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Story: Reframing Employee Resource Groups (ERG’S)
The death of George Floyd has been a wakeup call to hear the voices of black people in particular, and disenfranchised groups in general. Institutionalized inequities in our society have become a barrier to our progress as a nation. The voices of disenfranchised groups are becoming clearer, although their messages have not significantly changed in many years. Being tone-deaf to these voices can be a sign that an organization is out of touch with its stakeholders. This can be seen at organizations such as Adidas, where employees are illuminating sharp disparities between treatment of employees and the business’ public profile. At one time, Employee Resource Groups (ERG?s) were an outlet to hear the voices of disenfranchised groups. ERG’s, also called affinity groups, have fallen out of favor in many large organizations. This may be a good time to revisit ERG’s to leverage the call for greater awareness of the inequities many groups face.
Employee Resource Groups are centered around individuals who share a common characteristic (black or brown people, LGBTQ, women, etc.). Best practice suggests ERG’s should be open to all who have an affinity with the primary characteristic of the group. This makes sense as it recognizes that employees bring their whole selves to work; including those with blended families, hidden disabilities, those who are queer but not out in the workplace, etc.
A basic assumption of ERG’s is they provide a safe space for individuals to speak and to be heard. Ground rules such as: leave your title at the door, speak only on behalf of yourself and your own experiences, and keep confidentiality are key elements of many ERG’s. Three characteristics of an effective ERG are: executive sponsorship, a clear purpose, and performance measures.
Many organizations have adopted a standard inclusion statement that covers race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability status. These statements, while well meaning, often do not reflect equity of representation within organizations. There is an opportunity to use tools, such as ERG’s, to address the inequities that have become embedded in many business organizations. An ERG, formed with the purpose of supporting an equitable approach to all stakeholders, with key performance indicators centered around equity, and with a direct pathway to the C Suite, can be a powerful tool for organizational growth.
On June 30, Karen Parkin, the head of global human resources at sports apparel and shoe company Adidas, resigned following criticism related to the company?s failure to diversify its workforce. The connection between the organization’s internal stakeholders and public profile has become frayed. It is unlikely Adidas will easily mend the fences it has broken until its senior leadership is willing to engage its employees in meaningful conversations focused around equity, with clearly measurable performance indicators. Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) are tools designed for just such a purpose. Like institutionalized inequity, ERG’s have been around for many years. Unlike institutionalized inequity, ERG’s may still have a place in organizational life.
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Copyright 2020, Dan Lococo, All rights reserved