Does your organization have Employee Resource Groups?

| By: Ed Hamler

Fostering diversity is one of Benefits Data Trust’s (BDT) core values. Our employees hail from all walks of life, but share a common mission: to provide greater access to benefits and services to individuals and families across the nation. Most organizational diversity initiatives focus on respecting and honoring employees’ individual differences, but these initiatives should also emphasize how diversity can aid organizational effectiveness, mission achievement, and overall growth.

At BDT, a number of staff have been impacted by many social events outside of work, like the shootings of unarmed Black Americans, mass shootings that target children and the LGBTQA community, and talks of significant changes in federal policy. Wanting to find a way to help their colleagues, a small team assembled to research what supports, if any, were available to help recognize both the diversity of staff and the diversity of their needs. The team discovered Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – grassroots, employee-led groups formed around common identities and affinities like race, gender, sexuality, disabilities, and environmental advocacy (just to name a few) – that work to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, and goals.

Tracing their history back to the 1960s, ERGs were first formed in response to racial inequality. After the 1964 riots in Rochester, New York where Xerox was headquartered, CEO Joseph Wilson formalized employee networks to provide organizational support and resources to employees. The first ERG was formed to combat the unequal treatment of Black Americans and to advocate for a fair work environment. Xerox later expanded its ERG structure to support women, and in the late 1970s Hewlett Packard initiated the first LGBTQ ERG.

Today there are a variety of ERGs operating across numerous industries and organizations that have proven to have a positive effect both on employees and organizational goals. Research has shown that ERGs support staff in leadership development and mentoring, and provide safe spaces to talk through group challenges that exist both in and outside of the workplace. ERGs can also positively affect organizational goals, help recruit diverse talent, increase staff retention, offer cross-departmental collaboration, create new external partnerships, and increase engagement.

BDT introduced ERGs to its staff this spring, and quickly received an overwhelming amount of interest. ERGs will function as a structural framework for BDT’s diversity inclusion strategy, and will allow staff to work through challenges specific to the groups they identify with in order to create a more inclusive environment.

I have had the opportunity to speak with numerous industry professionals and supporters of ERGs, all of whom recognize that ERGs create a greater sense of inclusion and belonging at an organization. ERGs at BDT will serve as a catalyst for transforming our culture into a more inclusive, engaged, and productive one. Our employees’ differences are an organizational strength, and we will leverage them to aid in our mission to help individuals and families achieve better health and increased financial security.