The ERG Movement Model Framework
Before exploring the ERG Movement Model (ERGs 2.0) in detail, it is important to first understand the current state of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and how ERG programs have evolved to reach this point. It is also essential to clarify the definition of an ERG, which is a voluntary, employee-led, company-sponsored community of employees who share a common trait that makes them underrepresented, marginalized, or disadvantaged in the workplace.
ERGs may also be referred to as Employee Networks, Affinity Groups, Inclusion Groups, and Business Resource Groups (BRGs), among other terms. Some organizations choose to deviate from the traditional name of Employee Resource Group as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy, while others may alter the name to reflect the maturity level of their ERG program. However, as part of The ERG Movement, all of these groups will be referred to simply as Employee Resource Groups (and it is encouraged that others do the same).
The History of ERGs
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have their roots in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the United States. Joseph Wilson, the CEO of Xerox at the time, is credited with working with Black Xerox employees to establish the Black Employee Caucus in 1970, and other major corporations followed suit by launching similar groups, such as Hewlett-Packard's Gay and Lesbian Employee Network (GLEN) in 1978.
Throughout the 1970s and the remainder of the 20th century, ERGs for a variety of identities continued to be established and became standard practice for many major companies. In addition to original ERGs based on race, gender orientation, and sexual identity, ERGs for individuals with disabilities, parents and caregivers, age/experience, and even religious groups emerged. By 2007, it is estimated that 90% of Fortune 500 companies had established ERGs.
The Beginning of ERGs 2.0
The #MeToo Movement of 2017, which shed light on issues of rape, sexual assault, and harassment and went viral on social media, provided a boost to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). This movement enabled many corporate employees to have conversations about previously taboo topics in the workplace, and it spurred many women around the world to advocate for gender equality in the workplace. As a result, there was a surge in the formation and activity of women's ERGs. However, the impact of the #MeToo Movement paled in comparison to the viral nature of ERGs in 2020, when two major events transformed the workplace and diversity landscape.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020 and resulted in a shift towards remote work for many organizations, created a need for ways to keep employees engaged and connected. ERGs, with their existing voluntary leaders and focus on community, suddenly became a valuable resource for companies seeking to foster a sense of belonging among their employees. In addition, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent #BlackLivesMatter Movement prompted corporations in all industries to demonstrate their support for the Black community and other underrepresented groups in the workplace.
In response to the strong show of support from their employees, many companies quickly took action in the summer of 2020, launching marketing campaigns, issuing internal statements, and establishing Employee Resource Groups. The prevalence of companies with ERGs spread rapidly during this time.
The State of ERGs
Despite the increased hiring of Chief Diversity Officers and Diversity Program Managers to oversee Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) within corporations, many of these groups were allowed to operate in their own silos, lacking any real structure or strategy. This approach varied from company to company and may have been motivated by a desire to preserve the sense of being "employee-led" or a lack of bandwidth to devote to developing the groups.
As the #BlackLivesMatter Movement waned, however, companies began to question the effectiveness of their ERG programs and sought to understand the return on investment for the money they had invested in diversity and inclusion efforts. ERG leaders faced pushback when attempting to articulate the business impact of their groups, leading to burnout among many ERG leaders. In an effort to address these issues, some companies have even hired ERG Managers and Consultants to make sense of their programs, but with limited success.
There are still a number of fundamental questions that remain unanswered for many companies, such as how to measure and track the success of ERGs, what the company's ERG strategy is, what the return on investment is, and how the company's ERG program compares to others.
Furthermore, there is a lack of reliable information available to ERG Managers and Leaders to base their programs on, and very few ERG programs have a scalable structure that can serve as a model for others. The 4C Model, trademarked in 2021, has been proposed as a way to articulate and measure the potential output of ERGs, and other books and programs have been published with a similar aim. Despite these efforts, ERG programs around the world have been unable to agree on a consistent approach to building and sustaining a successful program or even on a definition of what constitutes a successful program.
The ERG Movement Model’s Approach
As of January 2023, there is still a significant gap in the ERG industry. While the contributions of past ERG professionals are respected, it is clear that something different and more comprehensive is needed - a source of unbiased truth. The current ERG models are outdated and do not adequately address the current state of the world or the need for simplicity in allowing voluntary ERG Leaders to clearly articulate the value and strategy they need to succeed. Among the most outdated and misleading models is the Affinity Group > ERG > BRG Progression Model, which provides a false sense of structure for ERGs and only serves as a temporary fix for the larger issues facing ERGs. The ERG Movement Model takes a new approach that challenges traditional ERG theories and aims to provide a more comprehensive solution.
One of the distinctive aspects of the ERG Movement Model is that it is not a static approach, and it is not intended to be the final word on ERG programs. The model is open to feedback and The ERG Movement is transparent about any developments or updates to the model. The ERG Movement Model is also freely available to all, as it is believed that having a common understanding of Employee Resource Groups will benefit the entire industry.
The insights provided by this model may be difficult for some to accept, especially for ERG or BRG programs that believe they are further along in their development than they really are. The ERG Movement prioritizes providing the truth about what will drive impact and positive change, rather than simply making people feel good.
The ERG Movement Model divides the process of ERG program development into three phases: Infancy, Adolescence, and Maturity. Each phase represents a different stage in the life cycle of an ERG program and presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. Participants can determine where their program falls on the scale by completing the free ERG Movement Model Assessment provided at no charge by Chezie.