Employee Resource Groups—sometimes called Affinity Groups—can help foster a welcoming and supportive environment in your city. Whether you work in a big or small city, ERGs can have many benefits to the workplace. This guide will help you understand how to create one, and the benefits and challenges associated with ERGs.

What is an ERG?

ERGs are groups typically formed by employees who share common goals, interests, or backgrounds. The purpose of ERGs is often to create a space for employees to share their experiences, support each other, and help foster inclusion and belonging in the workplace. Some ERGs may also contribute to the professional development of employees and have an impact on policies, practices, and procedures within a city.

Who can have an ERG?

The short answer: anyone! ERGs work well in large cities because the more employees you have, the more unique identities and needs there are to bring to the table.  While ERGs are more common in large cities, they can also benefit smaller cities—they just might not look the same. While you might have fewer ERGs with fewer employees in smaller cities, they can still have an impact. For example, cities who may not have a dedicated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion role, or have a one-person HR team, ERG’s can help push your workplace culture goals forward. They can help create networking opportunities or facilitate employee engagement opportunities—things that may otherwise be led by an HR team. It’s not about passing on those responsibilities all together, but about giving your employees the power to create a work environment they are satisfied with. Small cities can also join together to have regional ERGs across a geographic area to increase the number of individuals who can participate.

Types of ERGs

  • ERGs can be identity-based, interest-based, or need-based. The type of ERG in your organization will depend on what employees are seeking. Some examples of what the focus of an ERG could be:
    • Race/ethnicity
    • Gender
    • Sexual Orientation
    • Disability and Accessibility
    • Mental Health
    • Active Military/Veteran Status
    • Geographic location

Benefits of ERGs

  • Improves Employee Engagement
    • ERGs can help create a sense of community and belonging by bringing employees together around a common identity, interest, or cause that might not otherwise happen during a normal work day.
  • Professional Development
    • ERGs can provide employees with opportunities to develop skills. This could include networking opportunities, mentoring, training, and leadership development.
  • Contributes to Recruitment and Retention
    • ERGs can help an organization recruit talent who value diversity and inclusion while also creating a more welcoming and supportive environment for existing employees.
  • Improves Cultural Competence
    • ERGs can help educate employees about various cultures, traditions, and experiences helping to foster similarities across differences.
  • Fosters Innovation
    • ERGs can help bring employees together, educate about the diverse experiences and needs of employees, and retain a more diverse workforce. Studies show organizations with a more diverse workforce perform better as more creativity and innovation comes with diverse perspectives.

How to create an ERG

  • Assess the need
    • This could look like conducting employee surveys or holding discussions to understand employees’ various needs and experiences. This could help identify areas where an ERG could be beneficial.
  • Gather support from leadership
    • Support from leadership is crucial to the success of an ERG. Leadership can help provide ERGs with resources and support from others in the organization.
  • Develop your mission and goals
    • Clearly articulate the purpose of your ERG and what you hope to accomplish and outline functions and activities. This will help you communicate your purpose to the organization and potential members. Determining what kinds of activities your ERG will do will engage members and reach your goals. This could include educational activities, professional development opportunities, networking events, volunteer activities, community outreach, cultural celebrations, and more.
  • Define the structure of the group
    • Determining roles and responsibilities will help your ERG stay organized and run efficiently and effectively.
  • Establish needed resources
    • This could include meeting spaces and budget.
  • Hold an introductory meeting
    • The purpose of this meeting should be to welcome members, communicate the mission and goals of the group, and ensure every member has an opportunity to give their input on the structure of the group.
  • Evaluate your progress
    • It is important to evaluate the progress of your group to ensure you are in line with your goals and making changes when needed. Allow flexibility in your group for the changing needs of members and general societal changes. This could mean conducting surveys or holding discussions to gather feedback.

Best Practices

  • Involve employees
    • One challenge ERGs often face is keeping employees engaged. One way you can keep employees’ interest is sharing regular content including upcoming events, articles, books, or podcasts related to the group’s mission, or sharing funny content that keeps things exciting. Another way you can do this is asking members what they want out of the ERG. It’s important your ERG creates a space where everyone feels heard and respected and that it is reflected in what your group does. You can use surveys, polls, or informal discussions to gain feedback from your members.
  • ERGs should be employee driven
    • ERGs should be directed and maintained by employees. Leadership could call for interest in ERGs and help spread that information to employees within your city however, employees should be in charge of taking the steps to create and manage the group.
  • Leadership sponsor
    • While ERGs should be employee driven, it’s important for ERGs to have a leadership sponsor. This would typically be someone in a leadership position who shows their support for the group and helps to keep the ERG tied to the broader organization’s goals.

Examples of Cities with ERGs

Cities use different names and processes for their groups depending on their organization and needs. Learn more about the various ways cities in Minnesota, and across the country, approach ERGs.

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