The Truth about Employee Resource Groups
Over the last five years of running Power of the Parent® I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) to navigate strategy and activity when it comes to supporting parents and carers in the workplace. You might also know them as networks, affinity groups or inclusion groups – and I’m sure there are lots more!
In that time, I’ve seen a rich tapestry of stages, sizes and formats. I’ve also seen assumptions made about what they are, and aren’t. With an increasing amount of conversation about the power of ERGs, I thought I’d take a minute to bust some myths for you. Whether you have them established or not, this could be a moment of reflection or an opportunity to inform the design set up in your organisation.
Let’s start with what they are…
Now this isn’t a binary list to check off, there’s a heap of things we could cover here, but I’m going to focus on three main points for now.
1. A safe space for people of different intersectionalities and experiences to come together
Yes, of course I hear you say! But what does it actually mean to make a statement like that? Well, we have to go back to the foundations and culture. A safe space means different things to each of us, but there are a few commonalities too. In this context, I’d encourage you to look at things like confidentiality, removing / safely calling out judgement as well as stereotypes. Consider the mechanisms you have in place to help facilitate creating that kind of experience.
2. A place for story sharing
To enable this to happen, we again could do with getting reflective. What does this look like in your organisation? We want to make sure that if people want to share their experiences, they have a multitude of platforms and formats to do so. Last year I was asked in an employer workshop about how to make sure it wasn’t always the same people talking. There are a few ways to tackle that and we likely need to dig pretty deeply to understand some of the systemic problems, however – in the short term, ensuring that there are different ways to communicate is going to be essential.
3. A great place to hold listening groups and generate new ideas
You’re likely to have an engaged group who are brimming with tenacity at wanting to make the workplace better. They will have naturally tried and tested things, they’ll have fresh perspectives and most importantly some first hand lived experiences. Let’s get listening to these people!!
And what they’re not…
1. A replacement for line managers or HR support
Now, many of you will know I’m regularly heard saying ‘supporting parents is not for HR to fix’ and it really isn’t. They may well be natural custodians of things like policies, but ultimately it’s line managers who will lead on a lot of this. The same goes for ERGs. They can’t pick up leadership responsibilities but absolutely can complement other lines of support and responsibility.
2. An events organising team
One part of having a network group will likely be running events, workshops and sessions. These can be brilliant, but it’s not their sole responsibility and shouldn’t be the start point. I speak with a lot of chairs and co-chairs of these kinds of groups and they can feel an immense pressure to have a calendar full of stuff. But let’s be honest, budgets don’t always bend that way, and often we can start throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. In actual fact, if we flip back to being a space for story sharing and gathering insights, we can be far more targeted and considered about what the network group can influence.
3. A therapeutic space
I was at an event last year for an affinity group and during the session I heard one employee try to approach a conversation with someone else in the group that crossed a lot of boundaries. It wouldn’t be fair to go into the details, but what I will share here is that the advice was borderline dangerous and they were not trained medical professionals. It’s so tempting when you see someone struggling or in a seemingly similar position to yourself – our empathy can go into overdrive. However, it’s really important to contract as a group that rather than trying to step into those shoes, you’ll try to sign post them to the right sources of support instead.
If you’re figuring out how to set up a parent and carer network, remember to check out my FREE EMPLOYER RESOURCE HUB – there’s a handy info sheet in there all about things to consider!
If you’re reading this as a network lead or a founding member of an ERG, please know how valued you are – it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves (albeit the workload is all too forth coming!) but you’re shining the lights in the shadowy corners when people need them the most.
P.s. the Power of the Parent podcast is back! Episode one is with the glorious Genelle Aldred and you can have a listen here, or wherever you usually get your podcasts from. There’s also an episode from series 4 with Fleur Cox who at the time was a leader for the Parents and Carers Alliance at Rolls Royce, she had some fab insights.