Employees gathered around a conference table.
PHOTO: pressmaster

Employee resource groups (ERGs) weren’t born because of COVID-19. However, they’ve increased at organizations during the pandemic.

According to the Sequoia Consulting Group’s 2021 Employee Experience Benchmarking report, 40% of companies have Employee Resource Groups, a 9% increase from last year. This is in line with an uptick in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives as the pandemic and racial injustice awareness “created new challenges and opportunities for employers to evolve their employee experience,” according to Sequoia officials.

About 70% of companies have rolled out new DEI programming over the last year to create a more inclusive culture, and 96% of companies plan to expand their talent outreach strategies to build a more equitable workplace.

What Is an Employee Resource Group?

Employee Resource Groups are generally employee-run communities focused on supporting the development and leveraging of a group of people within the organization that shares a social element of identity, according to Joseph Santana, chairman of the CDO PowerCircle and creator and host of ERG PowerTalk.

“Sometimes employees recognize a need or opportunity to band together into a group to support and leverage a particular community,” Santana said. “Other times, the organizations' leadership realizes they have an untapped opportunity.”

Related Article: 3 Ways to Put More Control in the Hands of Remote Employees

ERG Leaders Getting Compensated

LinkedIn is taking the work of its ERG leaders quite seriously. The professional business network announced in June that it will pay its ERG global co-chairs annually each year of their two-year term. “We believe this is a step towards recognizing this critical work done by employee leaders,” LinkedIn Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson blogged June 2. “... As I reflect on the past year which was filled with unprecedented change, uncertainty, and grief, I can only imagine the emotional toll that our ERG leaders must have experienced. These leaders were responsible for guiding and creating spaces where we could have open and honest dialogue about work and shared experiences and process emotions as a community.”

Compensation is long past due for ERG leaders, according to Santana. ERG work is work done on behalf of the organization for the benefit of the organization, its clients and its team members. The number one beneficiary of all these efforts is the organization. “Considering that the people doing this extra work often do it on lunch hours and other personal time, not paying them seems exploitive,” Santana said. “Now having said that, there are many organizations that don’t compensate their ERG leaders in money but do so ‘in-kind.’ For example, by paying for special leadership training opportunities, or funding mentoring programs for their group.”

Payment does not always need to be in the form of a cash bump, he added. Sometimes, he said, it can be in other benefits or privileges. “But in whatever form,” Santana said, “I believe ERG leaders should be paid for this extra work.”

HubSpot: LGBTQ ERG Celebrates Individuality

HubSpot, a Cambridge, MA-based digital marketing software company, has an LGBTQ+ Alliance, a global ERG. This group commissioned a new mural at 90 Traveler St. in Boston, a popular park space nestled underneath an overpass between the South End and South Boston. It worked with Sagie Vangelina, an Afro-Dominican muralist with a style of abstract line-work that illustrates a journey of self-healing, according to HubSpot officials.

The LGBTQ+ Alliance also offers programming including book clubs with queer authors, according to HubSpot officials, as well as community through active Slack channels, events and internal newsletters. Like every ERG at HubSpot, the Alliance has executive sponsors and a leadership council to drive change in building a more inclusive company.

"It's critical that as an employer, HubSpot celebrates its remarkable people by creating an environment where employees are comfortable being their full selves — no matter their age, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, ability, nationality or perspective," said Deneisha Franklin, diversity, inclusion and belonging manager at HubSpot. "A key ingredient in building a diverse and inclusive workplace is Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs. From groups focused on veterans to women in tech, people of color, the LGBTQ community and accessibility and disabilities, these groups are employee-run and help to both spread awareness throughout the company as well as create community among employees who identify as members of these groups or their allies."

HubSpot has five main employee-run resource groups: [email protected], [email protected], People of Color at HubSpot, BLACKhub and LGBTQ+ Alliance.

HubSpot commissioned this new mural at 90 Traveler St., a popular park space nestled underneath the overpass between the South End and South Boston, to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

ERG Has Executive Sponsors

HubSpot's People of Color at HubSpot (also known as POCaH) employee resource group is open to People of Color (POC) at HubSpot, its allies and all those in between, according to officials. HubSpot ERGs have three core components:

  • Executive Sponsor: Members of our leadership team who help to ensure visibility and recognition of the ERG, their goals, objectives and programs as well as provide insight and support for alignment between ERG and business goals. Each ERG has both global and regional executive sponsors.
  • Leadership Council: Individuals who have shown up and stood out as leaders for POCaH. Not only do they help execute, provide feedback and promote programming year-round, they are knowledgeable, passionate and steadfast in their commitment to the success and impact of the program globally, according to Ladd.
  • Program Manager: A member of the DI&B team who plans, creates and executes strategy and initiatives for the community.

Related Article: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Efforts Persist at Universities Despite the Pandemic

Mindtickle: ERG Empowers Women in Workplace

Mindtickle, a San Francisco-based sales enablement platform, has an ERG called “WOMEN of MINDTICKLE,” or WOM. WOM started in 2019, and has scaled rapidly. Nearly a third of employees at the company are members, and it has a committee with specific roles (communications, outreach, etc.) that meets monthly to plan initiatives, brainstorm ideas, etc.

Its mission statement? Provide Mindtickle employees with a community of women and allies to address resources that impact women in the workplace.

The group also:

  • Hosts a monthly book club
  • Holds a monthly committee meeting
  • Conducts various other initiatives and fundraisers annually

“One of our most popular events is a pet drive where teams compete to raise money for pet supplies,” said Larkin Madden, director of customer success at Mindtickle. “Another event we hosted with great success was a leadership panel showcasing our female leaders and allowing them to answer questions from the audience. We also host a podcast where female clients or thought leaders share their expertise with us and then we push it out via our product as a micro-learning.” 

BigPanda: ERGs Called Panda Packs Lead the Way

BigPanda, a Mountain View, CA-based IT systems monitoring company, has always invested in ways for employees to collaborate and grow as individuals, and 2020 gave rise to employee-led virtual groups they call “Panda Packs”.

“PandaPacks are intended to do a really basic thing: bring our employees together around shared interests,” said Matt Morgan, chief people officer at BigPanda. “Any employee with a passion or hobby can form their own ‘pack,’ and BigPanda will sponsor a quarterly budget to put toward fun ways to bring their pack together. This can be in the form of happy hours, swag, virtual events, supplies, really anything they can think of, with a few limitations of course.”

The company wanted to encourage through its ERGs employee connections. For instance, there is a large team in Israel and the U.S. contingent. "A lot of employees haven’t gotten a chance to meet everyone in person, so we wanted to create a program to give employees the opportunity to meet and bond with others that they may not normally get to interact with," Morgan said. "Panda Packs give employees the option to take matters into their own hands.”

For instance:

BigPanda’s Women in Tech group, or WIT, is by far its largest employee resource group. It hosts meetings once a month and takes turns bringing in guest speakers. The group is currently putting together a “Girls in Tech'' event for September to help mentor the youth of BigPanda and show them what a future in tech could look like. The event is aimed for girls between the ages of 12-17 and will be the group’s first event hosted for the wider community.

Challenges: Balance, Accessibility, Sustainability

No ERG comes without its challenges. Ashley Ladd, a manager on the HubSpot Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging team, said one of the biggest challenges that ERGs face is sustainable engagement, even more so now that many people are wearing multiple hats while working. For example, she said, if you’re someone who identifies as disabled, a parent, caregiver etc., attending ERG events in real time can be tough to balance.

"To account for this and other challenges, we make sure to share recordings of events where appropriate and create opportunities to engage in a variety of ways whether that be self-paced challenges or asynchronous Slack discussions," Ladd said. "There’s a way for everyone to get involved in a way that is most suitable for them. We also have program managers who are dedicated to managing each of our ERGs as a part of their full-time jobs. This means that we’re really able to keep a pulse on the needs and wants of our communities and quickly adapt, grow, and evolve alongside our employees."

Madden of Mindtickle said it is hard to balance dedication to the ERG and your “day job”. The ERG teams found that having various offerings that are all optional works well. “So if someone wants to just participate in a book-club, that is welcomed,” she said. “We don’t put a lot of pressure on members to participate in every activity.”

A lot of the BigPanda employees live in different time zones, which can make it difficult to stay connected, according to Morgan. However, some of the most interactive packs keep people engaged simply by sharing photos or messages via Slack.

“Even if they aren’t on a Zoom call together, they can keep in frequent communication,” Morgan said. “We have a ‘Pandas in the wild’ Pack that likes to share photos of the various hikes they do. Our gardening pack often posts pictures of their new additions and also serves as an open forum for gardening tips and questions.”

Related Article: 5 Ways Diversity and Inclusion Changed in the Last Year

COVID-19 Impact

Has the pandemic shifted priorities or changed ERG operations? Mindtickle has always been a globally distributed team, and COVID did not impact operations significantly, according to Madden. “We did have to be more intentional about facilitating 1:1 discussions with WOM members to ensure we were building a community,” she added.

ERGs are a way for employees to feel supported and engaged while everyone is stuck at home and dealing with COVID-19 in their own work and personal lives, BigPanda's Morgan added. “With the rollout of PandaPacks and the rise of virtual events, we have realized there are plenty of ways to foster a community remotely within our team and community,” he said. “Since travel has been limited during the pandemic, we have also seen tremendous success with our virtual client and candidate events.”

The past year and a half has been incredibly heavy and heartbreaking for people of color, according to HubSpot's Ladd. "In a world where fear, uncertainty and ambiguity continue to reign on a daily basis," she added, "most of our programming and resources have been aimed towards supporting our community, listening and creating safe spaces for people to share what’s weighing heavily on them. As we went fully remote in March 2020, we changed our programming to be fully virtual, brought in people from external communities to talk about important issues at hand, and found new ways to support our ERGs during incredibly difficult times."

Employees aren’t looking for perfection, she added, but rather a community where their voices can be heard, they can meet people with similar backgrounds and experiences, and a place where they can feel seen and understood.

What’s a Successful ERG Encompass?

What's a successful ERG ultimately entail? According to Santana, at a minimum there needs to be three things in place:

  • Senior leadership commitment from the top (CEO) through all layers of business leadership that includes them in the organization’s strategy and plans
  • Investment in the skills development of their chairs and executive sponsors
  • A clear governance structure that links and aligns the ERGs to the business and corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

“Clearly, the absence of any of the three things listed above reduces their chances for success and makes it less likely that your most talented people will want to engage in this work,” Santana said. “Another reason why ERGs sometimes fade away is that they are in organizations that use them as ‘window-dressing.’ In other words, to put a ‘nice face’ to an organization that is not truly diverse or equitable, or inclusive. In both of these cases, it’s a failure of corporate leadership that results in the groups dissolving.”