Some companies are finding that ERGs are vital to hitting inclusivity goals

Almost three-quarters of US employees say the groups play an important role in company DE&I efforts.
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· 4 min read

One of the first employee resource groups (ERGs) at Yelp, OUTburst, was launched in 2014 for the company’s LGBTQ+ workers and allies. This summer, the reviews website responded to a call from the group’s members for an ERG focused on issues important to Yelp’s trans and nonbinary employees, launching Trans*Mission.

“Some of the early founders of Trans*Mission were the folks who were directly commenting on and helping to shape our policy around how we support people who are undergoing a gender transition,” said Yelp’s chief diversity officer, Miriam Warren.

ERGs have been around since the 1970s, but their role in the American workplace has shifted, Farzana Nayani told HR Brew last month. The DE&I consultant and author of The Power of Employee Resource Groups said ERGs were originally formed by employees, “for social reasons,” without much budget or support from senior leadership.

But now, some HR teams and company leaders see them as a vital tool for manifesting their DE&I pledges, and employees see them as valuable, too.

Employees love ERGs. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of US adults said that ERGs play a critical role in promoting DE&I, according to a new survey released by CareerBuilder.

“It was something that bigger [organizations] could pull off, with the teams of people and the oversight, but I think what’s happened is they’ve become more organic,” CareerBuilder’s chief marketing officer, Kristin Kelley, told HR Brew. “Employees are forming them; they’re creating the guidelines around them.”

Kelley said that the popularity of ERGs mirrors current employee sentiment that all workers have a say, no matter their position.

Respondents to the CareerBuilder survey said that ERGs make them feel heard and valued, promote cultural awareness, and foster an inclusive workplace culture. They can also boost company innovation and provide employees with opportunities to meet one another, according to the poll.

Five stars for ERGs at Yelp. At Yelp, Warren said, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the entire ERG playbook.

“When we first launched employee resource groups, they really were very office dependent,” she said.

But since the onset of the pandemic, Yelp and its ERGs have gone fully remote. This hasn’t hindered their growth. The company has added nine additional ERGs since 2019, including Trans*Mission, bringing its total to 22. Yelp ERG leaders have also met for a company summit to share ideas and best practices.

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“We have much more rich programming,” she said. “It means that there’s a lot more opportunity for cross connection between people in different departments and different geographies, [and] in different stages of their careers.”

Warren said the ERGs are a direct reflection of Yelp’s culture, pointing to Trans*Mission members who helped shape company policy on gender transition care. ERG groups are consulted when the company works on values-based initiatives, like internal and external campaigns celebrating Black History Month or developing allyship guides.

“Employees come to Yelp with a whole bunch of different identities,” Warren said. “Some of the identity [is] as an engineer or as a copywriter, but a lot of their identities [are] also about the communities that they grew up in, lived experiences that they have, the interests that they have, and that’s why employee resource groups are so vital.”

Tip of the icebERG. Don’t start with 22, Warren recommended to HR pros looking to incorporate ERGs into their people programming.

“You want to start with some of the more obvious groups and where you have excitement from employees,” she said. “You really do have to start with [the question], ‘Where is the interest amongst your own employee groups?’”

In 2014, those “more obvious groups” were Yelp’s parents’ group, women’s group, women engineering group, OUTburst, and DiverseBurst, which then evolved into other more specific identity-based ERGs. They formed the company’s ERG foundation, but growth since has been organic.

“Moms look a lot of different ways. Parents look a lot of different ways. Queer people look a lot of different ways and have a lot of different interests and needs and desires,” she said. “These [ERGs] are really a place to think about that and contemplate it and also bring other people into the conversation.”—AD

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