Episode 6: All About Employee Resource Groups | Community Collaborative

We’re back with the sixth episode of our Community Collaborative Series where our community leaders highlight the actions local businesses are taking to better embrace, support, and include diversity. In this episode, our leaders continue to break the barriers on conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion by discussing how organizations can use employee resource groups, or ERGs, to activate the inclusivity of a diverse workforce. 

Community Collaborative co-host/producer and Black Chamber of Arizona CEO Robin Reed returns with co-host/producer and Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Monica Villalobos to lead the discussion on how to successfully implement ERGs into workplace culture. ERGs inspire inclusion of diverse experiences and foster leadership experiences across all levels of employees within an organization.

Reed begins by defining ERGs. He explains that while ERGs vary from company to company, there are some best practices to consider. In some cases, he explains, these groups act as social groups within the organization to encourage collaboration between employees with similar interests, challenges, or experiences. In other cases, ERGs play a more active, advocatory role in helping the organization achieve goals of diversity and inclusion, bridging the gap between group members and the executive levels of the business.

The leaders discuss the blueprint for initiating ERGs in any organization, looking at “that perfect blend” of what an ERG could be (2:00). They provide useful insights and actionable advice that anyone can take back to their community of business leaders. 

Joining Reed and Villalobos on this episode is Jason Paprocki, Executive Vice President and COO of Arizona Federal Credit Union, to discuss how they use ERGs as a resource for building connections across the company and advancing efforts within the community. Additionally, he provides insight into how both employees and employers can benefit from ERGs. 

Reed, Villalobos and Paprocki explore the questions companies should consider when implementing employee resource groups in their workplace: 

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Inspired by the work done at Arizona Federal Credit Union, Villalobos discusses how companies can leverage ERGs to advance diversity and inclusion within their workforce, moving beyond using ERGs as a social group. 

As Villalobos points out, ERGs can be formalized as a resource within the organization. She explains, “ERGs can actually be a resource tool for recruitment, for supplier diversity, and for other areas internally” (6:26). 

Instead of spending dollars on recruitment firms, ERGs allow companies to look within and better leverage their internal resources who already know what the organizational culture is. With this understanding, they can find people who can buy into the established culture and vision (7:00). 

Paprocki jumps in to provide more details regarding how ERGs prove to be an invaluable resource for organizations. He highlights how when it comes to  ERGs, companies “have a built-in internal focus group” that represent a diverse range of perspectives and experiences (8:15). 

He continues to explain how bringing ERG leaders to the table during preliminary discussions on everything from HR policies to company-wide activities paves the way for executives to receive honest feedback from a variety of perspectives.  This is especially beneficial before rolling out any new policies or practices (8:28). 

As an example, he recalls how the Black and African ERG at the Arizona Federal Credit Union helped co-author the company’s statement of support for the Black community in response to the social justice movement sparked by George Floyd’s death (9:27). Giving them a voice encouraged ERG members to be leaders within the organization during an imperative time (10:35). 

Before ERGs and executive leadership collaborate internally, however, Villalobos calls for the need to have executive-level buy-in to the programs. “Funding [ERGs] and allowing them and empowering them to go out into the community and make investments is absolutely critical,” she adds (11:28). 

To ensure executive support, Paprocki suggests including an ERG component in the annual budget, giving each group money to manage toward resources and community initiatives (13:02). 

The conversation continues as Paprocki discusses how ERGs can be leveraged as a resource to create paths to leadership and professional development for all employees. He explains how ERGs provide an opportunity to elevate employees’ existing talent and skills, fostering leadership skills even for those who are not formally in leadership positions. By participating in ERGs, employees can develop skills from planning and critical thinking to collaboration and communication (25:13). 

ERGs “touch all bases,”  Reed concludes (26:32). They provide a space for all employees to take part in social aspects,  skill acquisition, and collaboration. In doing this, ERGs help captivate inclusion by “empower[ing employees] to participate in the vital discussions that are necessary within an organization”  (27:27). 

Additionally, Villalobos highlights, they provide pathways to diversity and inclusion as well as paving the way to leadership for all employees (29:16).

Actions Organizations Should Take

Important takeaways from Episode 6 include:

  • – Implement ERGs to create a safe space for a diverse workforce to feel included and understood.
  • – Move beyond using ERGs as social groups, utilizing these groups to help the advancement of diversity and inclusion within the organization.
  • – Look toward ERGs as a resource for recruitment and supplier diversity to better leverage your internal resources (6:26). 
  • – Appoint positions of leadership within the ERGs to produce the ideas, topics, and activities that will help seek out resources in the community that will bring initiatives to life. 
  • – Utilize ERGs as focus groups to provide feedback before implementing new policies or campaigns (8:15).
  • – Encourage internal collaboration by bringing ERG representatives into executive-level conversations to allow for honest feedback and diverse perspectives (8:28). 
  • – Encourage ERG participants to be leaders within the organization, providing opportunities to produce content on relevant topics to share with the company and/or the public via resources such as a company blog (10:35).
  • – Allocate money in the annual budget for each ERG group for them to put toward resources and initiatives (13:02).
  • – Diversifying leadership positions, including those in ERGs,  to show “people within the community [and the company] to see that opportunities exist for people that look like them” (23:18).
  • – Welcome all employees to  ERGs, encouraging allyship and the understanding, support, and inclusion of others (23:45).

As organizations continue to look for ways to improve diversity and inclusion efforts, today’s conversation suggests that there is a lot we can leverage from within our organizations to reach that goal. ERGs remind us to embrace internal resources to better embrace a diverse workforce. 

With the goal of incorporating diversity and inclusion into the DNA of an organization, our community leaders continue to shine a light on the benefits to be had when all voices and experiences within an organization have the opportunity to be heard.

About The Community Collaborative

Community and business leaders and individuals who want to educate themselves on diversity issues will find the series informative and educational. And anyone who wishes to get involved will have ready access to resources featured in each program.

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