Internal Communications Tactics that Can Power Employee Resources Groups’ Success
As an African American mid-career professional, I want to bring my full, authentic self to work. When I share that I am part Ethiopian, many people have ethnocentric perceptions about my ethnicity. I’m continually trying to dispel those images of political strife and famine in Ethiopia circa the 1980s.
Diversity isn’t only black and white, male and female. Differences are rich and complex that run across ideologies, economic backgrounds, self-identities, and life experiences. This rich tapestry of different perspectives adds to the strength of an organization.
In light of recent events, organizations need to move away from value statements. They must “walk the talk”, creating a culture where all employees are free to bring their full selves to work every day without fear, judgment, or retaliation. It is time to do away with checkbox diversity and exclusionary inclusion and create a real culture of belonging.
Creating a Supportive, Safe Space for Your Employees
People can carry narrow perceptions and prejudices with them. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) help to expand and reframe these attitudes in the workplace.
I’ve had the privilege of co-chairing a Black Business Employee Network. Our group established hundreds of connections and led company-wide sessions. As an internal communicator, I also led the comms coordination and development of many other ERGs. Our groups at the time were Asian Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ+ employees, and their allies, caregivers, veterans, women, and young people.
I loved to facilitate programs that created meaningful connections between employees and share their collective work.
Through sharing their voices, my team uncovered issues that affect them and how our company supported their career journeys. Some insights included pronoun preferences for transgender employees and the promotion of the company’s medical benefits for domestic partnerships.
My hope is that by sharing some of my former employer’s best practices, you can utilize ERGs as resources to advocate for your employees and embody a culture of inclusion for your organization.
Building the Foundation for your Internal Communications ERG Strategy
ERGs work both within and outside of the group. This distinction is essential to enhance your employee experiences. You can achieve this dual-purpose with strategic planning and the creation of an ERG internal communications framework. The framework includes:
1. Ensuring your ERG Executive Sponsors are Truly Engaged
With an isolated WFH environment, employees are missing their in-depth office friend talks and summertime culture events. As an extension of the culture, virtual ERGs foster community and provide measurable value back to the business through sharing new perspectives, retention and brand ambassadorship. The most dynamic ERGs have active executive sponsors who are committed to the success of the ERG and work with chairs to set strategy.
2. Building Strong ERG Leaders
Your company’s D&I department (or leadership serving in this function) should create objectives, roles, and responsibilities for how the ERG should operate. This includes outreach to top performers who have a passion for leadership. It’s also important that the ERG has clear documented direction on how to plan and coordinate with Facilities, Internal Communications, and Finance.
3. Adding Some Structure
Once the ERG chairs have direction from leadership, it’s time for logistics. Setting up regular (virtual at present) meetings, creating a mission statement for each group, cultivating committees and managing the nomination process to support the work of the ERG, like planning, membership, and meetings is imperative. Make sure to develop communication structures and resources for your committee chairs.
Diversity Best Practices advises you to create an annual plan that identifies and tracks the benefits of ERGs to the company and the employee members. This program should evolve year after year to show the impact these groups make on recruitment, retention, leadership, and even product development or services. An ERG specific internal communications plan is where the rubber meets the road.
Why ERGs are Integral to your Overall Internal Communications Program
Here are key internal communications practices that can help elevate Diversity & Inclusion and the work of ERGs within your organization.
Ensure ERGs are Part of your Brand’s Story
In my experience, communicating D&I topics and the work of ERGs should be collaborative. Across all functions of communications (including external comms, marketing and community investment) these teams ensured that D&I principles and the contributions of ERGs were apart of our corporate storytelling.
Beyond promoting meetings or virtual lunch and learns, the IC team can help amplify the voices of local leaders. In addition, embedding an internal communicator in one or two ERGs can help bring the discussions to the broader company.
I get it, many IC teams are already underwater. I remember the 70+ hour work weeks and the late-night requests from leadership.
If there’s no bandwidth for an embedded IC professional in every ERG, create a plan with your group champions. Make sure to provide them with resources and guidelines for event promotion, photo-taking, screen recording, and recapping activities.
Using marketing focus groups that harness the viewpoints of ERG members can help launch unique campaigns or events for LGBTQA, African American, Latino, and Asian American customer bases.
From STEM education programming for under-served students to supporting health-related organizations, connecting corporate-sponsored ERG volunteer work to the nonprofit organizations, the company supports showcases the company’s values and its focus on the community in which it serves.
Success with Cross-department Collaboration
ERGs can partner with internal communicators to collaborate with business partners across the company to offer their expertise to a specific community or the entire organization. For example, grab an hour of your HR Benefits Director’s time to discuss caregiver benefit options. Beneficial for both teams, have a Talent Acquisition leader explain how to promote the company within ERGs.
It’s essential that set up a content submission process with ERG members to capture recaps and promotional stories. Utilizing a platform where dedicated ERG members can create but not publish content can come in handy here.
Be Apart of the Conversation
A calendar of special observances, such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or Autism Awareness Month, was part of our coordinated plan. Capture the activities around these observances and tie it back to your company. For instance, during Autism Awareness Month, the caregiver network discussed how the company’s benefits partner Rethink could support families—assisting families with autistic children to impact their work/life balance positively.
ERGs also served as company brand ambassadors and connectors with the broader community. During Veterans Day, members of our veterans’ ERG would speak to students K-12 on how the company recruited them once they left the Armed Forces. By doing this, they are leveraging their military experience and skills set to forge successful career journeys.
In our new remote work environments, there are tons of video conference activities to share ERG perspectives with your employee base. Educational roundtable discussions around diversity topics, book clubs focused on stories that recount leadership wisdom, life lessons from authors from underrepresented backgrounds, guest speaker panels, and much more.
Whether groups meet virtually or face-to-face (eventually), ERGs connect employees in meaningful ways. From event planning to working with colleagues from other departments, my internal communications team was dedicated to sharing our employee stories.
ERGs give employees a place to support one another, develop their voices, and promote positive change.