ERGs and Staff Networks: Looking back and gazing forward

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

In the run-up to our Conference and Awards, we’re looking back across a decade to identify trends and changes that we have encountered.  Our observations will be put to the test at our panels during the conference when we will also address some predictions for the next decade.

Our first panel will explore what it takes to run a successful employee resource group (ERG) or staff network.  So today, I’m sharing what we’ve discovered over the years in our work with ERGs.

That was then
It is probably no surprise to you that in Europe (which for our purposes includes the UK), the first staff networks formed in organisations were women’s networks.  Increased pressure to address gender imbalance in the workplace often led to their creation, and many organisations used to believe that the existence of such a network was in itself enough to address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

The hallmark of most of these early networks was a set of annual events at which women gathered to celebrate gender equality, listen to speakers who supported the gender agenda, and participate in workshops that raised awareness about how women (generally speaking) are different from men in what they expect from work and how they manage their careers.  During the early days of Voice At The Table, we provided many talks to networks on topics such as imposter syndrome, navigating your career, speaking up in meetings, female leadership and more.

While network representation gradually increased (to include Ethnicity, LGBTQIA+ and other groups), these networks were still considered by management to fulfil their requirement to address EDI and seen most notably as employee benefits.  Management tended to see the networks as another social outlet for a given group of employees, much like the organisational sporting, theatre and/or wine clubs that (used to) exist as an added social benefit for employees.

In many organisations, ERGs were assembled under the Social Corporate Responsibility umbrella, illustrating that the networks were seen as another means by which to ‘give back’ to society.

This is now
Fast-forward 10 years and the ERG landscape looks very different.  Many organisations now recognise the benefits that networks bring to the organisation.  This  McKinsey article highlights some of these benefits.  Management also recognise the fact that, far from simply enjoying the social benefits of running a network, dedicated employees are giving up their time (free if charge) to improve the culture of their organisation.  This is something that many managers now acknowledge and appreciate, and are therefore prepared to make time available for the running of ERGs.

Networks are becoming sophisticated in identifying their remit and purpose and they are learning how to achieve success for their members and the organisation.  Working with such networks, Voice At The Table has helped several committees develop strategies that help the network deliver on its promises to members and, more broadly, improve Inclusion.  Our full offering of services for ERGs can be viewed here.

ERGs are becoming a much better-utilised tool to support and implement EDI strategy.  Many of these networks are now viewed as an invaluable voice for the represented group of employees and work hand in hand with EDI and HR teams to support corporate EDI ambitions.

The first panel discussion at our event will explore how organisations can make the most of these invaluable resources, how best to keep volunteers skilled and motivated, and how to define and measure a network’s contribution and success.  I hope you join the conversation.

Suggested Reading

5 Tips for Creating An Impactful Employee Resource Group

The 10 Components of the Thinking Environment: A Truly Inclusive Space