Blog Post

Three Ways to Leverage ERGs in Times of Disruption

By Stefanie McNamara
February 13, 2023

At Seramount, we firmly believe that when tapped into correctly, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can be an organization’s secret weapon. Last spring, our Insights team surveyed over 200 ERG members, asking a critical question: Are affinity-based ERGs (those centered on individual dimensions of diversity) still necessary? What we got was a resounding “YES.”

ERGs create community, serving as a conduit to employees, and that’s especially important now that hybrid work environments are increasingly the norm. They are a vital employee resource during times of crisis and are often asked for guidance on how the organization should respond to tragic news cycles, both internally and externally. But that’s not all; organizations are activating ERGs for business impact, recruitment, and advancement efforts and for building and sustaining of workplace cultures where everyone belongs.

“ERGs can be a valuable tool in continuing to support an organization’s day-to-day operations while mobilizing to respond to crisis. But it’s important to acknowledge and respect the trauma that employees may be going through at that time. The organization should also support and provide resources to ERG leaders and members in a reciprocal fashion,” says Kamina Young, Director, Seramount Advisory.

Here are three ways organizations can utilize ERGs in times of disruption:

Create safe spaces for listening and learning

Among the many things we learned from our respondents, affinity groups create a vital safe space for listening and learning while talking about specific identities. ERGs can gather input from their members and survey employees around topics of concern by developing and leading discussion forums across lines of business and region as well as dimensions of diversity.

“Over the last two to three years, multiple societal and global events have impacted employees’ personal and professional lives. As the line between the two becomes more blurred, ERGs have provided a channel and outlet for members to share ideas, concerns, and solutions to support each other, their communities, and the business,” adds Young.

By creating these safe spaces, ERG leaders can find out what has worked (and what hasn’t) and share the successes of how the organization (and leaders) have responded to the disruption.

Don’t forget about remote employees!

Creating guidelines for the ways ERGs operate virtually will be essential to ensure that they can continue their work while promoting inclusion. ERGs can establish regular meeting times to keep members engaged and involved in DEI work. Convening ERG leaders and chapter heads to create consistent protocols across the organization will be key in ensuring remote employees aren’t left out.

“In addition to an established meeting cadence and recording events for convenient viewing, ERGs should offer several options that allow for hybrid engagement, such as in-person and virtual volunteering, interactive livestreamed events, and moderated discussions on internal social media platforms,” says Young.

Align ERGs with your ESG strategy

Today’s global companies are organically connected to their customers, employees, and the communities in which they operate. As the number of diverse stakeholders grows, so does the need to incorporate new voices and different perspectives into the business strategy. ERGs can make an impact, and forward-thinking organizations are identifying opportunities to accomplish ESG goals by capitalizing on their ERGs that offer sought-after resources, capabilities, and skill sets and to offer in-kind donations of time and expertise.

“Many organizations have or are forming ERGs focused on sustainability. This is one way that employees can learn about and engage in environmental efforts, especially in times of natural disasters, when swift responses and mobilization are key. Another best practice is to build relationships between ERGs and the organization’s philanthropy team, to identify intersections between strategies and leverage the partnerships when certain communities are impacted,” explains Young.

Times of crises result in high stress and anxiety, and organizations face the risk of losing top talent—particularly diverse talent—during those crises. Leveraging ERGs requires a culture of trust, reciprocity, encouragement, and accountability. When set up for success, these groups can play a significant factor in achieving connection across a workforce and with communities while also driving business impact.

Calling all ERG leaders, members, and allies! Join us at EmERGe 2023 for best practices, tools, case studies, and workshops to help attendees face new challenges during these uncertain times. Register here.

Interested in learning how Diversity Best Practices Membership can help your ERG strategy? Contact us.

About the Author

Stefanie McNamara
Director, Marketing Communications