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4 Steps to Starting an Employee Resource Group

An Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a voluntary, employee-led group that aligns with a company’s mission and helps foster a safe and supportive working environment and professional development opportunities for specific groups of employees. ERGs are important to the creation of more inclusive workplace cultures. 

As Aiko Bethea writes in the Harvard Business Review: “Typically organized around a shared identity, such as race, gender, age, or mental health, they serve as a haven of belonging, offering a space for underrepresented employees to find one another, stave off a sense of isolation, and experience a reprieve from the daily aggressions they’ve endured at work.” 

Many companies today have active ERGs, but since they’re employee-led groups, it’s not a given that your company has any, or, that they cater to your specific demographic or interest. If you’d like to be part of a group that doesn’t currently exist in your organization, why not start one! 

Here are four steps along with some handy tips from the experts for getting your ERG off the ground.

1. Define your group and mission

To start an ERG, you need to first understand who your group is and what it will stand for. In order to get support and approval from your company, your group should also align with the company’s goals and values. (Your mission doesn’t have to be directly related to what your company does, but it certainly shouldn’t run counter to the business you’re in.)

A good place to start when developing the mission and vision for your ERG is to get input from other members or potential members of your group — what will they benefit from most?

As you get feedback from your peers, think about what you hope to accomplish with your group. Just getting together regularly and supporting one another is a perfectly fine goal. But if there’s more you’d like to see happen, define what that would look like and what roles and responsibilities will be needed in the group to make it happen.

Oh and don’t forget, your group needs a name! Alber Lin shared some tips for naming your ERG in his article for DiversityInc:

  • Avoid complicated acronyms
  • Have the name of the demographic group in the title
  • Include “allies” or “friends” in your title to make it inclusive

2. Get support from company leadership

Starting an ERG with buy-in from company leaders will help you get the resources and visibility you’ll need to make the group successful.  

“Effective ERGs are both top-down and bottom-up. First, the executive management team needs to fully support, fund, and endorse any ERG. One best practice is to ensure that each ERG has a senior leader as their executive sponsor and full participant,” writes Claire Hastwell of Great Place to Work.

Depending on how much you want to do and the goals of your group, you might need funding for programs and events, so an executive sponsor can be a great help. Again, aligning your group’s mission and goals to that of the greater organization can help leadership see how your group can bring value to the employee base and help the company meet its goals. 

3. Recruit members and be inclusive

Obviously, a successful group needs people. But how many members you have and what your growth goals are differs for every group. Some ERGs invite allies to join, while others prefer to focus on recruiting members from their own interest group.

If a goal is to grow your membership and expand your reach, you might consider opening it up to allies and friends. This is also a great way to share your message more widely and educate others about your group and how to best support its members.

For example, if you have a women’s group, you could consider inviting men to participate in your events, to help them learn more about the struggles women face in the workplace and how to be better male allies. 

Take advantage of company communication platforms like Slack or Teams, or the company’s internal newsletter to spread the word about your group and let employees know how to get involved. Just make sure to get permission first (this is another great time to have an executive sponsor on your side).

4. Start small and build a coalition

There’s no need to build a huge ERG right out of the gate. Take your time and lay a great foundation for your group to grow and thrive. As Noelle Salerno of writes: “A small, but mighty team of engaged members can make a big impact.” 

Make plans and set realistic goals for how you want to grow your group. There’s no right or wrong pace, no set amount of events or meetings you need to have. Do what works for you and your fellow group members, and only take on what you’re able to handle. Just be sure that you’re always moving forward toward those established goals. 

Another great way to gain momentum is to collaborate and share resources with other ERGs, both inside and outside of your company. You can work together with other groups to amplify your messages and work together on intersecting goals. 

Laura Folks, an Inclusion Resources Group Program Manager at Indeed said, “I can be a woman, parent, veteran, and Latina. Every issue we explore encompasses more than one identity, so it makes sense to look at your ERG program from a holistic perspective.”

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