial support for their initiatives and events.

Benchmark consistently
When ERGs fail to benchmark on a consistent basis, they lose the ability to evaluate performance against others. They limit their possibilities by not analyzing external trends, and they fail to build partnerships with others they can leverage for critical insights.

The ERGs of the future must not only benchmark, but they must do so on a regular, formal basis. There are formal ERG benchmarking groups in Chicago,  Atlanta, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Establish an ERG leadership academy
Many companies are expecting more from their ERGs.  For example, they are expected to make a business impact, develop future leaders, provide cultural insights, serve as community ambassadors and expand nationally and even globally.  While the demands on these groups have risen, the development provided to group leaders has not. If ERGs truly are to meet their potential, their leaders need to invest in the  development of key group leaders.

There are several progressive companies who have developed an ERG leadership academy. These academies consist of training and development specifically for ERG leaders. The focus of these leadership academies varies, however; some focus on developing certain leadership competencies.

If these groups engage senior-level executives, benchmark and engage in ERG-specific development, they will be well on their way to making an even greater impact for years to come.