Enhancing the Value of Employee Resource Groups
An employee resource group (ERG) is a group of employees with varied status who actively engage in communicating and/or meeting around a central unifying purpose, mission, background or activity. As many of you know, LGBT ERGs are stronger than ever and serve an important purpose for their members. Throughout 2011, professional men and women representing more than 14 Fortune 1000 corporations convened in a roundtable breakfast to share a common passion: strengthening the value proposition of their LGBT ERGs within their parent organizations.
The roundtable breakfast was formed by Robyn Streisand, executive committee chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce of New York (NGLCCNY), an organization dedicated to furthering business opportunities for the LGBT community in New York City and Neil Cerbone, president of Neil Cerbone Associates, an LGBT owned consulting firm that specializes in diversity and inclusion transformations. Each was confident that their collective experience, intelligence and perspective would generate a series of strategies and tactics from which all could benefit. Their mindshare was significant; it enlightened and clarified, but most of all, it inspired.
Attendees responded to three catalytic questions designed to maintain focus, expand perspective, ignite thinking, foster participation and transform mindshare into traction.
• How does an ERG prove its value to its parent company? What works and what does not work? Nearly all ERGs promote policies (91 percent) and LGBT visibility (89 percent) to create inclusive workplace. Nearly three-quarters also provide LGBT leadership development opportunities.
• What expectations are realistic? What does a successful relationship look like?
In their programming, LGBT ERGs provide much more than a social network, although networking continues to be a strong value for a majority of ERGs.
• What role does organizational executive leadership play in strengthening the relationship?
• Starting a LGBT ERG is an exciting challenge; but being a founder will require time, energy and courage. Anyone considering forming an ERG should be clear on one question before starting. This could mean taking progressive steps such as forming a social or mentoring network, pursuing domestic partner benefits, transgender-specific healthcare coverage, improved diversity policies, altering the workplace environment and implementing other LGBT-friendly policies.
In attempting to answer these questions, the group recognized that it had actually discovered a number of challenges that frequently interfere with establishing and sustaining ERGs:
• How to expand ERG membership beyond a small number of passionate people, so they do not become overburdened juggling functional responsibilities with ERG commitments;
• How to escape the stereotype of being a social club without losing the benefits and opportunities that social networking provides to members;
• How to meaningfully justify the ERG in terms of a business case that will resonate with the "C" suite;
• How to engage and clarify the role of "C" suite executives;
• How to leverage the experiences of mature and younger ERGs to the benefit of both; and
• How to maximize traction and avoid being limited to think tank status.