Diversity in the Workplace: Rethinking ERGs

What’s working and what’s not with diversity in the workplace. Do ERGs offer the kind of visibility that leads to career success? A must read.

In a recent conversation at an iconic Miami bookstore, the head of diversity at a large financial organization complained of the low level of attendance at the events put together by her Women’s Network. “It doesn’t matter what time or day of the week we do it, we can’t get over twenty five people. The largest attendance we’ve had recently was about forty people who showed up for a Yoga class,” she reported.

Diversity in the workplace and Career Success

Diversity in the workplace and Career Success

Unfortunately, it’s a complaint I’ve been hearing all too often. It begs the question: Have the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), also known as Business Resource Groups (BRGs), Affinity Groups, Employee Networks, Diversity Councils, and so on, outlived their purpose?  Or is it that their members can’t see the value proposition so clearly anymore because some of these groups have been slow to adjust to the new needs of diversity in the workplace?

Diversity in the workplace: What’s working and what’s not

Here’s what I think is happening. Many of the ERGs were started to provide a platform for people with diverse backgrounds to share their experience in corporations where they were in the minority. They offered a space to network and gain a certain amount of visibility within the organization.  In companies where the groups afford opportunities to get noticed and potentially land sought-after positions, the ERGs are doing well. But in organizations that offer limited occasions for members to gain the kind of visibility that leads to career success, members quickly lose interest. In addition, when a specific demographic—such as women— reaches a large percentage of a company’s employee roster yet the percentage at the highest-ranking levels remains unchanged, frustration sets in and engagement and participation drop substantially.

In the last few years there’s been a shift towards Business Resource Groups (BRGs) as a way to refocus ERGs into bringing measurable value to their organizations and their membership. They were repurposed to help marketing identify potential consumer segments where various BRGs might have specific insights, to help develop products, and to participate more actively in increasing diversity in the workplace whether that entails helping recruit diverse talent or expand supplier diversity. Many BRGs currently make a major impact in their companies while at the same time offering a seat at the table to their most active members. (Needless to say that these groups have no problem driving attendance to their events.)  On the other hand, those ERGs whose goals haven’t yet aligned with the career success of their members and the bottom line of their companies have seen their membership interest wane and their budgets cut.

What can you do to bring the groove back to your ERGs? Diversity in the workplace at its best

There’s no magic formula to increase engagement in your ERGs or attendance at the events they organize, but there are a few things that seem to work well for many organizations

  1. Get senior executives to sponsor the group and to show up and STAY at the events. It sends a poor signal when executives give the opening remarks and then leave. If you have to schedule your events around your sponsor, so be it.
  2. Invite executives from various areas of the company to your events so your members can network with them. It makes your occasion that much more attractive when members know they’ll be able to mingle with higher ups.

    Diversity in the workplace and its relationship to career success

    Diversity in the workplace and its relationship to career success

  3. If your ERGs haven’t yet set goals beyond networking, guide them through the process. What other value can they offer to their members in terms of career success? How can the ERG open doors to diverse talent? How can they impact the company’s bottom line? How will they measure their achievements?
  4. Seek partnerships with ERGs of other companies in your industry or in complimentary ones. In recent years, cities like Chicago and New York have seen the emergence of strong coalitions of ERGs (such as the Latino Networks Coalition) that work together to achieve common goals such as increasing the number of students in STEM or improving partnerships between financial corporations and the education system. In addition, these coalitions leverage each other’s distribution list to drive higher attendance to their events.
  5. Link the goals and outcomes of your ERGs to the overall goals of your company to make them more attractive (and indispensable) for all stakeholders.

So if you’re seeking to increase the career success of your diverse talent you might want to rethink the value that your BRGs are offering to its members. Answering these questions might help you pinpoint trouble areas: Do the BRGs offer enough visibility opportunities for its most active members? Are they really valued within the organization at large? Are they working as isolated silos or are they cooperating with other BRGs within your organization and outside of it? Are they ROI driven?

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Managing a Culturally Diverse Workforce

Benefits of a Diverse Workplace

The evidence is all around us: The U.S. has become a multicultural society (35% of the population is now non-white), making it imperative to succeed at managing a culturally diverse workforce. Perhaps this is not news for you and you are already implementing a well-thought out diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy. Or perhaps you still need to be sold on the benefits of a diverse workforce.  Wherever you are in your journey, it’s helpful to recognize that, although managing a culturally diverse workforce may present challenges, it offers you a great opportunity to impact your bottom line.

Efforts at creating and managing a culturally diverse workforce

Despite decades of effort to create an inclusive culture in corporations across the U.S., most experts agree that not enough progress has been made in moving diverse talent up the ranks. In too many cases the Affinity Groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERG), and Diversity Councils (whose goals include providing a voice to members of different minorities, recruiting and developing diverse talent,  and offering business strategies focused on specific markets) play against their intended objectives. Rather than offering diverse talent the opportunity to shine through innovative ideas that can then be implemented company-wide, these groups frequently contribute to keeping people and projects in silos.

Benefits of Culturally Diverse Workplace

Find ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact

Two Key Benefits of a diverse workplace

If you really want to capitalize on the benefits of a diverse workplace, a more effective approach is to leverage the differences – the varying viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences – of your employees and to find ways for different groups to interact with each other. For that to happen, the focus needs to be on:

1)   Finding ways for people from different teams, businesses, and backgrounds to interact. Whether you do it through physical arrangement of workspace, the way in which projects are structured, frequent job rotation, or another strategy, the idea is to offer multiple opportunities each day for people to collaborate with others who don’t look or think like they do.  Only by being exposed to a diversity of thought patterns, worldviews, problem-solving strategies, values, and behaviors do people become familiar with different upbringings, different cultures, and different ways of doing things.

2)   The unique traits that every individual brings to the table rather than pushing for everyone to quietly adapt to the system already in place. When you encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, rather than leave part of themselves at the door, they bring their passions and interests along. And it is by tapping into your employees’ passions and interests that you can connect them with projects that are a better fit. It is by accepting each person wholeheartedly that you will fully empower them and engage them with your company’s goals. That’s what makes for the most loyal employees.

If familiarity with someone leads to a feeling of comfort, and feeling comfortable with others leads to trust, the best way to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce is by helping people to get to know each other rather than keeping groups apart. It’s by appreciating that individual differences enrich the work environment and contribute to your company’s success.