ERGs and BRGs – The Real Rock Stars of Diversity

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Dr. Shelton Goode, DPA

In one of my previous post, BRGs, ERGs, and Affinity Groups – Oh My! Many of you asked me to follow up with more specific details and information about some of the innovative ways that employee networks are being leveraged by their organizations to support the overall D&I strategy.

As we all know the demographic profile of the United States is shifting rapidly. As a result, more companies are trying to leverage their diverse workforce to reach customers. One critical way companies are trying to accomplish this goal — I talk about this in my book Diversity Managers: Angels of Mercy or Barbarians at the Gate — is through the innovative use of their employee resource groups.

I was chair of The Conference Board’s diversity and inclusion leadership council for three years and I had the privilege of working with many diversity leaders whose companies fully utilize their ERGs as a resource to help identify gaps and opportunities in their organization, market, and community. As a result, they are emerging with a competitive advantage, especially as the economy starts to recover.

During my research for the book, I discovered that more than 50 percent of the companies with fully-developed diversity strategies have a focus that is three-fold:

First, they focus on making sure employees have a voice and an opportunity to be heard, valued and engaged. The second focus is on understanding who their customer is. Last but not least, they focus on performance because companies understand that if they don’t grow, they won’t be around very long — think Blockbuster.

So Shelton, what are some innovative ways companies are using their BRGs/ERGs?

I’m glad you asked…

To attract underserved or previously un-served customers
More than 70 percent of the companies I surveyed devote some effort to building a workforce that reflect the demographics of their client base in hopes that it will improve customer loyalty; and based in part at least, on the belief that their clients feel more comfortable doing business with people who understand them.

Almost 30 percent of companies researched used their ERGs to help increase the organization’s percentage of spend with diverse suppliers, particularly people with disabilities and in the LGBT community.

Based on discussions with many of my colleagues, it appears that ERGs are playing an increasingly important role in helping companies connect with a diverse customer base and providing their respective companies with access to better consumer insights — especially when the ERG in question understands the cultural nuances of the customer firsthand.

Onboarding new hires
In 90 percent of the companies examined, ERG/BRG members are being leveraged to help new employees get comfortable during the onboarding process, a critical period of adjustment for people from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Studies show that the first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for a new hire and can determine whether an employee is going to stay for the long run or leave the company before the year is out.

ERGs, it seems, can be leveraged very effectively to help acclimate new employees and engender a sense of loyalty and belonging after joining a new company.

Skill-based training, career development and mentoring
ERGs, according to my research and personal experience, can be great partners in helping to identify gaps and opportunities in the organization’s development and advancement processes and practices.

Around 63% of companies I surveyed have a BRG focused on young professionals, and it is this group that is helping to reduce turnover rates in companies — not only for females and underrepresented groups — but for the overall employee population.

To a somewhat lesser extent, 57% of companies use their ERGs/BRGs to help with the organization’s peer coaching program. This potentially impacts three critical points where employees — especially females and people of color — can slip in their career advancement.

Based on my 20+ years of HR and diversity experience, I know first-hand that companies struggle in this area and can use all the help they can get in terms of ‘weeding out’ the disparate impact of their succession planning efforts when it comes to traditionally underrepresented groups. 

Leadership development
Like peer coaching and mentoring, many companies have successfully used their employee network groups to focus on the organization’s leadership development process, results, relationships and their alignment to the business and diversity strategy.

An emerging trend that I am particularly excited about is developing the leadership of the ERGs themselves. As most of us in a diversity leadership position know, ERGs and BRGs have members with a lot of energy and passion, but they are often individual contributors who assume BRG leadership roles with little or no leadership or management training.

It is exciting to see some companies begin to invest resources in the leader of the ERG and in the ERG members to make sure it is a high-performing team. This is the least companies should do considering some of the significant work ERGs/BRGs and affinity groups are doing on behalf of the organization.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are my personal perspectives and do not represent the views of any organization that I currently or previously worked for; nor do they represent the views of any organization that I am a currently a member of or have previously been a member of.