Employee Resource Groups For Black Employees: What You Need To Know

Employee resource groups (ERGs) have been around since the 1960s when Black employees at Xerox banded together to tackle racial tensions in the workplace. Such groups are becoming more important now as gender, racial and political issues influence everyone. The success of many popular ERGs like Ernst & Young Professional Networks and Women at Microsoft (W@M) have influenced businesses to invest in ERGs of their own. This Black History Month is a good time as ever to start an ERG catering to your Black employees. Want to know how?  

Let’s start off by addressing the big question: What are ERGs? ERGs are employee-led organizations created by people with similar interests, histories, or demographics. These groups operate differently at each firm, but a commonality is that they engage in both professional and social networking activities. ERGs enable employees with similar interests to gather, have discussions on meaningful topics, obtain leadership opportunities, and generate a specific output that benefits their happiness. Additionally, they may be a liberating and secure space for employees to express themselves and seek assistance. Therefore, they are essential to draw in talent, with 70% of respondents aged 18-24 and 52% aged 25-34 saying they’d be more inclined to apply for a job at a firm that offered ERGs.  

The benefits of ERGs are not only limited to employees. ERGs foster organizational innovation as creativity occurs only when employees believe they are psychologically secure to offer their ideas. ERGs also assist employees in developing their skills and talents, thus leading to better employee retention. In fact, AT&T’s Black Employee Resource Group, The NETwork, has over 11,000 members, and the corporation recorded an 85.6% retention rate for its Black employees in 2015. 

Still not convinced to create an ERG? Here’s what our students have to say!  

We reached out to a few students at Johns Hopkins University to get their perspectives on the importance of ERGs for black employees. 4 out of 5 students confirmed that they actively look for companies that stand out with robust mentorship programs, employee resource groups, and with at least a few black employees in leadership roles. Here, is an in-depth look at what 2 of the students had to say:  

Noah Barnes  

Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering 

1. How important is it for you to have a community or a group of people of the same race?    

“I think they are very important, actually. So the last company I worked at, there was no employee resource group for black people, but there was one for the Latino community, which from the outside, looked very fun. You tend to stick to your team and stick to everybody that’s working on the same thing you’re working on. But within that ERG, you have interns being friends with people who’ve been there for ten years in a different department of the company, which I thought was would be valuable. As there are not a lot of black people in tech or academia in general, having that community of people who have like-minded culture would be a big plus for any company I’m looking at.”  

2. Do you actively look for such groups when determining if a workplace is good for you?  

” All else being equal, I would definitely go with the company that has ERG catering to black employees, but I don’t think I’ve ever looked for it ahead of time because I usually don’t expect them to have it. However, if a company advertises it, it would definitely catch my attention.”  

3. Do you have any expectations you have from your future work environment regarding inclusivity or a platform to network with other people of color?  

“I think what I would like to see is kind of like a focus or an effort towards hiring people that are underrepresented. My expectations are kind of low, I would admit, because I’ve worked only in tech companies, and I just have come to expect that I’ll be the only black person there. So, I can’t say that I would be, like, surprised or turn down a company because it’s not diverse. But if they did have some kind of community or some kind of focus on hiring underrepresented communities, then that would be a big advantage for me.”  

Idris Sunmola  

Ph.D., Computer Science, ​​Whiting School of Engineering  

1. How important is it for you to have a community or a group of people of the same race?   

“Knowing that there are people that look like you and understand your viewpoints is interesting. It’s always good to have a group of people with whom you can share your views without any judgment. That’s where I think these resource groups will come in handy. ”  

2. Do you actively look for such groups when determining if a workplace is good for you?  

” Personally, it’s not something I really think that much about. To be honest. So if I’m looking to apply to a company, the first thing I want to know is if they’re doing work that I find exciting, that I find challenging, that I find cutting edge. From there, if I do think that our ideals align when it comes to the work, then I start looking into our ideals align when it comes to the more soft aspects of corporate life. When I list bullet points that I feel the ideal company I want to work for has, I’d say something like, this is not the end all, be all for me, right? Because for me, if you’re an established company and you don’t have a good culture, you’re not going to last that long anyways. I’m of the mind that a company that has a good pedigree shows that they have a welcoming and just accepting environment and culture.”  

3. Do you have any expectations you have from your future work environment regarding inclusivity or a platform to network with other people of color?  

“The general climate is that if it’s a good company, it’s a welcoming company. I’m not going to put in an effort to go the extra mile and see what they’ve done in the past for the black community. So for me, business is business, right? Culture is important when it comes to business, but for me, culture is all-encompassing. So a company that has a good culture by default is a welcoming company when it comes to underrepresented groups.  

Ime Essien 

Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine 

1. How important is it for you to have a community or a group of people of the same race?   

“I think they’re essential, and I would not work at a company that did not have one unless they’re super small. I interned at Intel, Adobe, and Lockheed Martin and had Black ERGs in all three. They were the coolest part of the job. The events they held, especially when I was working at Intel, are very interactive. The ERG hosted many events. They got to know the interns and encouraged them to continue working there. I also gained a mentor through that program.” 

2. Do you actively look for such groups when determining if a workplace is good for you? 

“I would want to work at a company that has employee research groups because that means they care about their employees, ensuring they feel comfortable at work and are able to talk about things with people who look like them or have similar backgrounds.” 

3. Do you have any expectations you have from your future work environment regarding inclusivity or a platform to network with other people of color?  

“All companies should have an ERG for Black employees. But, it depends on the size of the company, because if it only has five employees, then I would not expect them to have one. If I would be the first person or the second black employee, I would start one so I could recruit more people from my background who look like me, who talk like me, and who have the same background and experience as I do. If the company has many employees, then they should have an ERG for black employees.” 

Questions that will help leaders create ERGs  

1. What is the framework required to start an ERG?  

ERGs do not have any hard or fast rules. The main purpose of an ERG is to improve workplace culture for all. It can help managers and leaders in analyzing their organizational dynamics that may contribute to decreased engagement for certain demographics. With this in mind, there are a few parameters you can include in an ERG:  

  • Keep them open to all:  

Everyone, regardless of identification, can be an ally, and a focus on intersectionality can result in many employees belonging to many groups. The more individuals that participate actively in ERG activities, the more effective the groups are for employees and the organization. 

  • Make ERG activities align with business objectives:  

ERGs can have an impact on procedures like hiring and career advancement, as well as business choices such as product releases and marketing tactics. For example, the Women@Pinterest, Hispanic employee group Todos Pincluidos, and Black employee group blackboard@Pinterest have independently crafted in-product experiences for Pinners to access culture-specific material. Women@Pinterest also established a company-wide mentorship program, which is open to both men and women. 

  • Have common themes:  

Belonging, recruitment and retention, internal and external awareness raising, effect on company choices, community participation, intersectionality, and career development are common themes and critical areas of concentration among organizations. They ensure that ERGs not only foster a strong feeling of community but also implement significant change within the organization. 

  • Include executive sponsorship:  

Senior executives who mentor and advocate for ERG groups serve to bridge the gap, drive group efficacy, and tie the group’s objective to business goals. A survey shows that a black manager with an executive sponsor is 65% more likely to advance to the next rung on the ladder. Employees of color are 60% less likely to resign within a year. 

2. How to manage an ERG?  

Regardless of the type of organization, having clear roles, processes, and measures ensures the success of the group. An ERG’s governance structure need not be complex- it could include:  

  • A mission statement  
  • Resource requirements and a budget  
  • Membership recruitment strategy  
  • A set meeting structure   
  • A plan for oversight  

3. Why is executive sponsorship important for an ERG?  

ERGs with executive sponsors or connections to the executive team tend to be more successful because of two reasons. Firstly, a line of sight established between the organization’s business goals and the ERG’s helps guarantee alignment. This connecting point helps maximize the power and value of these organizations. Secondly, it provides a view of the ERG’s contributions and influence on senior leadership.  

4. How can companies improve and promote ERGs?  

Successful ERGs are those that have more executive support, better resources, and more influence. Here are a few tips to help you create successful ERGs  

  • Offer financial assistance: Consider allocating a portion of the money to ERG activities and projects. Determine a fair method for allocating funds to each group and provide a clear route for group members to receive those funds. This can be a valuable investment in the long-term health of your firm.  
  • Publicize upcoming activities: When your company’s ERGs hold events and workshops, notify the rest of your workers. Provide meeting space and other resources as needed to enable meetings and activities. You can also help with training and development.   
  • Stay out of decision-making: ERGs are effective because they are employee-led and voluntary. You should not attempt to control any part of the group, such as who may join or what the group should do. Let members make decisions and pick the group’s path while providing support.  

Several ERGs have implemented these strategies and become immensely successful. Here are some examples that BlueLeadz found:

“Ernst & Young (E&Y), a global management consulting firm has more than a dozen ERGs.” One of the most intriguing characteristics of the E&Y ERGs is their inventiveness in identifying similar interests. Some examples of their ERGs include working moms, veterans, cancer survivors, French speakers, and many more. “Women at Microsoft is another group that has been hailed as one of the greatest ERG success stories. W@M works hard to empower and motivate women to break down barriers at Microsoft and in the community.” It features a full calendar of yearly activities to assist people to broaden their horizons. “W@M is responsible for everything from recruiting campaigns at typically female universities to creating partnerships with women-owned suppliers.” These success stories are just the right inspiration to encourage you to implement the above strategies and create your own ERG to support your black employees.   

If you want to know more about employee resource groups, check out the following websites:  

1. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). (2022, October 27). UConn Center for Career Development. https://career.uconn.edu/resources/employee-resource-groups-ergs/#:~:text=Some%20benefits%20of%20ERGs%20include,individuals%20from%20traditionally%20underrepresented%20backgrounds.  

2. Lally, M. (2020, December 16). 5 Kickass Employee Resource Groups That Drive Engagement. Blueleadz. https://www.bluleadz.com/blog/employee-resource-groups-to-inspire-you#erg-examples  

3. What Is an Employee Resource Group and Why Do They Matter? (n.d.-a). https://www.betterup.com/blog/employee-resource-group  

4. What Is an Employee Resource Group and Why Do They Matter? (n.d.-b). https://www.betterup.com/blog/employee-resource-group  

 5. Hastwell, C. (n.d.). Employee Resource Groups: Company Culture Experts Answer Your ERG Questions. Great Place to Work®. https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/our-company-culture-experts-answer-your-top-erg-questions  

6. Bastian, R. (2019, February 12). How to Foster Workplace Belonging Through Successful Employee Resource Groups. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rebekahbastian/2019/02/11/how-to-foster-workplace-belonging-through-successful-employee-resource-groups/?sh=76e6fde4dc73 

By Vibha Sathesh Kumar
Vibha Sathesh Kumar