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04.29.22

Top Five Questions – How Employee Resource Groups Strengthen the Workplace Community

Employee Resource Groups are voluntary, employee-led groups that are a valuable part of an organization’s employee relations and diversity and inclusion efforts.  As part of Riverside’s current Diversity & Inclusion strategic plan, we launched three ERGs: BIPOC for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; POLE for people with lived experience; and TLC for members of the LGBTQ+ community. These groups meet monthly and offer regular events for staff engagement.

Additionally, Riverside’s MindWise Innovations division encourages the many organizations they work with to implement ERGs as a way to recognize the different needs and contributions of their employees from various cultural backgrounds and to enhance teamwork in a time of remote and hybrid work.

Angela Crutchfield, Riverside’s Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, established the ERGs at Riverside.  Here she answers the top five questions we get about starting and running successful ERGs, with personal input from the current chairs of the Riverside groups elaborating on the experience in their quotes below.

What are the benefits of ERGs to an organization?

Employee Resource Groups offer a safe, supportive environment for employees who share a common identity. The focus is on building community among underrepresented employees, as well as serving as a forum for education within the group and with the entire organization.

“Participants grow comfortable telling their stories, healing from negative experiences, and connecting with each other. A person works better when they feel like they matter – when they are heard and their experience is validated.”

Who starts and organizes the ERG?

ERGs are launched and led by volunteer employees within the organization. The identification of which groups to establish can come from different sources, including employee focus groups and surveys, or through other organizational assessments. At Riverside, we gleaned information from a 2018 employee engagement survey, from focus groups (our “Let’s Breathe” sessions held in 2020), along with input from senior leaders.

“These important conversations have come from the passion that members are bringing to the ERGs.”

How is the ERG guided so that it is productive, and not a complaint session?

ERGs should have an established charter and bylaws to provide guidance. In addition, an organization executive acts as the sponsor and provides leadership support.

“Simple answer: hard work! ERG leadership is voluntary on top of our existing roles within the organization, so we’re doing this work because we want the ERGs to succeed.”

Is the purpose of an ERG to support its members only or to productively engage with the organization’s workforce at large?

It should be both! ERGs offer group support to those with a common identity, but the groups are not structured to exclude. ERGs are open to all employees, although the focus remains on those who identify with the group. Groups provide the opportunity for coworkers who don’t identify as members of the specific community to act as allies aligned with each group. Groups are also encouraged to host events that invite the broader community to participate, serving as an engagement or learning opportunity for all.

“We’re striving to knit together a group of folks who share – or have a true interest in – the experience of identifying as part of a marginalized group and being part of the same organization.”

How do ERGs keep their activities vital and interesting to sustain the interest and participation of members?

The best way to stay relevant is to engage in dialogue with the members and to focus activities on their needs and interests. That’s really the whole point of an employee resource group.

“The meetings bring validation, connection, education, and new perspectives to participants. Sometimes we are educating, sometimes celebrating, or other times just checking in.”

 

~ Commentary included from Riverside Employee Resource Group chairs Haydee Ramos-Odusami (BIPOC), Louie Mackie (POLE), and Nick Hanzel-Snider (TLC).

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