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“Employee resource groups” (or ERGs) were historically thought of primarily as social groups for employees at a company. But since the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, ERGs have been getting more attention. With more support from their companies – as well as companies’ efforts to achieve DE&I commitments and goals set in 2020 – the role of ERGs has shifted.

Since 2020, more ERGs have been formed, too. Vice Media Group now has six ERGs, including a new one around wellness. At Gannett, there are now 12 ERGs, up from four in 2017, according to LaToya Johnson, director of global inclusion, diversity & equity at Gannett. Forbes launched a new ERG for its LGBTQ+ employees at the beginning of the year, said Ali Jackson-Jolley, assistant managing editor overseeing DEI initiatives at the company. 

WTF is an ERG?

ERGs are employee-led, company-sponsored groups usually formed around shared identities or life experiences, such as gender, race/ethnicity or interests. There are often ERGs at companies for Black, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx employees; for LGBTQ+ employees; and for military veterans and parents, for example.

“It’s not just a place for safety, but a place to help folks thrive and bring their whole selves to work,” said Eve Chen, USA Today travel reporter and founder of the Asian American Forward ERG at Gannett, which was created in May 2020. “When I first started at Gannett more than a dozen years ago, I was the only Asian American in my newsroom in Atlanta. Atlanta is a big city with a lot of Asian Americans,” Chen said. “I wanted to create connections for other folks who I knew would be in the same situation.”

What’s the role of an ERG?

The role of an ERG at a company is to create a safe space for people who may share a similar background or life experience. These groups often celebrate those differences and similarities, as well as highlight issues going on within these specific communities. 

ERGs can also foster company culture, too – an issue that many companies are grappling with since the pandemic struck and employees are working remotely. ERGs can help build connections and grow communities within companies, with networking and mentorship resources.

ERGs also act as a resource to others in the company. Members can help ensure language and meaning are authentic to the community they represent. ERGs often help organize training, guest speakers and workshops for the company around their communities, too. 

Lastly, ERGs can help companies achieve DE&I goals around hiring, retention, mentorship and professional growth.

“It was intended to be a place to share and celebrate our cultures, but it also was a place where we could be there for each other and also help guide discussion areas and coverage areas for our newsrooms as a company. We really were shining a light on a lot of the attacks [on the AAPI community] around the country,” Chen said.

What do ERGs do?

ERG members are advocates within a company for their points of view, said Valerie Di Maria, principal at The 10 Company, a marketing and communications executive coaching firm. A member of an ERG for families, for example, may push for better parental benefits at a company. An LGBTQ+ group might suggest company training on the trans community.

ERGs “will be the ones to catalyze change in some areas and say, ‘No one’s paying attention to this. We need people to be looking at this…’ They bring up areas of concern, attention, or something they would like to do,” said Daisy Auger-Domínguez, chief people officer at Vice Media Group.

ERGs often host events around significant times of the year for their community, such as for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May and Juneteenth on June 19. 

“They’re ideating on what could be possible for the organization and helping generate interest and enthusiasm and then leaning into our brands team, our editorial team, our marketing team and trying to figure out who can help put together the programming and the initiatives,” said Auger-Domínguez.

Di Maria believes ERGs should be thought of as “a strategic business unit… where they have strategic insights that they share with a company about their company’s culture, about product and service development and about how they interact with customers.”

What’s the typical structure of an ERG? Who runs them?

ERGs are open to all employees at a company – including those who are part of the community the group represents, and its allies. “Leads” or “chairs” are often chosen for each ERG. At Gannett, there are two co-leads per ERG, for example.

ERGs are also a direct communication channel to top executives at a company. ERGs usually have an “executive sponsor,” or a member of a company’s executive leadership team to work directly with the ERG to support their work and advocate for their interests. They also serve as a point of contact for ERG members to address any questions or issues. 

“It really is a way, especially for junior members of the staff, to see what it looks like to be an executive within Forbes – that typically they won’t get to see up close – and really be able to work from an operations side with HR and with folks like the chief product officer to bring initiatives to pass so they’re getting that exposure,” said Sadé Mohammed, vp of Forbes’ representation & inclusion practice.

At VMG, ERGs also work with the communications team to reach out and invite employees to ERG-hosted events, for example. There is also often a member of the HR team that works directly with ERGs. VMG has a designated HR person dedicated to its ERGs (called “community groups” at the company). They meet with ERGs bimonthly.

“I know that I can send a DM to our CEO and president and that I will get a response. That’s what’s huge,” said Chen at Gannett. “If you have your company support behind you, it makes it so much easier to help create that environment for employees. When your company is valuing your identity, it makes it so much easier for you to help share it.”

Gannett’s ERGs meet monthly. They meet quarterly with a broader group, including their executive sponsor, an HR liaison, the CEO, Chief People Officer and marketing team, among others, said Gannett’s Johnson.

Are people who take part in ERGs paid?

Most of them are not. Participation is voluntary. However, ERG leads sometimes get small bonuses. This is the case at Vice Media Group, for example. Vice’s HR team also reminds managers every year of the leadership role an ERG lead took that year, to be considered as part of their annual review, said Auger-Domínguez.

This year, Gannett launched an ERG bonus program for leaders, Johnson said.

ERGs also get budgets from the company to use for outreach, events or even swag. At VMG, a budget gets distributed by each community group on a per capita basis, managed by Auger-Domínguez’s team. 

How has the role of ERGs evolved at companies since 2020?

As companies increasingly work on their DE&I initiatives, ERGs can be a valuable resource. They can help with networking and retention of employees from different backgrounds – a real issue for many companies. It’s one thing to hire more diverse people – it’s a whole other thing to ensure they feel supported at the workplace and want to remain at the company. 

“It’s easier to attract talent and keep talent, if they feel there are people who look like me or who have the same issues that I have at the company and they’re succeeding and doing well,” said Di Maria.

“Not only are [ERGs] now a resource to employees, but they’re a resource to the overall business as well, said Johnson at Gannett. “We have developed an overarching ERG operating strategy that is aligned with Gannett’s overall inclusion strategy, to assist and achieve business goals, [understand] the transformation of the global marketplace and the needs of our employees, customers and the communities that we serve.”

She added, “Our businesses tap into ERGs for storytelling for our news division, as we think about creating new products to ensure they are inclusive and accessible to all, and for our recruiting and retention efforts.”

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