Employee resource groups aren’t new inventions, but they have taken on extra significance in recent years.
As a central pillar of many diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEIB) strategies, these groups got the spotlight amid the social upheaval of the post-pandemic era. In 2023, as many companies are pulling back on DEIB initiatives, employee resource groups (ERGs) deserve a closer look.
Can these networks continue to drive change for businesses in the coming decade?
Companies like Dow think they are crucial for future success. Alveda J. Williams, Ph.D., chief inclusion officer at Dow, outlined seven employee resource tips to improve any organization in a session for our 2022 For All™ Summit:
1. Establish your value proposition
It’s crucial to be explicit about what you hope your ERGs will accomplish.
“Employee resource groups are intended to be a resource for the employee,” Williams shared. But how can these groups also be a resource for your organization?
“ERGs are a perfect place to get the voice of the employee,” Williams said. “They provide an opportunity to gather market information, market research, and also drive company priorities.”
When you have clarity on what you want your ERGs to accomplish, those priorities help you make other important decisions.
2. Build a robust governance structure
ERGs must have a voice within the organization and participation from the highest levels of leadership at the company.
For Dow, ERGs are embedded in the inclusion and diversity (I&D) governance structure which consists of three distinct councils:
- President’s Inclusion Council. All employee resource group executive sponsors and other senior executives at the company form this group to set corporate DEIB strategy.
- Senior Leaders’ Inclusion Council. All people leaders at Dow are required to participate in at least one ERG. This council brings together functional, business, and regional leaders across the company to surface opportunities and challenges in executing the company’s DEIB strategy.
- Joint Inclusion Council. This council features the global leader of each of the 10 ERGs operating at Dow and ensures ERG members have a platform to exchange best practices, collaborate on enterprise work, and help inform companywide policy and programming.
This three-tiered structure allows Dow’s ERGs to have a seat at the table and offer feedback while ensuring participation from top business leaders across the organization. “They all work in concert,” Williams said.
3. Insist on measurement and accountability
How can you measure the impact of your ERGs? At Dow, the most scrutinized number is workforce participation. More than half of all workers at Dow (54.6% in 2022) participate in at least one ERG.
To track participation numbers, Dow has set up a digital ERG tool to accurately measure participation, which it defines as the percentage of employees who are signed up for one or more of the 10 ERGs.
Employees can access the tool to learn more about the ERGs, view a calendar of events around the world, and most importantly, to sign up to join any of the available groups.
“At any point, we can see how we’re moving, … if there are parts of the organizations that are moving slower than others, how each ERG is performing, how we’re doing with people leader participation,” Williams shared.
For accountability, Dow ties ERG participation to how it pays performance award bonuses.
“All 3,000 people leaders in our company are held accountable collectively,” Williams said. Dow sets reasonable year-end objectives and it measures progress.
4. Find strategic alignment
What can ERGs take responsibility for that also has a tangible impact on the organization? Dow provides strategic direction to the ERGs through an annual ERG agenda. In 2022, ERGs were tasked with promoting well-being, helping recruit the best new talent, supporting the company’s “decarbonize and grow” strategy, accelerating supplier diversity, and other important company goals.
“Find a north star, so that [your ERGs] feel connected to the greater purpose of the company,” Williams said.
5. Increase engagement and activation
There are many reasons that employees don’t participate in ERG programming, Williams said. The best companies ask, “How do I remove the barriers?”
“If there’s somebody that’s running a manufacturing plant that wants to be a part of an ERG, but they can’t simply because of the nature of their job, how do we help with that?” Williams explained.
To energize ERG members, Dow brings together 500 employees from 30 countries — all ERG participants — for its EMERGE conference. Attendees connect with senior leaders, network with one another, listen to insightful speakers, and participate in volunteer activities in Houston.
By reaching out to these 500 hyper-engaged employees, Dow is able to tap into their networks and use them as employee advocates.
6. Offer advocacy and action
ERG members should be empowered to advocate for issues that matter to them.
Williams gave two examples of how this has happened at Dow:
- The Women’s Inclusion Network pushed for stronger parental leave policies and were successful in getting Dow to offer 16 weeks of paid leave for any new parent, regardless of gender.
- The Veterans Network helped establish a policy at Dow where people who achieved a rank of E6 or higher in the military could be considered to have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.
Make sure ERGs are consulted as you work through big changes to people policies, talent and recruitment strategies, and more.
7. Connect to business success
The last tip from Williams: Ensure that ERGs have a direct impact on business outcomes.
Even at a B2B company like Dow, there are plenty of opportunities for ERGs to suggest products and services that drive revenue.
Through a partnership with Under Armour and Dow’s LGBTQ+ ERG, Dow’s technology is now in the mid-sole of Under Armor Pride Collection shoes. “It is an opportunity to not just build business, but an opportunity to demonstrate visibly our advocacy for LGBTQ+ people,” Williams said.
Another example came from the Global African Affinity Network, where members shared how they struggle to find products for their hair at retail stores. By listening to ERG members, Dow started to see opportunities.
“We’ve got chemistry expertise,” explained Williams. “What can we do to develop textured hair care solutions?” These questions led to new products and revenue for the company, revealing the power of asking ERGs to participate in business-critical conversations.
Williams emphasized the importance of helping employees connect ERG participation with future success for the business.
“There is a reason that we want you to be engaged,” she said. “There’s a business case.”
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