What is the Difference Between a Diversity Council and ERGs?

About 57% of organizations surveyed in Brandon Hall Group’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion research indicated they have an active Diversity Council and/or Employee Resource Groups. Councils and ERGs serve two different, but complementary functions, so it is best to have both. 

A Diversity Council is a common form of governance and can be extremely effective if it is well-conceived, organized and executed. Any organization that has a DE&I strategic plan or wants to develop one should have a Diversity Council. It is often started or championed by the CEO, Chief Diversity Officer or whoever drives DE&I initiatives. Diversity Councils provide insights and information that are reflected in the organization and beyond, and they are a sounding board with which managers can engage to accelerate the advancement of inclusion and diversity efforts. 

ERGS are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Participation in an ERG can help develop future leaders, increase employee engagement, advise top leaders and Diversity Councils, and expand marketplace reach.

Diversity Councils 

Typically, council members are bullish on the business benefits of DE&I, well-connected, well-respected and highly influential leaders. However, since leadership in many organizations lacks diversity, councils often lack the insight needed to truly understand varying perspectives and barriers to DE&I and how to address them. A council should either include diverse representation from many levels of the organization or it should have an advisory council, committees or ERGs representing all levels of the organization to inform and educate the council. 

Employee Resource Groups 

The most important step in creating effective ERGs is to ensure they are aligned with your organization’s mission. Is it focused on giving back to the community? Or is your goal to build a more diverse workforce? Both? Something else? After you determine ERG targets based on organizational interest, it’s important to gather support, socialize your concept and organize. 

In interviews with Brandon Hall Group, many organizations said that their ERGs are loosely organized and often lack specific goals. That may be why professionals in their organizations involved in DE&I don’t rate ERGs’ importance or effectiveness as high as other DE&I initiatives.

Ratings for ERGs 

DE&I councils and ERGs can help organizations address important questions, including: 

  • How can we do a better job leading, managing and funding DE&I efforts to improve the impact? 
  • How can we embed the values of DE&I at all levels of the organization? 
  • How can we develop a diverse pipeline of professional and leadership talent? 
  • How can we understand the progress we make with DE&I and determine next steps? 
  • How can we motivate leaders and eventually all employees to make themselves accountable for creating and sustaining a truly inclusive organization? 

Building a true culture of DE&I depends heavily on involving the entire organization. Diversity councils provide active governance. ERGs, created and run correctly, can do a great deal to energize employees around issues of interest to them and the organization, as well as providing advice and perspective to the diversity council and top leadership. 

On the surface, the mission and work of a DE&I council can seem tactical and even tedious. But how a council is built and utilized has significant impact. Minnesota-based Prime Therapeutics, which manages pharmacy benefits for more than 30 million members, developed a formal diversity and inclusion strategy in 2018, which included launching a DE&I Council. 

Because of the council’s work, Prime was able to respond strongly and effectively after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis ignited the international movement for social justice in 2020. Prime’s leaders, who already offered employees one paid day a year to volunteer for health-related charities through a program called Prime Cares, added a second paid volunteer day to contribute to community rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests. 

The council eventually formed ERGs — Women and Allies and Prime Proud (LGBTQ+) groups — to focus on specific issues important to the company and the community. 

The possibilities for ERGs are endless as long as they align with organizational values. Common examples include: 

  • Women’s network (and even more focused, such as women leaders, women in technology, etc.) 
  • Network for people of color (and additional groups for specific minorities) 
  • LGBTQ+ network 
  • Working parents support group 
  • Veterans support group 
  • Network for people with disabilities 
  • Mental health advocacy group 
  • Mentorship group 
  • Young professionals network 
  • Community impact and volunteerism committee

Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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Mike Cooke



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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.