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Employee resource groups (ERGs) explained

Nasser Oudjidane
December 19, 2022

Money makes the world go round, but there’s more to luring candidates than opening a briefcase full of banknotes. In these belt-tightening times, what can recruiters do to really attract the top talent? In this blog, we explore how Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can be an invaluable talent acquisition tool.

What is an ERG?

First, this Together guide gives a nifty definition of what ERG actually means:

“Employee resource groups are voluntary, employee-organised communities that foster connections between employees that share similar interests, characteristics, or backgrounds”.

It goes on to list some of the different types of ERG and their shared affinities:

  • Culture or ethnicity
  • People with disabilities
  • Women
  • Faith
  • Gender identity minorities
  • Sexual orientation minorities
  • Age minorities
  • Working parents, single parents and caregivers

You don’t have to look far to find advocates for ERGs. In a Forbes blog, Bryan Robinson argues that ERGs “provide employees with safe spaces to connect, support, share resources, educate and strategise to create change within your organisation”.

Elsewhere, this Seramount blog claims that ERGs can be a vital tool in the talent acquisition process and help you “elevate your initial outreach to candidates”.

(Above: Sampdoria - big fans of ERG)

And ERGs even have a role to play in virtual recruiting events, reports Brazen, with opportunities for ERG-led Q&As, panel discussions and video presentations.

But how exactly do ERGs help us recruit more effectively?

ERGs can help you build a diverse workforce

As recruiters, part of our role is to win over hearts and minds, and increasingly, it’s not just dimes and dollars that influence a candidate’s decision. In fact, according to Monster, “a majority of millennials and Gen Z job seekers [say] they would take a lower salary offer from a company that has a genuine commitment to diversity”.

Enter ERGs, which have become a vital function at the heart of companies’ approach to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). 

For example, a SHRM blog notes that during Amazon’s interview process, “the company allows candidates to participate in a ‘Candid Chats Program’ to connect with a member of one of the company's 12 affinity groups”.

There has been a paradigm shift where many jobseekers now prioritise a prospective employer’s values – not just the bottom line – and the thoughtful use of ERGs can create opportunities for employer and employee values to align.

“ERGs possess untapped potential for talent acquisition,” writes David Clark in a LinkedIn post. He goes on to suggest that choosing between DE&I principles and financial viability is not a trade-off, as the two go hand-in-hand.

“Not only have ERGs been proven to help companies attract more diverse candidates, but they can also help diversify a company’s applicant pools with sustainable recruitment channels.”

Read our blog on building a diverse workforce for some actionable steps on putting inclusion at the heart of your recruiting strategy.

To affinity and beyond

No one wants to end up with ERG on their face, and it’s fair to say that not everyone is enamoured with ERGs as a way of championing the rights of employees in the workplace. This tweet summarises an article in The Intercept, which casts doubt on whether ERGs are the most equitable way to advance employees’ interests.

Additionally, the aforementioned SHRM blog quotes Victoria Archer, Talent Strategy and DEI Consultant at Mercer, who warns that underrepresented groups should not have to do all the heavy lifting where DE&I is concerned: “You want to ensure you are not overburdening the leaders of these groups.”

Moreover, as Gergely Orosz observes, some of the first layoffs at companies like Klarna and Netflix have been from DE&I teams, suggesting that meaningful investment in inclusion is often found wanting. 

It’s worth thinking about what your motivations are for implementing ERGs, as without a genuine and sincere commitment to creating an inclusive culture, there is always the risk of a backlash. But if used properly, ERGs can play a vital role in your recruitment strategy.

No time like the present

In a world where the dreaded R word – recession – is looming large, it’s important to find creative ways to entice talent without just chucking more money at the problem.

In the heady days of the peak pandemic hiring blitz, simply offering more money had the unintended consequence of creating a “mercenary culture”, according to a SaaS tweeter paraphrasing the thoughts of DocuSign’s CEO, who responded to the question, ‘Why are so many of your reps quitting?’

In contrast, ERGs represent an opportunity to embed quality hires in your organisation with a shared culture, and cut re-hiring spend if your workforce becomes a revolving door.

ERG inspiration

If you’re after some ideas to help you establish a flourishing set of ERGs at your workplace, Comparably have put together a helpful list of six case studies.

And if you’re looking for some summer reading on the beach, a new book by Farzana Nayani, ‘The Power of Employee Resource Groups’, makes the case that ERGs are an under-utilised resource.

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