The Importance of ERG's in the Workplace:
How ERG's can Influence their Employers!

By Randy K. DeBoer

There you sit at work. You are happy with the job you have, the salary is pretty decent, you have a retirement plan and pretty good medical benefits. On top of all that your employer, in their infinite wisdom offers Domestic Partner Benefits. As an out lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individual you believe you have made it! It might even be possible that within your companies confines there exist a network of LGBT employees (Employee Resource Group/ERG) with official sponsorship by the company. But since the company passed the Domestic Partner Benefit package there doesn't seem to be much to "network"about because the company made the leap of faith that you hoped for. What more could there possibly be? If you have an organized Employee Resource Group (ERG) that seems to be at a standstill, it might be time to start looking and reaching outside the box.

As an organized group you most likely influenced your employer into taking that "leap" and making that decision to add DP benefits. But what's next? What other things can your organization "influence" to make a change in or out of the company? First, really take a hard look at what your employer believes "diversity" is. Do they truly value what the word means or do they just play lip service? Has your ERG run into roadblocks when it has attempted to move in a different direction? What is "Diversity" anyway? A couple of basic definitions, 1) The major dimensions of differences among people that cannot be changed but has a profound effect on how others regard us and what access to societal power and privileges we have; 2) People of different cultures, race gender, nationalities, sexual orientation, styles and other attributes. Why value diversity in the workplace? Changing demographics; competition of talent; improved employee morale/job satisfaction; improved customer service/satisfaction; enhanced reputation with in the community; increased sales/long term success. But when you sit in meetings at work and the discussion moves into diversity, do the majority of people still talk only about race/color/gender? If that's the case then there is much work to be done. If your ERG starts to think "out of the box" then it is time to get your employer to do the same. If you have Sexual Orientation added to the company EEO statement and DP Benefits, then it is time to expand what your employer can do for the LGBT community. But where? How?

My first suggestion would be that the ERG begin to think and act like a company. Create goals and objectives, and include short and long term plans. Build your ally base, internally and externally from the company. Seek coalitions with other ERG's within the company, if they exist (African American, Asian, Latino) and find the common goals and objectives that each of the groups will benefit from. Identify those things that will enhance your employers position within each of the identified communities. Look at Marketing, Community Relations and Educational opportunities. Ensure that your goals and objectives are reviewed and updated periodically, and match them as best you can to your employers overall goals and objectives.

Use your allies (internally & externally) to help get your message to the right management team. Have statistics (if available) about how your plan(s) will help enhance the company. Engage discussion; bring in experts from the community, people who are respected and valued representatives who can help sell your ideas and concepts.

While these are only suggestions, in many companies this has proven successful, AT&T, Levi Strauss, Kaiser Permanente (California), Charles Schwab, Microsoft, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Kodak and Many others. This is not an easy road to hoe and there will be bumps along the way but if you find the niche that works for your ERG you will be successful.

Randy K. DeBoer is vice-president of the Equality Project on Sexual Orientation (501c3). His most recent book is Smart Spending, the Gay and Lesbian Guide to Socially Responsible Shopping and Investing.