Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), or workplace affinity groups, are not new, and in fact they have been around in workplaces since the 1970s when they evolved in response to racial tensions in the US. For years, ERGs mainly hosted networking events and weren’t typically remarkably impactful on the business, but served as a safe space and support network for members. ERGs have come a long way since then, expanding and deepening their influence and impact.
Now, ERGs are typically employee-led, voluntary forums that provide employees with support, and career development, mentorship and networking opportunities. They are often created around shared characteristics or personal traits like ERGs for women employees, members of historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ employees, veteran employees and more. In recent years, ERGs have expanded to include interest-based groups like working parents and caregivers, the environmentally conscious and mental health advocates. Further, business leaders increasingly recognizing the value ERGs can bring as key strategic partners. In fact, about 35% of companies have added or expanded their support for ERGs since the start of 2020, according to a 2021 study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org of 423 organizations employing 12 million people.
Why the shift?
This uptick in popularity of ERGs in the workplace is due in large part to the impact of COVID-19, which has amplified the prominence and importance of ERGs. After two years of pandemic-related isolation and a lot of social and political unrest, ERGs are playing an essential role in companies by fostering community, improving employee engagement and building company culture and brand. While it can be difficult to connect with employees feeling distanced by remote work, ERGs are an effective way to give employees a sense of belonging, shared purpose and support. For instance, during the pandemic, ERGs focused on women have shared tools for easing burdens for members suddenly facing new challenges of child-care demands while working from home. Likewise, they’ve given important feedback to help shape company policies and benefits.