by Mark McLane

Director of Diversity and Inclusion
Booz Allen Hamilton

Employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups and the constituencies they represent will only continue to drive value for an organization if:

  1. The ERG objectives align with the diversity and inclusion strategy
  2. Senior leader sponsorship/ participation exists as part of talent management
  3. Employees leading the ERG are recognized and rewarded for their effort
  4. Progress is measured and communicated enterprise-wide. These expectations set the framework for impact at all levels of the organization.

ERGs should be managed within the same business constructs as other organizational entities. The idea of allowing a business unit to operate independently of the enterprise would prove chaotic to the organization, and the same holds true for ERGs.

To be able to demonstrate the value of an ERG, clear expectations must be set, through concise annual plans that drive impact and awareness simultaneously. This will drive positive impact year over year, while minimizing the organizational fatigue that comes from inconsistently communicating results.

For example, ERGs that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allies based traditionally organize to provide awareness of the experience and value of being out in the work place, providing employees a collective voice to leadership and having a positive influence on the engagement of employees.

“To be able to demonstrate the value of an ERG, clear expectations must be set, through concise annual plans that drive impact and awareness simultaneously.”

But transformational change is about more than just the awareness. It should also have substantive organizational impact, such as ensuring the use of inclusive language in company documents. For example, the firm might use spouse and partner inter changeably and provide domestic partner health care benefits, actively positioning the organization as an employer of choice and building brand awareness in this lucrative consumer market segment.

Years of cultural awareness education without examples of organizational impact can cause fatigue for both the participants within the ERG and the organization. That is not to say that awareness education should be abandoned, but rather that it should be seen as a catalyst for moving the organization toward positive action. The ERG must continue to build on the foundation of awareness to bring about any significant change.

To actively guard against fatigue and provide true impact within the organization, expand the ERG’s role beyond diversity brown bag and heritage month planning to include such opportunities as:

  1. Partnering with HR to identify the use of dated or noninclusive language in internal documents
  2. Using the group’s members to act as an internal advisory group, pulsing them on employee engagement, current market trends, etc.
  3. Building strategic partnerships that drive professional development opportunities, recruitment of superior talent, and the sharing of benchmarking data.

These examples apply to all ERGs and their constituencies. Not leveraging what ERG members bring to an organization is ignoring the innovation and talent that the group represents. Recognizing this value will foster improvement in cultural inclusiveness, organizational positioning as an employer of choice and overall enterprise value.

This article has been sponsored by:
Booz Allen Hamilton