How to build an ERG that supports your people (and your business)

Happy confident hirint leader

5 mins, 5 secs read time

Starting an employee resource group (ERG) is often an organic and grassroots effort. Affinity groups within an organization will often come together to create belonging through community. This part is relatively easy. But how do you create sustainable, flourishing ERGs, or as we call them at Greenhouse, Arbors? This next step is a lot harder, and it means you’ll need to consider how to create value for participants and make your ERGs a strategic function of your business.

Nia Darville, Senior Manager, Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Activations at Greenhouse Software recently spoke at the From Day One conference in San Francisco. In her workshop, “Transforming ERGs to support your people – and your business,” Nia shared a five-step process that anyone can adopt and adapt to their specific situation. We’ll explore a few highlights here.

Step 1: Gather data

“DE&I can’t be one size fits all,” said Nia. “Every company is different. Every company’s people are different. So you have to customize your ERGs for your people.” This is why your first step should be to gather both qualitative and quantitative data through a combination of employee surveys, proximity sessions, conversations and listening tours. Your goal is to find out what your employees value.

Next, you’ll want to consider how your ERGs can create value for your business. This involves familiarizing yourself with your company’s goals – what are you trying to achieve through DE&I efforts?

Step 2: Tailor your ERG goals

Once you’ve defined what both your employees and your business value, your next task is to find ways to create alignment. “How will you deliver value for your employees and your business using the data you collected?” asked Nia. You’re essentially synthesizing the data you gathered as a starting point for creating your ERG goals.

Let’s look at a specific example from Greenhouse. Employees at Greenhouse described their values as things like learning to be a better ally and gaining mentorship and professional development while Greenhouse business goals include lifting diversity underperformance in representing Black+, Latinx+ and Native American+ employees and leadership and strengthening equity and career development.

Combining these two sets of needs, Greenhouse created ERG goals like creating community and support for individuals with shared identity groups, supporting a Greenhouse business imperative and promoting Greenhouse as a place where IDEA happens.

ERG goals

Create community and support for individuals with shared identities

  • Private Slack Channel for identifiers
  • Quarterly Membership Connections

Support a Greenhouse business imperative

  • Each leader submits at least one referral
  • Each Arbor participates in at least one talent-making opportunity

Promote Greenhouse as a place where IDEA happens

  • Collaborate with at least one other Arbor to produce one company-wide allyship-building event

Step 3: Divide work

With a clear set of ERG goals, you can begin thinking about how many people you need to achieve them and what their responsibilities should be. At Greenhouse, we’ve determined that each ERG (or Arbor, as we refer to them internally) should have a Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, Communications Lead, Membership Lead, Event Lead, Allyship Lead and Executive Sponsor. Keep in mind that this might look different at your company – you can adjust the number of roles based on your company size and needs.

“The easiest way to do this is to list out all of your ERG goals and break up those goals into tasks that would take people around four hours a week,” said Nia. “You want to make it small enough work that it’s achievable to do in addition to their day-to-day tasks.”

For example at Greenhouse, one ERG goal is “create community and support for individuals with shared identities through quarterly membership connections,” so the Event Lead is responsible for planning one event each quarter.

Step 4: Assemble the team

You now have your ERG goals and the roles that will help you achieve them. It’s time to assemble your team! To achieve this, consider both how you’ll select these leaders and how you’ll incentivize them to perform.

If you’re already familiar with Greenhouse, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that we take advantage of structured hiring to select our Arbor leaders. Just as we would for any candidate, we partner with our recruiting team to define exactly what it takes to be successful in each role and design interviews to assess candidates on these qualities. “Another good thing about structure is that people are much more willing to say yes when they know what they’re getting themselves into,” said Nia.

Nia also highlighted the importance of compensating ERG leaders for their work. At Greenhouse, this involves offering equity, professional development opportunities, mentorship and company-wide visibility. The specifics can vary depending on your company, but just remember your goal is to offer a clear value proposition for participating.

Step 5: Track results

With your team in place, you can give them time to get their programs up and running. Eventually, you’ll want to evaluate whether your employees are actually finding your programming valuable and how you are meeting your company’s business needs. Nia says this might involve using existing tools for surveying and tracking metrics or perhaps investing in a custom ERG management tool like Chezie or Teleskope.

Your work is never done: Continue to update and iterate over time

If you’ve made it through all of the previous steps, take a moment to celebrate everything you’ve accomplished so far. But your celebration shouldn’t last too long, because your ERG work is never done. You’ll want to consider how often you will refresh the structure of your ERGs. “If company goals don’t remain stagnant, why should your programming?” asked Nia. Whether it’s every year, every two years or every three years, create a regular cadence for revisiting it. “Make sure it’s what your employees want and what your business needs.”

Curious to learn more about the Arbor program at Greenhouse? Get a closer look at Fullhouse – the Greenhouse Arbor dedicated to caregivers – here.

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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