As we approach the year anniversary of many companies going virtual amid COVID-19, more emphasis has been placed on the importance of Employee Resource Groups, or “ERGs,” to support colleagues holistically. But outside of supporting colleagues in times of difficulty, ERGs serve a much higher purpose; they provide an opportunity for people to be valued and respected—to be seen, especially in the workplace. Prior to my work standing up Wiley’s ERGs, I worked closely with our community groups to bring cultural awareness to Wiley through heritage month celebrations. We started in 2018, and what I noticed over the years has been truly remarkable. I witnessed a seismic shift in the way that colleagues were “showing up” at work. When peoples’ culture was acknowledged or celebrated, they became more engaged in community activities. People who were normally disconnected became more engaged and felt empowered to bring their authentic self to work. This new outlook flowed into their day-to-day responsibilities at Wiley, which resulted in increased productivity and in some cases, even career advancement within the organization. I truly believe these outcomes are because of the work we are doing to build up our Wiley communities through affinity groups and ERGs.

From the 1960’s to the 2020’s – ERGs are more relevant now than ever.

ERGs are not a new concept. As some of you may know, ERGs have deep roots in the civil rights movement. In fact, the first ERG was created in response to social injustice following the 1964 race riots in Rochester, NY. Then, in 1970, Xerox launched the National Black Employee Caucus to address racial tension and workplace discrimination. Yet here we are, in 2021, facing many of the same racial inequities, on top of other crises. Our black and brown communities continue to face police brutality and other acts of violence; a global pandemic continues to change the way we work and has left many colleagues feeling stressed and isolated; gender inequality persists; anti-Asian racism is on the rise…the list goes on.  

While ERGs have evolved over the years, at their core, they still have the same purpose as they always did – to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, bring awareness to their lived experience and, ultimately, affect change.

From retention to innovation – ERGs move the bottom line for businesses.

As we become more globally connected, it’s apparent how diverse our world really is; and that now, more than ever, ERGs are an invaluable asset to any company looking to cultivate a more inclusive and equitable workplace. In addition to enhancing workplace culture, ERGs can become critical advisors to the business.

ERGs can inform better brand enhancement, marketing and product development by lending their perspectives and helping to point out hidden biases or inaccessibility of products. With their lived experience at work, they should be regarded as trusted sources for overall training and professional development needs of an organization.

Perhaps most importantly, ERGs help retain employees by fostering the feeling of belonging and creating an inclusive, safe space to bring their whole authentic selves to work. When the workplace culture thrives, the company thrives, with an engaged, productive, and innovative workforce that ultimately contributes to a profitable organization.

Ensuring success of ERGs in YOUR organization.

In my role at Wiley, it’s my responsibility to ensure these groups have the resources they need to be successful. Whether it be operational support, strategic planning, providing them with a platform to be heard, or just an ear to listen —support is essential for these groups’ overall success.

The most important way to support ERGs is by opening communication lines to executive leadership. If my revelation from the beginning of the article proves anything, it is the importance of being heard and being seen. When ERGs feel that their work is being valued – especially from an executive level – they are empowered to do the work that drives positive change in an organization.

Second to being heard is being recognized. Our ERG leaders are some of the brightest, most passionate, and dedicated people I know. These colleagues are leading community groups and committees affecting change at Wiley and are shifting our culture to a more inclusive and equitable one – all while also carrying out their regular jobs—and this can feel overwhelming at times.

In order to support our ERG leads in the work that they do, I have three recommendations:

  1. Tie an employee’s overall objectives to the work they do as part of an ERG. If one of the company’s goals is to create an inclusive and equitable culture, the ERG leads should be able to include their community efforts on their review. It’s not just volunteer work if the ERGs are acting as a resource to the company.
  2. Offer ERG leads and committee members classes to further their professional development. Being a leader of an ERG gives them more visibility and opportunity to further their career. Why not give them the tools they need to advance in the company?
  3. Create awards and accolades to reinforce recognition and celebrate those who are promoting diversity within the company and cultivating an equitable and inclusive culture. Appreciation goes a long way.

ERGs have the power to shift culture and affect lasting change and success for an organization. It is my mission to support these efforts at Wiley and inspire other culture change-makers and organizations to follow suit.