Despite their prevalence, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have varying levels of impact. Sometimes, the differences can get a little spooky.
ERGs are voluntary, employee-led communities that provide a platform for their members to foster connections, develop skills, and enable organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) objectives. ERGs are not a new phenomenon. Established in 1970 during the American Civil Rights Movement as a mechanism to improve outcomes for their Black talents, Xerox’s National Black Employee Caucus was the earliest recorded ERG.
Despite their history and ubiquity, ERG maturity and impact varies. As explored in my last article, high impact, established ERGs do exist and have the capacity to both inform and catalyze business priorities across functions, not just DEI. Unfortunately, many organizations have a limited view of what their ERGs should and could be, resulting in ERG programs with little to no impact.
For some context, let’s explore three tiers of ERG impact:
Tier 1: ERG Ghost Town
We’ll start with the worst case scenario: ERG Ghost Towns. These are ERGs that were once operational but are now defunct, yet they still façade on the organization’s external website or behind broken links on the company intranet. Typically, they have one or two executives, no programming, zero strategic imperative, and most employee’s response when they are mentioned is “wait, we have a ____ ERG?”
So, how do ERG Ghost Towns happen?
Like many ERGs, they are formed by a passionate group of employees who want to create a space for their community to thrive. But over time, the ERG fizzles due to a lack of support and momentum. This can look like the loss of an influential ERG founder who carried the entire operation on their shoulders, limited resourcing, sponsorship, and commitment from organizational leaders who could champion meaningful change, or collective burnout from volunteer ERG leaders who were doing their best to proxy for DEI expertise that their organization was unwilling to invest in (a juicy topic for a future article).
As we transition out of the DEI heyday of summer 2020, we’re seeing this play out in real time. Between the murder…