ERG’s, or Employee Resource Groups, also called Business Resource Groups or affinity groups, are groups of employees from the same company who come together based on shared characteristics or life experiences. For example, I worked with a media company that had ERG’s for Asian employees, black, Hispanic, LGBT, working parents, and Millennials. ERG’s might be entirely employee-run, but are often sponsored by the company and given budget and access to executives for events.
I recently attended an excellent panel at the national convention for the National Association of Asian American Professionals on ERG’s. The panel was moderated by Farzana Nayani, National Director of ERG Relations for NAAAP, and included: D.A. Abrams, Chief Diversity and Talent Officer for the United States Tennis Association; Donald Fan, Senior Director, Global Office of Diversity for WalMart; and Regina Ford, VP, Diversity & Inclusion for Caesars Palace. They shared best practices for ERG’s in their companies. Are you taking advantage of this powerful career advancement tool?
Projects outside of your current role
Regina Ford talked about how the ERG’s at Caesars Palace are not just social memberships, but have specific revenue raising goals. If you work in operations and administration, you could join an ERG to get revenue side experience. Even if your company’s ERG doesn’t tie activities to revenues like at Caesars, you could volunteer for projects that flex different skills than you normally use. For example, if you’re in accounting, you could help plan events. If you’re in marketing, you could volunteer to manage the budget. If you’re looking to improve your digital skills, you could run social media for your ERG.
Visibility with senior management
D.A. Abrams talked about how USTA senior management got involved with the ERG projects and events, giving the ERG members a chance to connect with senior leaders in ways you normally wouldn’t in your day-to-day role. This visibility with senior management is a key benefit of getting involved with an ERG. You might be relatively junior in your company in your day-to-day role, but if you’re leading a project or a committee for your ERG, it often involves working with senior management, giving you exposure and experience you wouldn’t otherwise get. You develop connections and deepen relationships. You have a chance to demonstrate your skills and share your ideas. You won’t be going over your boss’ head as you network with these senior executives because your relationships are being forged outside your other role.
Donald Fan at WalMart shared that senior management nominates ERG group leaders. Not only is this another example of getting visibility with senior management but it also shows how ERG’s provide leadership opportunities. You don’t have to wait for a promotion to experience leading a group, overseeing a project, or connecting to senior management. You can take on leadership within your ERG. You don’t have to run the whole group – you can oversee a project or event, or you can manage one part of the group’s overall activities (e.g., social media).
Networking opportunities outside your immediate area
ERG’s bring together employees across the whole company, so they’re great for getting to know people at different levels and functions. You don’t have to limit yourself to one ERG at your company. You can and should work with the other ERG’s to grow your network and experiences even more. In addition, you can reach out to the ERG’s at other companies (in NYC, for example, there is the Asian Roundtable, which brings together Asian ERG’s across various NYC-based employers). Being a part of one or more ERG’s is an excellent way to expand and deepen your network.
If your company currently has ERG’s but you haven’t joined yet, don’t delay so you too can develop new skills, connect with senior management, take on a leadership role, and grow your network. If your company doesn’t have ERG’s, start one! This will give you an immediate leadership opportunity and immediate visibility with senior management as you lobby for budget and resources. If you don’t think any ERG’s apply to you, keep in mind that you don’t have to be the exact characteristic of the group to join (i.e., you don’t have to be Asian to join your company’s Asian ERG or Millennial to join the Millennial group). Attending events, leading projects, serving on committees – these ERG opportunities are open to all. In fact, one of the most active ERG members at one of my former employers was a white male – he was passionate about diversity and inclusion, so served as an advisor to most of the ERG’s. His perspective was highly valued, and he increased his own influence and connections given his involvement in so many areas of the company – a win-win for everyone.
This article was written by Caroline Ceniza-Levine from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.