Employee Resource Groups and the Issue with Middle Management

Middle management often stand as roadblocks to employee engagement in ERGs

One of my core areas of expertise is starting and building effective employee resource groups (ERGs), frequently referred to as business resource groups. ERGs / BRGs are employee led networking groups within organizations organized around a common identity like race, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status or interests like health and environmental awareness.

My expertise includes designing and facilitating the National Diversity Council’s ERG Academy, and co-leading the Effective Communication for ERG Leaders training with communications expert Nina Surya Irani of UniqueSpeak.

Part of my presentation includes common inhibitors to effective ERGs, and the most frequent one that comes up is lack of buy in from middle management. Why is this so, how does it happen and how can this be addressed?

Why is this so? Most senior leaders in effective organizations truly understand the strategic importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to organizational success. They understand the business case and the studies (like from McKinsey Consulting) that show they well managed diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. These senior leaders fully support ERGs as a critical part of DEI strategy execution.

ERGs are instrumental in employee attraction and retention.

At the same time, many employees value ERGs and want to get involved. ERGs provide a chance to network with peers in a totally safe and open environment and work on things like career development and reaching out to their communities outside of work.

How does this happen? There normally seems to be a pocket of managers in any organization who do not seem to get the DEI strategic message from their senior leaders. They are so laser focused on their own particular department’s goals or so siloed that do not see the larger corporate strategic picture and begrudge any employee spending even a single minute not working heads down on their department mission.

How can this be addressed? First and foremost, the senior leaders need to be diligent about assuring the the DEI commitment message gets cascaded through their direct report all the way down through all chains of management. Also, they should find ways to support and recognize managers who support the DEI strategy. Second, there can be some bottoms up communications where employees meet with their leadership and share from their perspective the strong business case for supporting DEI efforts and their own ERG involvement.

As ERGs continue to have a tremendous impact on the success of organizational DEI efforts, let’s work toward every manager and leader supporting this strategic initiative.