We sat down with VTLO Account Director Barbara Willis, who has extensive expertise in employee communications, executive communications, and branding and media relations, to discuss employee resource groups (ERGs). As a seasoned communications and marketing professional, she has worked for global corporations as well as industry-leading public relations and advertising agencies.
Q: What are ERGs and what role do they play in employee engagement?
A: ERGs are part of company-sponsored diversity and inclusion programs, bringing together employees with similar ethnic, racial, lifestyle, and career backgrounds. When these networks are well organized and active, they can generate an energy that helps define the corporate culture. Company-wide cultural and social programming that celebrates each group’s uniqueness can educate other employees on the value of different perspectives. These groups can also be great for professional development, giving members the opportunity to collaborate across company functions and with other ERGs. It’s a dynamic model when nurtured!
Q: How do ERGs impact the reputation of an organization?
A: The word gets out pretty quickly when a company makes diversity programming a high priority. Often, ERG members tell their friends and colleagues at other companies. In addition, a synchronized network of engaged ERGs can qualify the company for industry awards, which can immediately elevate an organization’s reputation.
Q: What advice would you offer to business leaders who want to establish ERGs within their organizations?
A: Make sure every ERG has a charter with clear goals and an executive-level sponsor to provide sound business counsel. It’s important that these groups plan a balance of lively and informative ERG-focused events as well as activities that advance the business. Sponsors can help ensure that the programming ultimately benefits both the employees and the company as a whole. In my experience working with ERGs, I’ve found that ERG members appreciate having access to senior leaders who can guide them to think creatively and make significant contributions to their organization.
Q: In summary, what would you say are the most critical benefits that ERGs provide?
A: ERGs can help with recruitment and marketing, foster company-wide inclusion, and put the company on the map as a place where diversity is encouraged and respected. I talk about these areas in my brief video (shown below) on ERGs and the value they bring to businesses.