How to Cultivate a Successful Employee Resource Group Four ways ERGs can promote collaboration, trust and purpose.

By Brenda Pak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I recently attended a talk with the author of How to Be an Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, who briefly discussed how it's perfectly natural for like-minded students to congregate in formal or informal groups in college. This is because it's natural for humans to come together and connect – to find comfort together. These types of teams also serve as a powerful force within companies. Known as employee resource groups (ERGs), they promote collaboration and build trust within the organization — which, in turn, leads to innovation.

Related: Zola's Company Culture, Before and After the Pandemic

Create opportunity

According to an HBR study, three factors tie employees to their job:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Company culture
  • Individual inclusivity

Given the immense impact of the pandemic on talent management and the increasing importance employees place on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), companies can't ignore the above three factors when they attract and retain talent.

One way to increase opportunity is utilizing ERG groups to create pathways for natural exchanges of information. This way, employees can easily find supporters and mentors without going up and down the hierarchal chains of command.

The company can support ERG groups by providing funding for activities including offsite meetings, fun get-togethers and relevant training activities

Have open conversations

Many employees are afraid to speak up because they fear bringing negative attention to themselves or their group (since many times minorities are seen as the cultural ambassadors for their race in the workplace).

Start by creating guides that push employees to have deliberate conversations with each other around what could be perceived as sensitive topics. Then, create the space within these small ERG groups to talk through microaggressions and false allyship issues.

Instead, make it a place where people can openly share about the company's specific nuances that create barriers to promotion or salary increases. Provide and encourage peer support and allyship within the group.

Related: Black Women in Leadership: Strategies for Progress

Practice empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with another person and mentally imagine yourself in their shoes. People forget how to practice this skill in the name of "professionalism." It seems as if some employers expect you to no longer carry those same human feelings of pain, apathy, sadness, grief and joy — simply because you're at work.

Here are a few ways to elevate empathy while boosting morale at the office:

  • It's not always wise to say, "I know how you feel." Instead, try to listen and offer your time rather than take away from that person's unique experience.
  • Remember that people see life with their own eyes, and therefore they react differently.
  • Know that your experiences are genuinely your own – no one will completely understand, which can help ease any frustrations when you feel misunderstood.

Offer space for trust

Researchers found that employees are unhappiest when they meet with their bosses in a McKinsey study. This says something about the style of leadership and cultivation of the environment. There is too much rule by fear and anxiety instead of building trust.

These groups later come to informally mentor, coach, and mobilize talent and knowledge across the organization. Research shows that information and knowledge flow through them with little attention to specific title hierarchies and matrix structures.

Small informal groups can help employees improve daily interactions with coworkers and adjacent working teams. Moreover, with the right resources, these groups can positively impact a place on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Related: 4 Ways to Strengthen Recruitment, Retention and Engagement in the Wake of the Great Resignation

Brenda Pak

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and Cofounder

Brenda Pak is the co-founder of BackPac, a B2B diversity and inclusion platform that helps companies build inclusive cultures.

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