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All About ERGs and BERGs: A Resource Guide

Ever heard of the Greyglers? Or Unidos? Or the Pride BERG?

These are all names of voluntary employee groups for, respectively:

  • Older employees at Google;
  • LatinX and Hispanic employees at Nestle; and
  • LGBTQIA+ employees at Disney.

Each group is devoted to helping the organization support their demographic while building a network of individuals who share common interests, backgrounds, or characteristics such as gender, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

These are called ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) or BERGS (Business Employee Resource Groups) and contribute to business goals of the company.

Business goals? What kind of business goals?

At Disney Paris, the Pride BERG pushed for a successful Allies for Diversity week. This and similar efforts bolstered retention, supporting recruiting efforts and contributed to a vibrant company culture.

In fact, Disney has more than 90 different BERGs, which all worked together toward one big impact – helping the company add to the four core values, known for 65 years as the “Four Keys.” In 2021, a Fifth Key was created: Inclusion.

At the company DoorDash, ERGs have been so valuable in recruiting, among other initiatives, that the company has unveiled a new policy of compensating ERG leaders. “A call with an ERG member could make a huge difference in someone’s decision to join DoorDash, and we’ve already seen early success with one candidate speaking with someone from our Women@ ERG, then signing their offer immediately after that conversation,” said Lead Recruiter Theresa Avila.

ERGs and BRGs support important aspects of organizational culture and create community while sharing a unique point of view with leadership, helping recruiters and managers create a more diverse employee base, and developing people in new ways.

They also provide leadership opportunities for all involved by providing ways to contribute to organizational development.

But the work of these groups digs deep…even beyond business goals.

Maybe most importantly, they help create touchpoints for the employees in that demographic to share their experiences and feel a little more heard and seen at work.

Would your workplace benefit from an ERG?

If you’re thinking of starting or supporting an ERG or BERG at your organization, we at IBIS highly recommend it. The impact of having a network of knowledgeable, connected and thoughtful diversity champions throughout your organization is significant and can be very valuable.

But there are some important guidelines to keep in mind in order to support successful ERG growth.

3 Key Guidelines for ERG Support

  • Set organization-wide values so that everyone speaks a common language and works toward a common goal
  • Communicate leadership commitment and support for each ERG on a regular basis
  • Celebrate both grassroots growth and structurally determined growth so that existing ERG members feel supported and also aligned with future counterparts

Best Practices for ERG Development

When starting an ERG:

  1. Find others with the same commonality. Whether you are interested in forming a group based on common experiences (e.g. veterans) or inherent characteristics (e.g. women), the first step is to see if there are others within your target community that might be interested in forming an ERG.
  2. Reach out to HR Business Partners to see if others have asked about starting a similar ERG.

After recruiting enough interested employees (2-4 people), build a solid foundation for the ERG.

When growing an ERG:

  1. Identify the steering committee. Anyone considering participation on an ERG steering committee should talk with their manager so that the manager understands that some percentage of the employee’s time will be focused on this important cultural role.
  2. Set expectations around any steering committee role. For example, the role might be for a 6-12 month period and they can expect 1-2 meetings per month – and it’s important to say that right away.
  3. Establish ERG identity. Have the committee write a mission and goals for the group. The organization may develop a naming convention that is consistent across the different groups. The @ symbol is often used in front of the name for ERGs (such as LatinX@CompanyName and Black@CompanyName) with names that are proper nouns to help put them into context when referring to the ERG in conversation and in writing.
  4. Confirm an executive sponsor. The organization assigns a c-level leader as executive sponsor who plays a key role in advocating for the needs, direction and development of the ERG. This person does not need to share the demographic identity of the group—in fact, much of the time, they don’t. They are an ally, expected to communicate to the senior leadership team about the work and needs of the ERG, amplify its impact, and clear hurdles from the path of healthy growth.
  5. Establish a cadence for meetings. Meeting bi-weekly is a recommended approach for ERGs that are just starting out. Monthly or quarterly meetings with a sponsor can be useful as well as a longer retreat or meeting – a half-day or full-day. Some well-established ERGs have their own multi-day conferences with panels and outside speakers.
  6. Set expectations for meeting conversations. If allies are allowed to join the group, ensure expectations are clear; they may be asked to listen and learn rather than occupy the main conversation, or only welcome at designated quarterly meetings. Conversations are intended to be given some confidentiality, but there are limits. If a concern is surfaced that violates company protocol, reporting may be recommended. Be transparent and intentional about expectations for conversational norms and include them in the charter.
  7. Plan ahead for the year. Create a calendar accessible to all group members with events, meetings and other relevant details. Use some meetings (steering committee or broader all-hands meetings) as a time to brainstorm and plan, and create the expectation that regular meetings will be used to provide updates.
  8. Write a charter. Once these things are in place, create a charter that contains the mission, goals, cadence, and roles. Determine roles such as the difference between committee members and regular members. Let individuals determine how they will drive the group forward and revisit the committee’s commitment every 6 months.
  9. Focus on a diverse set of events to engage the ERG. The steering committee takes the ideas related to the mission, turns them into action items, helps direct the broader group, and shares accomplishments to the broader ERG. The broader group can provide support in different ways, such as participating and sharing in meetings, recruiting new members and engaging the rest of the company, including speaking about the ERG at their own departmental meetings.
  10. Determine budget. HR usually provides funds for ERGs, with an amount roughly proportional to the number of members.
  11. Communicate to the organization. Share stories and events on internal newsletter and/ or social media in coordination with appropriate departments. Post about committee roles, events, accomplishments, etc.
  12. Consider marketing. Create a unique logo for merchandise to hand out at events. This will create more visibility and provide a lasting impression. Make sure to have someone designated to take photos at events to post real time, post event, or recaps to the broader ERG, company, and external networks.
  13. Know the resources available. For each ERG, your steering committee will be responsible for forecasting and estimating expenses at the beginning of each fiscal year.
  14. Consider events that tie into the mission. Speakers, lunches, happy hours, networking events, conference attendance and more are all options for ERG members.
  15. Consider how your group will stay connected. Are there internal tools for chat that can aid the group, or is email going to be the primary vehicle? A file-sharing site is useful for sharing resources.

When running an ERG:

  1. Work cross-functionally. Engage other departments…because leverage the help of colleagues is crucial to ensure ERG success! Start with introductions, sharing needs, and start a mutually beneficial relationship. This includes HR, Facilities, Marketing, Branding, and other departments.
  2. Make an impact. Once there is a solid foundation, focus on executing on the mission and the desired impact you want to make. Communication is important to keep momentum going. This applies when promoting events, engaging community, and maintaining relationships. Happy hours or brownbag lunches may help build community or a sense of awareness around a particular event…such as a specific group history month. If your mission includes a desire to help with hiring more individuals who identify with your group, consider whether you might want to attend a recruiting event.

ERG and BERGs deliver their greatest impact when they can bring everyone in the company along.

By focusing on results, sharing successes and solutions to challenges, ERGs can learn from each other, and the rest of the company will learn too.

Our best advice? Approach the development of an ERG with curiosity and a learning mindset to overcome hurdles…and make an impact that lasts.

Senior Consultant Cedar Pruitt specializes in leadership, communication and culture. She helps organizations develop practices and policies that allow everyone to thrive. Her clients include competitive universities, mid-size financial firms, innovative start-ups, and more.

Senior Consultant Kiera Penpeci has been passionate about building inclusive workplaces since her own sense of belonging led to fast mobility during her early days in retail. Since then, she’s focused her education on Organizational Development, earning her MA in Organizational Development and PsyD in Organizational and Leadership Psychology  from William James College. Using Organizational Development theory, the power of community, and her research on emotional labor, she’s helped non-profit and high-tech organizations foster inclusion of employees from all walks of life.