4 Key Strategies for Growing ERG Membership & Increasing Visibility
Diversity Equity and Inclusion Director for MentorcliQ
Apr 20, 2023
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are now a central part of DEI, employee engagement, and retention strategies. But if you’re staring at low retention and engagement numbers right now, you may be wondering if your ERGs are really doing any good. The answer probably lies in how effectively you’re growing ERG membership, participation, and visibility.
Increasing the number of people voluntarily enrolling in and participating in ERGs is a common struggle for HR leaders. As well, making sure that these programs have the right kind of visibility within the organization can sometimes be a difficult and semi-political issue with serious DEI consequences. Growing ERG membership and visibility is, thankfully, not as complicated as it seems. When you re-imagine your approach by applying a bit of a marketing lens to it, you get vastly better results.
From leveraging existing employee networks to creating visibility opportunities through content and social media, there are key strategies organizations can use to effectively increase the number of participants in their ERGs and maximize their visibility. By thinking more creatively about how to promote ERGs and engage employees, organizations can create a more diverse and equitable workplace and reach new heights of ERG membership and visibility.
Why Should I Grow ERG Membership Right Now?
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or Business Resource Groups (BRGs) have been gaining popularity in recent years as an effective way to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The vast majority of Fortune 500 companies (90%, in fact) now have ERGs. Those numbers tell us two important things:
- The biggest, most successful companies in the world value ERGs by a wide margin
- Employee engagement can be expensive, and these companies tend not to spend frivolously on initiatives that don’t have measurable ROI
The takeaway is simple. If your company is not offering ERG programs, it should be. They’re proven to not only attract better talent from a more diverse talent pool, but they’ll better retain the employees you already have.
ERGs cover far more employees than you might imagine
The common misconception is that ERGs are only for ethnic and racial minority groups, or individuals identifying within the LGBTQ community. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are ERGs for Veterans (or VRGs, as Military.com likes to call them), working parents, neurodivergent workers, and much more. The point of an ERG is to give people a place to create community at work with other individuals who share similar interests or backgrounds. If you’re doing that, you can easily create a large number of ERGs that safe communities for anyone in your organization.
As Christine Porath and Carla Piñeyro Sublett explain in a Harvard Business Review article, “When people had a sense of community at work, we found that they were 58% more likely to thrive at work, 55% more engaged, and 66% more likely to stay with their organization.”
That’s no accident. Remote work has made us feel far more apart than we were before. Back-to-office is trending, but it’s not the right move. Gallup found that 34% of workers prefer to remain fully remote, and 60% are OK with a hybrid remote working model. To avoid more turnover and low engagement, companies should instead create spaces where community can happen in the workplace and even in remote environments.
The Benefits of Increasing ERG Membership
The benefits of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are difficult to overstate, but we’ll stick to the high-level takeaways. When you create and expand your ERG programs, you’ll see:
- Meaningful changes in DEI
- Stronger community among workers
- Increased collaboration
- Better employee retention
- More engagement and productivity
ERGs provide a platform for members to share experiences, voice concerns, and shape decisions that affect the entire organization. On both a personal and professional level, joining an ERG provides invaluable opportunities to develop leadership skills, learn new skills, and even gain recognition among peers.
Additionally, ERGs often serve as a vital training and professional development resource, giving members access to exclusive events, mentorship, and even potential job opportunities. With all of these benefits, it’s no surprise that ERG membership and visibility are reached new heights.
By leveraging the power of ERGs, organizations can foster a more equitable and inclusive working environment while also connecting with and engaging their employees in meaningful ways.
That leaves us with the most important questions to answer: How do I increase ERG membership? Here are 5 ways you can do just that.
1. Recruit ERG Members from Existing Programs
Your first step is to try to recruit ERG members from known channels or existing programs. You likely have several other programs available to employees that aren’t necessarily DEI-related.
For example, are you leveraging the time new employees spend in their onboarding program to help advertise and market ERGs?
I can just hear some HR leaders tightening up at that idea but don’t write it off. Understandably, you often want your new hires to focus solely on getting acclimated to their new roles. The idea of pushing them to get involved in other activities when you want them to get fully activated as quickly as possible can seem counterproductive.
And yet… one of the biggest reasons why people quit is because they feel the onboarding is too complex, and there’s little to no communication to help them out in the beginning. They get frustrated and they rage quit.
That problem is solved with an ERG, which, remember, stands for Employee RESOURCE Group. Capitalized here for a reason. These groups exist so that your best human resources (employees) can serve as a resource for each other.
Taking a page from people-based marketing
Now extend this concept outward to other places where employees might be meeting that aren’t DEI-focused. Some of your most vulnerable and alienated employees can find the help they need to build community, learn, grow, and stay if you offer ERGs. By meeting them where they are, you make it far easier to advertise your program.
From a marketing perspective, this is called People-Based Marketing. You identify where your audience goes. You do some research to understand what motivates them to go there. And then, you craft a marketing message that helps them understand the value proposition of what you have to offer based on their psychographic (and not demographic) profile.
2. Enhance the Visibility of Your Programs Internally and Externally
As ERGs continue to become increasingly important to the success of businesses around the world, think about how well you’re positioning these programs visibly. If people don’t know a program exists, how can they join it? It’s where Field of Dreams gets marketing wrong. If you build it, they won’t just come. You have to help them understand that it’s there.
Again, this is a marketing concept in action. Here, we’re talking about the concept of content marketing.
In the marketing world, we produce a ton of content., such as blog posts like our article on How to Create an Effective ERG Leadership Structure. We optimize that content for search engines and hope for the best. But SEO is slow. It can take months for a piece of content to rank and start drawing traffic, if at all. Sometimes, the competition is fierce enough that it never ranks.
But when we really want to show that that content has value to audiences, we go where they are and start marketing it. The same concept applies to ERGs. If you want your employees and potential hires to know that you value diversity, equity, and inclusion and that you offer ERGs, you need to market the programs you’ve created. Yes, your people may eventually discover the programs exist on their own. But you can accelerate membership by promoting your ERGs.
Turn to social media
One strategy for doing so is to take advantage of the power of social media, using platforms like Twitter and Instagram to share the ERG’s story and spread the word about what it does. You may also want to look into offering incentives for existing members to get involved, such as giving rewards for attending events or participating in initiatives.
Finally, hosting regular meetings and events for networking and education can help to increase the visibility of an ERG and draw in new members. Again, you need to let people know what these events and meetings are about and when they’re happening. In the same way a company might market a live event it’s having for customers, you should do the same for ERGs and ERG events you’re having for employees who aren’t involved in those programs.
3. Make Joining and Engaging in ERGs Easier
Your employees are already busy as it is. Many want to be involved in ERGs but feel like they don’t have the time to get started. That, alone, is going to reduce the number of people who enroll and participate in your ERGs. You can fix that in a few ways.
Use a centralized platform that makes participation easier.
When all ERG engagement and activities happen through a single platform, employees are far more likely to participate in them. This is what Diverst does and it’s a big part of our mission. Recognizing that workers want a simple approach as much as HR leaders, the Diverst platform makes all aspects of ERG engagement simple, from enrolling to hosting and attending events.
Give people time to participate
Consider this the “tough pill to swallow” part of the conversation. But we’ll stick to our guns on this one. What’s the purpose of creating programs intended to increase employee engagement and retention if you don’t give employees the time to participate in them? This is a common problem. HR leaders create programs, but team leaders or managers actively discourage participation because they see this as extraneous to productive, revenue-generating work.
ERG participation increases employee retention. Increasing retention saves money. Encouraging even one hour of participation on a biweekly or monthly basis is probably not going to hurt revenue goals. Disallowing participation may well destroy someone’s desire to continue working at the organization, though, and in heavy losses in revenue from lower productivity, quiet quitting, and turnover.
4. Make Sure You Measure Success – and Share It
Measuring the success of an ERG is essential for understanding its impact and ensuring the growth of its membership and visibility. Evaluating the effectiveness of ERG initiatives can be a daunting task, given the varying goals and objectives of each ERG.
If a metric exists to quantify success, it must include both quantitative and qualitative components to be applicable to most ERG activities. At a basic level, it is important to track the participation of ERG members, both in terms of attendance at ERG events and task force initiatives.
Important ERG metrics you may want to measure include:
- Participation rates
- Satisfaction rates (both for relationships and for the program as a whole)
- Engagement in the program
- Program ROI
You may also want to analyze the number of ERG members, the diversity of the ERG’s leadership, the frequency of ERG events, and the types of ERG initiatives. These can help you understand what impact the ERG is having on participants (whereas just focusing on the impact the ERG is having on the organization).
Additionally, it is important to gain feedback from ERG members, which can be done through surveys and focus groups. Measuring the success of an ERG is a multi-faceted process, but with careful consideration and analysis, it is possible to uncover the true impact of ERGs on organizational culture.
Long Story Short: Put On Your Marketing Hat
The conclusion of this article is clear: ERG membership and visibility can be increased by implementing key strategies that promote growth and inclusion. By leveraging resources and seeking out opportunities for creative collaboration, ERGs can expand their reach and foster meaningful community amongst their members.
Successfully growing ERG membership and increasing the visibility of your programs may require you to play a marketing role. That could be fun for some but not so fun for others. It depends on your personality. You may want to make this a cross-functional endeavor and recruit some marketing team leaders to help you.
When ERGs are able to create a culture of inclusion and acceptance, the results can make a massive difference, both to those employees engaging in the ERGs and the company they work for. By following these strategies, ERGs can ensure their hard work and efforts are rewarded, leading to truly transformational change.