• Emily Howe

What Works & What Doesn't: Employee Resource Groups

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

In my experience launching, re-activating, and advising inclusion/affinity/employee resource groups (ERGs) at some of the Bay Area's most impactful tech companies and businesses, these important support networks have a lot of ambition, but without careful focus, not much impact.


What Works

  • Engaging all levels, especially management and HR, in a strong, measurable strategic plan to remedy identified issues. (To make real change, companies need a multi-pronged, integrated approach that touches policy, culture, managerial views, corporate norms, and the entire corporate ladder.)

  • Crunching company data to determine if/where there are issues.

  • Focusing on the main areas of potential bias: recruiting, hiring, mentoring, promotions.

  • Addressing these additional areas: parental policies, retention, culture/environment, pay disparities, leadership.

  • Shifting company policy and reinforcing middle manager execution.

  • Shifting the company culture to include more than one form of “good culture fit,” ways of innovating, manners of speaking, ways of idea generating and leading…

  • Not expecting womxn/minority employees to solve diversity/inclusion. (i.e. Bringing in experts.)

  • Auditing and improving current D&I efforts (bias training, affinity lunches, mentoring circles…)


What Doesn’t

  • Going with your gut.

  • Responding to one negative incident with a quick fix.

  • Assuming it’s all broken.

  • Assuming it’s all going to work itself out.

  • Spending most of your attention and money on getting women/minorities to “lean in” or “level up” without engaging company and managerial realms.

  • Only addressing parenting issues, but not fixing the big issues of recruiting, hiring, mentoring, and promotions.

  • Solely looking at a pay gap calculation.

  • Asking women to conform to your “bro culture” or expecting minorities to “code switch” into the majority culture.

  • Handing critical diversity/inclusion work to a woman or minority employee who may be an amazing business person or engineer, but who is not practiced as an inclusion strategist.

  • Just doing one unconscious bias training and a few women’s/minority group lunches.

  • An annual speaker or workshop.

  • Doing 'lots of diversity stuff' without measurable results.

  • Assuming your current efforts are worth keeping. (If they don’t have goals or targets related to company-wide inclusion, they might be more of a waste of time. And distracting your staff from the real answers.)

If you're still craving more insight about what to do [and what not to do], read "10 Hard Truths for Workplace Women's Initiatives" or "Don't Waste Time Measuring Pay Gaps."



Copyright © EMMH, LLC, 2019.


Written by Emily Howe, Corporate Gender Strategist; leader of the Executive Women's Forum at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco; coach for ambitious women in male-majority fields; expert media source/writer/speaker on workplace gender inclusion; and founder of the American Association of Corporate Gender Strategists.


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©2019 American Association of Corporate Gender Strategists