Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.
ERGs at AT&T
At AT&T, leaders attribute the company's massive 85 percent retention rate of its black employees to one benefit in particular: its African-American employee resource group (ERG) known as Community NETwork. Community NETwork is one of the company's oldest employee resource groups with more than 12,000 members. From this group, leadership candidates have been cultivated, scholarship programs have been funded and mentoring relationships have been created.
Community NETwork is just one of 12 employee resources groups made available to AT&T employees, with membership numbers topping more than 133,000 across the board.
This attention to employee resource groups has kept AT&T at the top of many award presentations, including Fortune Magazine's ''100 Best Companies to Work For'' and DiversityInc's ''Top 50 Companies for Diversity'' and ''Top 50 Companies for ERGs.''
But, what exactly are these ERGs that AT&T (and numerous other companies) are so passionate about?
What Is An ERG?
An employee resource group (ERG), is a voluntary, employee-led work group for employees who share similar backgrounds, identities or interests. That means that an ERG might be created for female employees, minorities, employees with disabilities, veterans, young professionals and a host of other options.
At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, there are ERGs that employees can join covering a variety of shared interests:
- African, Black, American, Caribbean
- Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer (LBGTQ)
- Women in IT
If there is a commonality that employees share, there is an employee resource group opportunity that could be created for workers to come together and be a part of.
ERGs, Diversity and Benefits
ERGs are more than just a support system for like-minded employees or a business asset that can help with recruitment. These groups are being hailed for their role in supporting a diverse workforce. This is particularly important as organizations become more diverse and workforces stretch across continents thanks to telecommuting.
ERGs fill a role in supporting workplace diversity in that they:
- create a community for learning about others and discussing important topics.
- facilitate a sense of belonging among employees looking for a place to fit in.
- help foster relationships in the workplace between people of similar backgrounds.
- are an incentive for people of diverse backgrounds who are looking for employment.
- provide support of individuals dealing with circumstances unique to that group.
- give employees an opportunity to have their concerns heard and addressed.
- help new employees feel more comfortable and assimilate more quickly.
- provide a leadership development pipeline for groups that feel they might be overlooked.
In addition to supporting a more diverse workforce, ERGs provide other benefits including helping with attracting and recruiting talent, making workers generally more happy and productive and creating channels for professional development among its members. For a business, having ERGs as a resource for workers can also boost the company's image in the public eye.
ERGs Potential Disadvantages
You've just seen some of the positives that ERGs provide in a business setting. Yet, there are those who believe the these groups also present some negatives as seen from leadership or management's perspective.
In some environments, ERGs may be viewed as excluding of those who don't feel they fit into one particular group or another. This can lead to resentment and hostility in the workplace and toward other employees. Management may view ERGs as less efficient than creating diverse teams of employees that are more inclusive of all employees.
In other instances, leaders may feel they cannot actively participate in these groups, thus limiting their ability to communicate with these employees collectively. Managers may feel as though they are intruding in a group meant for front-line workers. There may also be concerns from leadership about how effectively these ERGs are using their time, creating environments for employees to complain or commiserate without really delving into any substantial issues.
ERGs also have the potential to sow discord in an office when employees don't understand their purpose or oppose the group's mission, creating problems for managers to contend with.
Employee resource groups or ERGs, are voluntary, employee-led work groups for employees who share similar backgrounds, identities or interests. This can range from groups for women in the workplace to young professionals to minority groups.
The presence of ERGs in the workplace can be a tool for supporting a diverse workforce. They create a support system for workers who may feel out of place and offer a forum for sharing concerns or experiences that are common to members of the group.
Aside from supporting diversity, ERGs boast both positives and negatives in a manager's perspective. They are helping for attracting and recruiting talent and often lead to happier and more productive workers.
On the negative side, however, they can create misunderstandings and discord between ERG members and non-members who don't fit into a group, don't understand their purpose or oppose the group's mission. Managers may also feel excluded from joining an ERG, which can create a divide between leadership and front-line workers.
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