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.

A Men’s Employee Resource Group – Really? Why? Four Reasons

Men are a vital part of the diversity mix and need networking opportunities too.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), often call Business Resource Groups, are employee led groups supported by company leadership around groups with common identities. The most popular groups are women, race and culture-based groups, LGBTQA, Veterans and People with Disabilities. Over the past few years ERG efforts have expanded into groups like Mental Health and Wellness, Parents / Caregivers, Environment Awareness and more.

ERGs ideally serve both the needs of employees and the organization around DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging) initiatives and organize activities around leadership development, recruiting, community outreach, workplace culture and more.

Now more organizations, including one of my best clients which I have helped launch ERGs and training their leaders, have started Men’s ERGs. And this has raised some questions like:
• Why do we need a men’s ERG? They are not an under-represented minority within our organization.
• Men hold most of the power and privilege in our organization, so why would they need a group?

Yes, there are valid questions. And here are four valid reasons for the legitimacy of and the need for Men’s ERGs:

1. Men are indeed a crucial part of the diversity fabric. DEIB is about all of us working together to leverage our unique differences for good, not setting up a “We vs. Them” culture. We should never frame the discussion as one of the “diverse and the un-diverse.” Everyone is part of diversity. This also now provides availability of all employees to join an ERG that aligns with their identity in addition to joining as allies.

Men are now taking more responsibilities at home and with children.

2. Men are now facing many of the same challenges that women have always faced in the workplace, especially as men in today’s culture are taking more responsibility for managing the home and raising the children. Men also may need to discuss challenges like managers who are OK with women on the team needing to leave early to pick up a sick kid from school, but look unfavorably upon their male employees who need to do the same.

3. Men can have in depth discussions on how they can work together to promote DEIB instead of being labeled as “the diversity problem.” They can team with the women’s ERG to discuss how men can better support and mentor women in the workplace and better understand challenges and issues women, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities face.

4. Finally, there are some industries and organizations where men are indeed an under-represented minority.

It is great that ERGs are continuing to grow and expand into more areas so that everyone can participate in advancing DEIB in the increasingly diverse interconnected global economy.