5 Ways Virtual Employee Resource Groups Can Support Company Culture
By: Mady Peterson
Some say employee resource groups are outdated — they’re relics of decades-old inclusion efforts. And with good reason: Grouping employees by “category” seems like the absolute wrong way to create a modern inclusive workplace.
But recent racial unrest tells a different story. People want to be seen and heard for their differences, and they want to bring their whole, unique selves to work.
Employee resource groups are sources of strength and opportunity for your people and your business. In a time when organizations are struggling to build a remote work culture, virtual employee resource groups can help build a sense of belonging, connection and community at work — the definition of inclusion.
It’s no secret that inclusive cultures lead to better business results. Inclusive workplaces are 6 times more likely to be innovative and 8 times more likely to have overall better business outcomes.
The employee resource group resurgence
Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are rooted in civil rights. The first official ERG was the National Black Employee Caucus, formed at Xerox by Black employees and then-CEO Joseph Wilson to help employees navigate the workplace in response to the civil unrest of the 1960s.
That idea took hold. ERGs in other organizations became a way for employees in marginalized groups — Hispanic/Latino, women, people with disabilities, veterans — not only to support each other but also to push back against discriminatory policies. Today’s ERGs may reflect employee demographics, professional stage or function, social causes, and more, and they should always include allies alongside people in the marginalized group.
How virtual employee resource groups benefit your work culture
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended just about every aspect of your business — including the work you’ve put in to build your organizational culture. Doubling-down on virtual employee resource groups can help protect company culture in times of crisis.
According to a survey by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 37% of organizations are encouraging ERG leaders to communicate the concerns of their group during the pandemic. At the same time, the survey reveals, 37% of companies admit they’re not leveraging their ERGs right now. Here are 5 ways virtual employee resource groups can benefit your people and your business while building a newly remote work culture.
1. Feedback for HR
ERGs can work with people leaders to bring attention to the unique needs of their members. For example, racist attacks against Asian Americans have skyrocketed during the pandemic and are affecting the mental health of your employees. HR can work with Asian ERGs to raise awareness of the mental health resources available, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and the company’s well-being platform if they have one.
Employees in ERGs are some of your most engaged people. ERGs provide them with a chance to shape the direction of the company and use problem-solving and leadership skills that might not be a part of their primary job. And for introverted employees, virtual employee resource groups may provide a safer space where they can be heard. For leaders who participate (and they should), ERGs offer a look at emerging talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.
3. A support system
Amid the upheaval brought on by the pandemic, employees are struggling in unprecedented ways and looking to employers for support. Virtual employee resource groups can be part of the solution through like-minded, much-needed social connection.
At Limeade, our Working Parents & Caregivers ERG showed its strength the moment COVID-19 began to impact employees’ lives. The group had been formed over a year before the pandemic and had established a regular rhythm of meetings and a core of committed members, including company leaders. When the pandemic hit and parents’ cumulative stress levels shot through the roof, this ERG immediately came together to comfort and support one another.
The Working Parents & Caregivers ERG provides a space for employees to commiserate and share techniques for entertaining and educating kids at home while working full time. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t time to plan programming or guest speakers. Parents needed each other in the moment, and they showed up.
4. Empathetic employee onboarding
Encouraging new hires to participate in ERGs is a great way to help them feel they belong — a particular challenge in the remote era. Managers can work with ERG leaders to make sure new employees are invited, introduced and welcomed.
5. Professional development
ERGs offer unique opportunities for employees to network with people outside of their function and at different levels of leadership. Participants can share L&D resources and ask questions about how to move forward in their career. ERGs also can forge mentorship relationships, which are harder to come by in a virtual environment.
While it’s clear virtual employee resource groups can help break down silos and promote organization wide inclusion, it’s also important to look for ways the ERGs can expand and intersect. That could mean facilitating subgroups or even creating an Intersectionality ERG. But whatever you do, don’t eliminate ERGs in an attempt at unity. If you do, you’ll run the risk of demoralizing and isolating your most engaged employees.