Why employee resource groups matter: a driving force of diversity and inclusion

By Georgia Maw | October 20, 2020

A diverse and inclusive workplace leads to new and innovative ideas, engaged employees, and stronger teams. Ultimately, diversity and inclusion makes good business sense. But to truly see the benefits, a key component is making sure employees feel like they belong and are comfortable being their authentic selves at work. Visibility and advocacy play a critical role in making that happen.

When employees see themselves reflected in an organization, they know it's a safe place for them—they know they belong. When I walk down the street and see a shop with a rainbow sticker in the window, as a gay woman, I know I'm welcome there. Free from harassment. Free from awkward stares. Visibility in the workplace is no different.

It wasn't until I was at an organization that was actively visible in their support of the LGBTQ+ community that I felt like I could come out, particularly to suppliers, customers, and external stakeholders. As a woman, I already felt like I was at a disadvantage and I didn't want to add anymore barriers to my career. And I saw being gay as a career stopper.

Before I was out in the workplace, I used to put a tremendous amount of energy into editing my conversations. I would be so concentrated on not mentioning my partner that I would end up not talking about myself, preventing me from being able to connect with my colleagues. Ultimately, I wasn't able to bring my authentic self to work.

Studies have shown that people who bring their whole self to work are more productive, happier, and less stressed. Their whole well-being is enriched. That's why I believe it's incredibly important all communities feel welcome within an organization.

One of the ways we can do this is through employee resource groups (ERGs). They're a great way to give employees the opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues while raising awareness and driving positive change on key issues that they're passionate about. It's important that change is led from within. ERGs bring together a cohort of peers dedicated to breaking down barriers and providing advocacy.

Recently we launched a LGBTQ+ Subcommittee and Ally Network for our Australia offices. Even though my day-to-day responsibilities as a software engineer keep me busy, I volunteered to start the group because I strongly believe in giving back. A previous organization I worked for had started a similar group. Even though it was not very far progressed, it gave me an incredible sense of belonging. I knew it was something we could benefit from here at Hatch.

Our group has had the opportunity to work together to create actions that will lead to meaningful change. That in itself has led to such positivity. It's inspiring when you get a group of people together that really believe in a cause and want to move it forward. The more people we bring on and the more I talk about it, the happier I am that I started it.

Here are five tips for starting a successful ERG:

  • Get executive sponsorship. Having advocacy at the executive level is an absolute must; it will ensure you continue to have a mandate. Without a mandate you run the risk of becoming a discussion group rather than a committee that facilitates and drives meaningful change within the organization.
  • Map out your strategy. Create a strategy that outlines your vision, purpose, goals, and budget. Include how your group is structured and outline member roles and responsibilities. Detail your reporting requirements. Having these elements documented allows you to better hold yourselves accountable, just like you would with any project.
  • Think about your structure. Identify key roles and remember to build in redundancies. This is an extracurricular activity and keeping the same level of momentum and effort from everyone will be difficult. Think about having multiple people filling similar roles, so members will be able to support each other during busy times.
  • Find passionate members. Avoid tapping people on the shoulder just because they identify with a certain community; it doesn't automatically mean they'll want to participate. Work with your HR team to send a callout to employees across the organization. If there have been initiatives surrounding a similar topic, try reaching out to those who were involved.
  • Work with an external partner. It can be hard to know where to start, so having an external partner is like having a coach. There are subject matter experts who will be able to provide recommendations and guidance around training and strategy, and who will also be able to provide access to additional resources your organization's HR or D&I teams may not have. As an example, we have partnered with Pride in Diversity who have been instrumental in guiding us on this journey.

Change can't be led from the sidelines. At Hatch, we live by our Manifesto: we are committed to the pursuit of a better world through positive change. I believe that needs to be reflected outside of your day-to-day role. If you're passionate about something, join an ERG or even start one within your organization. I encourage you to think about the ways you can contribute back to your community, and do that in whatever way you possibly can. By working together we have the opportunity to lead active participation and become better citizens of the world.