How can you ensure resource groups drive inclusion?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are often seen as key to creating truly inclusive organisations and driving diversity. Over the years, good ERGs have moved from being mainly focused on providing inspirational speakers and wine (hardly inclusive) to powerful players in their organisations' strategy.

However, many have floundered and been relaunched as business resource groups (BRGs) – but with limited success. There are even examples of bias within ERGs themselves. So what needs to happen to ensure ERGs work well?

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The most important thing is for the group to have a purpose and make it clear to everyone. There are many reasons to set up an ERG, including networking and support for group members. Mobilising the group to expose its members to senior people in the wider organisation can also be a great purpose.

Training is sometimes a good reason for an ERG – but beware of groups that believe their own members are the ones who need 'fixing'. The opposite is also true, as having historically marginalised groups called upon to educate others can be seen as a form of unpaid labour.

Lobbying is another area some ERGs get involved in. Representing the needs and truths of the group to the organisational hierarchy is often a 'side bar' purpose or one that is self-created as the group grows.

Driving diversity by offering access to different communities is one often overlooked yet obvious purpose for an ERG. Expensive recruitment drives can be supplemented – and often replaced – by harnessing the power of a resource group, especially if members are affiliated to other groups in the community. An increase in diverse lateral hires or internship applications can often be driven by this.

Practical business improvement is another valuable contribution an ERG can make. Having a group of people available to review or design marketing material specific to their community needs – or to drive a research project that the dominant group has missed – can be critical to growing and developing new markets.

So when is an ERG a BRG – or vice versa? Does the name even matter?

If a group is called a BRG because its focus is purely on business benefits rather than because setting up a resource group is the right thing to do, then the name does matter – a group only there for business benefits is anathema to inclusion and diversity work.

However, are not all the purposes discussed above of benefit to both marginalised groups and the organisation? When you look closely, you can see that each one brings benefits and, hopefully, results in an increasingly inclusive culture that drives diversity for all.

Whether you call your group an ERG or a BRG, there's also one crucial element to consider when deciding on strategy and purpose. Ensure that 'driving inclusion' is an aim the group holds itself accountable for delivering.

Inclusion is about creating an environment where everyone with the capability to succeed can do so. The very act of creating a resource group is not necessarily an inclusive thing. But adding 'driving inclusion' to its purpose helps to create an environment where diversity of all kinds can flourish.

 Angela Peacock is global director of diversity and inclusion at training consultancy PDT Global, part of Affirmity