Originally published by Spiceworks.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) help underrepresented employees feel connected and accepted, but remote work can make this challenging. Derrick Coleman, practice leader with GHJ Search and Staffing, explains how technology can help solve this problem, what tools are available, and how to decide when to invest in ERG software.
First created in the 1960s by Black employees at Xerox, employee resource groups (ERGs) have had a resurgence in popularity as the country reckons with racial inequality and the Great Resignation. Typically led by volunteer employees, ERGs are a type of affinity group that allows members and their allies to share their experiences in a safe space. ERGs can help increase a sense of belonging and provide support to underrepresented groups by bringing together employees who share a certain characteristic, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.
ERGs have regular meetings to discuss business items and any concerns or thoughts members may have. Members often plan and host employee events, facilitate trainings and engage in activism and awareness campaigns. For example, the LGBTQ+ Alliance ERG at digital marketing software company HubSpot commissioned a mural at a park in Boston to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. The group also publishes an internal newsletter and hosts a book club to highlight LBGTQ+ authors.
In addition, ERGs that receive funding from their employer or a sponsor may be responsible for managing a budget and tracking ROI. Not only does this allow the ERG to have a greater impact, but it provides a unique opportunity to track DEIA efforts and measure their effectiveness.
There is no doubt that ERGs can improve the onboarding process, employee job satisfaction and DEIA at work. But how will they continue to be effective as remote and hybrid work becomes increasingly common? This is where technology becomes essential.
INTEGRATING ERGS INTO THE EXISTING TECH FRAMEWORK
There are several ERG-specific software tools on the market, but they are not always necessary to create and manage an effective ERG. Leaders can just as easily make use of free tools and the software already used by the company.
ERG meetings can become virtual with the use of video chat software, such as Zoom or Teams. At this point, most companies and employees are quite comfortable holding meetings via video and using tools like virtual whiteboards. Slack, Teams and good, old-fashioned email can all be used to keep in touch between meetings.
Outlook and Google offer numerous planning tools, including calendars, to-do lists, document storage, and surveys, all of which can be extremely helpful for ERGs. A simple company calendar that lists every ERG meeting and event is a great place to start. So long as the information is kept organized, the transition from in-person to virtual planning can go quite smoothly.
A company intranet is also a useful place to house information about ERGs. Leaders can add and edit information about available ERGs, when they meet and the process for joining or starting a new ERG. When this information is centrally located, easily accessible and integrated into the onboarding process, employees will be more likely to get involved.
Finally, technology can also help members of an ERG improve their skills and grow at work. For example, members of an ERG for young employees may wish to connect with mentors to learn how to use a new technology. ERGs are an excellent starting point for upskilling and training.
SOFTWARE CAN SIMPLIFY ERG ADMINISTRATION
Although free and existing tech can work well for smaller ERGs, global companies with numerous ERGs may find it challenging to adapt software for their needs. This is when ERG-specific software may be an appropriate investment. Popular options include Affirmity, Chezie, Diverst, Espresa and Teleskope.
Each ERG software has its own bells and whistles, but its main function is to act as a hub for all ERG planning. Employees can access a designated platform to browse every available ERG and stay up to date with them. This can save a significant amount of administrative time because employees can join, onboard or create an ERG through a self-service model.
Once a member of an ERG, employees can use this software to schedule meetings, assign tasks and plan events. Some software includes an in-app chat function and even a mobile app so members can stay in touch on the go. Another bonus is that members can share items directly from the ERG platform to their social media.
In addition, ERG software offers more comprehensive data tracking. Leaders can break down membership and engagement by demographics like race, gender and department, giving more insight into DEIA efforts. ERG software also offers the ability to track program funds, set financial targets and manage budget requests.
The larger and more global the company, the more important these functions are. It is simply unsustainable to limit ERG administration to a shared Google Doc or a Slack channel when there may be dozens of ERGs with hundreds of members each. ERG software can help ensure that all processes are consistent across an organization, even if members are continents apart.
IS IT TIME TO INVEST IN ERG TECHNOLOGY?
ERGs are only as successful as the technology they have access to, especially when members are remote. To have truly effective ERGs, leaders and their members must have tools that match their size and goals.
Before deciding whether to invest in ERG technology, there are three key questions to ask.
First, can the company’s current tech stack meet the needs of the ERG? If planning is getting derailed by communication difficulties, or if ERG leaders are spending more time jerry-rigging software than actually doing ERG-related work, that may be a sign it is time to invest in new software.
Second, are there metrics the company would like to track that cannot be tracked currently? Meaningful DEIA data can be difficult to come by. ERG software allows users to not only track simple metrics such as demographic information, but deeper data such as member engagement. There are few other tools that can offer this insight.
Lastly, would new software facilitate the ERG process, and if so, what would the benefit be? On one hand, saving time on administration could allow ERG leaders to devote more time to important work. On the other hand, training employees on an entirely new system could eat up more time than it is worth. If ERG members are getting along just fine with the tools they already have, asking them to transition their work to a new platform can do more harm than good.
Ultimately, the purpose of an ERG is to increase inclusivity and belonging in the workplace. Before investing in new tech, you must ask whether it will serve this larger goal.