What is an employee resource group (ERG)?

An Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a group of people within an organization who voluntarily join together based on shared identity, values, interests, perspectives, or goals. The purpose of Employee Resource Groups is to strengthen workplace relationships, foster a sense of belonging, promote personal and professional growth, and ultimately nurture the entire company community.

Employee Resource Groups began in the 1960s to bolster the voice of minorities in the workplace. Today, ERGs represent general demographic groups, such as women or Latinx professionals. More specific groups represent people like single parents, veterans, or cancer survivors.

What is the purpose of Employee Resource Groups?

Employee Resource Groups harness the collective efforts of their members to create a sense of belonging and help equip them with the tools to advocate for themselves. ERGs also encourage inclusivity, and enact tangible change within the wider company culture. They also help boost morale, job satisfaction, and (ultimately) productivity. 

They do this by:

  • Advocating for underrepresented team members within an organization
  • Fostering inclusivity
  • Encouraging allyship from others
  • Providing support and resources which benefit the career trajectory of its members
  • Promoting fair practice, creating a positive work environment for everyone
  • Increasing job satisfaction across an organization
  • Boosting—and maintaining—transparency between employers and their people

What are some types of Employee Resource Groups?

Most people create ERGs to advocate for people with certain shared backgrounds or life experiences. These may include:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Religious affiliation
  • Disabilities
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Parental status

People also organize ERGs around shared interests. The most common types of groups are:

  • Diversity resource groups. These groups focus on advocating for team members who are in the minority in their workplace.
  • Volunteer groups. These groups are usually formed by people wishing to support and give back to the community.
  • Affinity groups. Affinity groups are led by people who want to meet up with colleagues who share their interest in a specific activity or hobby. They encourage connection and socializing. 
  • Professional development groups. Professional development groups encourage people to connect and collaborate, regardless of seniority or department. These groups encourage people to share their knowledge and develop skill sets. They can also offer training, e.g., learning how to code or tips for public speaking.

Why should HR leaders care about Employee Resource Groups?

Individuals naturally build relationships with friends in the workplace. Employee Resource Groups can provide people with a support network where they can voice their shared concerns to management or senior leadership.

ERGs can also help recruit candidates who identify with a specific group and give them a sense of belonging from day one. For example, a women’s ERG may source candidates and provide women on the team with personal mentorships and career development training. Ultimately, ERGs can boost morale and engagement, lower turnover rates, strengthen demographic diversity, and give people a greater sense of meaning in the workplace.

Why should people join an Employee Resource Group?

Employee Resource Groups go a long way when it comes to improving the day-to-day employee experience. But they also help foster healthy work cultures and a strong sense of community. Joining an ERG is also a great way for people to develop their professional leadership skills, make a difference at their company, and in the wider community.

How can you start an Employee Resource Group program at your company?

If you want to start a successful ERG program at your company, the first thing to focus is on is the fact that Employee Resource Groups are as unique as the people they reflect. To ensure its success, HR can partner with employee leaders to help them access the  tools and resources they need to get new groups off the ground and thrive. HR leaders can support the establishment and growth of ERGs by:

  • Establishing ERG bylaws. Draft a straightforward document that includes the ERG bylaws. To maintain fairness, employers must have rules that apply equally to every ERG.
  • Maintaining ERG transparency. ERGs should establish their internal group policies (that align with company bylaws), mission statement, purpose, objectives, and role. Defining the group identity and goals can avoid stagnation and increase the chances of growth and success. 
  • Demonstrating inclusivity. A team member who doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria of an ERG may still want to join for personal reasons. Letting them join—as long as they don’t disrupt the group—supports an inclusive company culture.
  • Fostering networking between different ERGs. An organization’s strength lies in the sense of unity between all departments and team members. Facilitating inter-ERG networking opportunities encourages people to connect. Holding optional cross-ERG recreational activities such as company sports teams, scavenger hunts, or beach clean-ups, for example, can foster relationships between team members across different groups.
  • Providing leadership opportunities. Each ERG needs an employee leader from within the group. HR professionals and managers can collaborate to identify emerging leaders and coach them throughout their ERG leadership position.

What are some examples of real-world Employee Resource Groups?

There are many notable ERGs shattering glass ceilings and reinvesting in their communities. Here are a few notable ERGs:

YoPros (TIIA)

The Young Professionals ERG—dubbed “YoPros”—at financial services firm, TIIA, organizes social events for its members, deploys social media recruitment to attract the younger generation of finance talent, and carries out numerous volunteering initiatives.

Professionals Network (Ernst and Young)

Ernst and Young’s initiative to “advance social equity and inclusive growth” received global equality standard (GES) recognition for its ERG programs and commitment to DEI&B. They have more than a dozen different ERGs and employee support groups, such as groups advocating for working mothers, veterans, and even French speakers.

W@M (Microsoft)

One of the most successful ERGs at Microsoft is W@M, or “Women at Microsoft.” Their busy annual events schedule enables participants to hone and expand their skill sets. They cultivate relationships with women-owned suppliers and organize recruitment drives at colleges where many students are women.

How can an Employee Resource Group improve company culture?

ERGs help companies offer equal opportunities for every team member and can provide a supportive micro-community for people in the workplace. They also help empower their members to feel comfortable sharing their unique voices and contributing to an inclusive and vibrant company culture.