Best Practices for Selecting ERG Leaders

This article on selecting ERG leaders is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared by Kindred Concierge. Concierge is our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to navigate complex decision-making within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here. For existing members, log in to the member portal and maximize your Kindred experience through Concierge today.

When forming employee resource groups (ERGs), selecting effective leaders is an important consideration that impacts the success of the group.

ERGs are an opportunity for companies to increase a workplace’s sense of belonging and align employees with the organizational mission and goals. Since their introduction in the 1960s, ERGs have evolved from networking groups promoting DE&I to entities that actively contribute to business strategy and operations.

ERGs are often employee-run and depend on members to dedicate time and effort to furthering the mission of the group. Given the benefits that ERGs provide, companies are increasingly providing incentives such as compensation and professional development opportunities in order to attract and retain leaders. Among other benefits, ERGs increase employee engagement, foster creativity, and contribute to a feeling of inclusion within the company. Some organizations also consider ERG leadership as crucial experience that prepares employees for career advancement.

The leadership of an ERG can be instrumental to its long-term success. Typically, leaders are chosen by election or appointment. The approach a company takes will depend on its overall goals. 

Appointing ERG Leaders

By design, ERGs are top-down or bottom-up in how they operate and their intended impact. In a traditional ERG leadership structure, ERG leaders serve as the connector between the executive sponsor and members of the group. Depending on the size of the group and the company, an ERG may have multiple chapters and multiple leaders. Typically, c-suite members such as the CEO, CHRO, and CDO sit at the top and represent the necessary executive buy-in. Executive sponsors, who are mentors that guide the group in determining its mission and initiatives, act as a conduit between senior leadership and the ERG leaders. 

A top-down approach often requires management or human resources to proactively establish an ERG based on employee interest. In these cases, one strategy for selecting ERG leaders is creating a transparent application and nomination process. Employees can self-nominate or nominate their peers for a leadership position. Senior leadership can also actively nominate team members, which has the potential to diversify the group of candidates. In addition to asking for basic information, the application should also provide an opportunity for employees to share their vision for the ERG.

Senior leadership who support the mission of the ERG, such as the executive sponsor, reviews applications or appoints potential leaders. Executives should also consider ERG leadership as a pipeline to help junior staff grow and demonstrate capability and provide opportunities for employee development. as ERG leadership.

In the alternative bottom-up approach, employees form ERGs, driven by employee demand. Employees interested in creating a group select a leadership committee based on the individual’s strengths and interests. The group is then responsible for finding an executive sponsor, defining its mission, and securing formal company approval. Typically, ERG members elect their leadership internally.

When deciding which approach works best for a company, Diversity Best Practices recommends that companies review the leadership capabilities needed for success and determine whether an election or appointment process will lead to desired results. Some core competencies to consider include:

  • a demonstrated ability to perform their jobs and consistently meeting or surpassing workplace goals
  • business credibility through building trust among colleagues and possessing strong business acumen
  • a strategic mindset to seek out value-creation opportunities for the ERG
  • the ability to build leadership capabilities among others to ensure the long-term success of the group
  • the ability to create and run highly effective teams

After selecting ERG leaders, senior leadership must ensure they have the necessary tools and support to be successful. According to Elfi Martinez of Jennifer Brown Consulting, providing these resources ensures participation in the group isn’t exploitative. “If you want folks to be leaders of the ERG, you have to make sure that that is part of how they’re assessed, how they’re recognized, how they’re developed, and how they’re promoted. Because if you don’t…it’s not really a partnership. It’s exploitation,” he said. 

Aligning ERG Mission to Business Goals

Once an ERG is formed, leaders can work to establish the group as a committed and measurable aspect of a business rather than a membership organization. To do this, Jennifer Brown Consulting advises that the structure and culture of ERGs demonstrate the following factors:

  • Senior leadership views ERGs as a business resource and seeks their input on decisions across departments such as marketing and product development.
  • There are formal processes to inform ERGs about strategic initiatives and for the group to report on progress.
  • Managers understand the importance of ERGs and are on board with their direct reports’ participation. As Martinez notes, “When we see ERGs tend to flounder is when the managers of the leaders of the ERG are not considered and not brought on board, because your manager can be your biggest ally or your biggest enemy when it comes to leading an ERG”. Manager buy-in ensures leaders have adequate time and capacity to work on projects for the group.
  • Members of the group have diverse skill sets and come from a range of seniority levels, business units, and, where applicable, geographies.
  • Group members should actively contribute to the group and promote it across the company.

To ensure long-term success, companies should also document policies and guidelines defining the role of ERGs within the business. With this support, the different groups within an organization should also be in sync with each other, partnering and sharing resources where possible.

With effective leadership in place, employee resource groups play a considerable role in promoting inclusion and furthering overall business objectives. When selecting ERG leaders, companies must ensure they understand the capabilities needed for success, outline clear goals, and provide tools and resources to achieve set goals. In addition, providing compensation, professional development opportunities, and leadership training opportunities will ensure continuous success. 

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Published on September 21, 2021