During a meeting with female leaders from more than 20 Fortune 500 companies, the conversation turned to women’s employee resource groups. The discussion was fascinating, because some of the companies have had ERGs for more than 15 years, several were in revamp mode and others were just getting ERGs off the ground.
Companies initially started ERGs to connect affinity or cohort groups and discuss ideas, share development opportunities and build stronger networks. In some companies, ERGs have matured into BRGs -- business resource groups that do the work of ERGs but also tackle broader strategic business priorities, such as acting as focus groups, leading major conferences and supporting the company’s business.
At some companies, BRGs are becoming the "voice of the employee." I see more senior leadership teams reaching out to women’s BRGs for their ideas on sponsorship, engagement and key HR programs.
While some companies don’t want to hear what’s on women’s minds, the most successful firms recognize that women's leadership is a business imperative and critical to an integrated diversity and inclusion strategy.
Regardless of its current role, your company's women's group can have an more powerful impact on women and business. These three factors will determine the role and impact your women's ERG or BRG.
1. A company business case for women
Is the business case for women clearly articulated so that the entire organization buys into it? Does your gender diversity plan have scorecards, measures and metrics and do you present this plan annually to senior leadership? What are senor leaders doing to drive this plan throughout the middle manager ranks?
At a minimum, your plan must link to revenue (women as buyers and women as customers), operating profit (the recruitment, retention and engagement of women in the organization) and company reputation.
2. Active male engagement
Many women’s BRGs are still questioning the value of inviting men to their events. Male engagement is critical to gender equality. Men represent 85 percent of senior leadership in the U.S. and you will never drive long-term systemic change without active male advocacy.
Most male advocates have a head and heart connection to gender equality. The head part is the business case. They need to know gender equity is a business imperative. The heart part is personal – it is the empathy that male leaders feel toward the women in their lives, both professionally and in their lives.
Gender equality efforts are workplace culture, bottom line and reputation initiatives. Everyone has a stake in the process and the success. With active male engagement, a women’s BRG will be a true “voice of the employee.”
3. Real commitment of real resources
If your company is launching a new brand or making a major acquisition, they wouldn’t ask for 20 volunteers and give them a miniscule budget.
Yet this is exactly what many organizations do with women’s ERGs. Most women’s ERGs have a strategy to recruit, retain and advance women, but are given no real money —and most volunteers never get credit for the work they do.
If advancing women is truly a business imperative, how many people are involved with the initiative and how much money is being spent on it? Consider as a best practice what one Fortune 500 company is investing: a budget of $500 per ERG member per year. This company’s women’s ERG has 3,000 members, representing a commitment of $1.5 million. That is real resources and real commitment.
If your company doesn’t have an ERG, start one. If it has an ERG, work for greater alignment with your company’s business priorities. Finally, if you are part of a mature BRG, what are you doing to continually raise the bar?