How Employee Resource Groups Can Transform Any Company’s Culture

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The modern workplace is in a period of evolution. There was and continues to be a push and call for greater transparency around inclusivity and equal opportunities and now with COVID, hopefully, moving more towards the rear-view mirror, we are in the midst of re-thinking what the workplace looks like and how it functions to keep teams – no matter how large or small – engaged.

At the heart of engagement, inclusivity, and equal opportunities, you find an often untapped resource: employee resource groups (ERG). Employee resource group programs can provide a way to empower and support community groups within an organization. But, beyond that, they have the power to transform the internal culture by providing a sustainable way to weave diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the fabric of an organization.

The key to tapping into the potential that ERGs can provide is by making sure that they are not a top-down initiative. ERGs work when they are defined and led by employees but are supported by the organization and leaders to help ensure that their ideas, voices, and initiatives have a space to be heard and in certain cases implemented.

For us at Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc., this is what we’ve done, and we currently have ERGs focused on issues affecting the Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities as well as a women’s group to promote and support their empowerment and advancement.

These groups have helped us widen the conversation around inclusion, have helped build an environment of openness, and helped underrepresented groups gain a louder voice. But, beyond that, they have also brought forward new, internal programs. One example was that members of the resource groups saw an employee need for mentorship and, with support of People & Culture team members, created a mentorship program that matches interested mentees along with their growth objectives with the best available mentors. While still being piloted, this spun-out program has a 100 per cent net satisfaction score for those who have participated.

If you’re thinking about the potential for ERGs but don’t know where to start or are looking to enhance existing ERGs in your organization, look to these best practices which continue to help guide us:

1. Start With Listening

For ERGs to work well, it is hard to understate the importance of relinquishing control and ensuring that they are employee-led. We started with a top-down ERG structure and tried to get employees interested in participating. But there was no employee demand, and our first foray into establishing a space for ERGs failed. The best place to start or even assess is by organizing a listening tour with employees to hear what issues or causes they are looking to tackle or have addressed either internally and/or externally. The role here is facilitation and to help groups move forward, but it also provides insights for a company’s leadership team to consider making some of the issues that the ERGs look to address tied to business or performance metrics – gender representation targets, for example.

2. Find An Executive Sponsor

A good practice to try and model is to have each ERG group with their own executive sponsor and, where possible, to have that sponsor a senior level executive. The caveat here is ensuring that the sponsor is personally committed to the group and its causes and can champion their ambitions to other senior executives to help spur change or progress. This will help ensure a group’s continued and lasting impact and help bolster internal culture.

3. Create Accountability

An ERG and an organization’s leadership team should be partners in the ongoing DEI strategy for the company. This partnership starts with collaboration and ongoing conversations, but the key to long-term success is support for and action towards achieving what the employee base desires. And then, for the ERG, much like any business group, there should be targets that are being worked towards and shared back with both leadership and other employees. Having a high degree of accountability and transparency can have a material impact on moving the needle on key causes and help to continually define and strengthen DEI initiatives within the organization.

Employee resource groups are a powerful asset for shaping a company’s culture and DEI initiatives. But, in order for these groups to be impactful, leaders need to let employees take the reins and build the communities that are important to them and define the causes that are most important to them – ERGs are much more than groups that simply organize events. ERGs are an internal partnership opportunity for every leadership team along with their employee base to continually transform and strengthen DEI efforts and keep team members engaged.

 


 

Ksenia Kamenskaya is the Head of People & Culture at RBH

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