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.
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
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