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How to support ERGs with mentoring and coaching

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for a long time were seen as important spaces for connection, community-building, and networking for colleagues that shared experiences such as LGBTQ+, being a veteran, or aligned around racial identity. As organizations rethink how they live diversity, equity, and inclusion in an authentic way, ERGs are becoming an increasingly important tool for culture-building and strengthening.

However, without strategic planning and intentional conversation about their role, ERGs often become an energy sink, benefitting from the emotional labor of a few—oftentimes people with minoritized identities—increasing levels of burnout and skepticism about an organization’s real commitment to living inclusive values among the very groups the organization wants to support. 

While ERGs are technically independent groups, they require strategic and cultural support from employers to be successful. In this post, we’ll explain how HR teams can assist employees in getting ERGs off the ground, without placing an undue burden on the “few,” and what types of resources company leaders can offer – such as mentoring and coaching – to better amplify the work of their ERGs. 

How to get ERGs off the ground

ERGs typically emerge when employees with shared experiences or identities want to create a space to connect—but they are rarely connected to greater responsibility, faster tracks to promotion, or clear compensatory supports. Here are some initial steps HR teams and company leaders can take to help ERGs get off the ground, in a sustainable way: 

1. Identify the desired impact 

Sit down with your ERG leaders to discuss the ultimate impact they’re trying to achieve in terms of company culture and potentially business outcomes. The purpose of this conversation isn’t to offer unsolicited guidance – it’s to get on the same page as your employees and understand what you can do to help create a win-win dynamic for everyone at the organization.

For instance, let’s say the Black employees at your organization feel like their ideas, feedback, and concerns aren’t being heard by the leadership team. As a result, they create a Black Employee ERG as a way to elevate their most underrepresented voices – especially with the C-suite. Understanding this intent can help HR teams be better advocates for this ERG. 

2. Tie ERGs back into the business

Once you’ve identified the overall goals of the ERG, find ways to tie it back to the business. Why? By doing this, ERGs aren’t existing as a separate entity within the organization—or as extra work for the leaders of the ERG. Instead, they become an integral part of the business – which means that there’s an incentive for everyone to be invested in the success of these groups and potentially help build leadership skills and reputations for folks from under-represented groups.

If you’re not sure how to tie ERGs back to the business, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions that were shared with us by one of Torch’s leadership coaches, Meghna Majmudar: 

  • What meaningful addition does this ERG bring to the table? 
  • What areas of our business can this ERG have a positive impact on? Is there a way the ERG can help us understand industry opportunities differently?
  • Does this ERG align with our overall diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy? 

While you may not have the answers to all these questions in the beginning, thinking about and discussing them can help create more alignment between ERGs and the business. For example, amplifying the work of a Women of Color ERG as a way to attract a more diverse pool of candidates or writing a white paper about what’s next in your company’s industry.

3. Amplify the work of ERGs

Once you have a better sense for the goals of your ERGs, and how they tie back to your organization, you should find ways to amplify the work that’s being done in the group. This can be accomplished in many ways. Here are a few ideas for consideration:

  • Find opportunities to recognize and reward ERG leaders
  • Take the work that’s being done in ERGs into account for performance reviews
  • Give ERGs exposure to the leadership team
  • Allocate a budget for ERGs to use in meaningful ways
  • Form a DEI Council (or similar entity) that’s dedicated to supporting ERGs

You’ll have the best sense for what types of resources or support need to be provided to maximize the impact of your ERGs.

Supporting ERGs with mentoring and coaching

Ultimately, one of the best ways to support the DEI initiatives of your ERGs is to offer mentoring and coaching as a resource. Here’s what these relationships look like in practice:   

Coaching is a relationship between a trained coach and a leader. Coaching can help identify the leader’s DEI related strengths and challenges, set goals related to the larger DEI initiatives of the organization, and track goal progress with the help of ongoing feedback from colleagues.

Mentoring is a relationship between a mentor and a leader. Mentoring can help leaders feel supported by the mentor’s expertise and wisdom. Mentors also differ from coaches in that they tend to draw more from their professional experience and tend to be farther along in their career relative to their clients, which gives the mentor additional credibility and valuable context.

Informal mentoring can happen organically within ERGs. While this might work in the beginning, a more structured mentoring or coaching program is needed to scale support effectively. There’s a lot of evidence to demonstrate that offering coaching and mentoring through these structured programs leads to a more diverse and inclusive workplace: 

  • The Harvard Business Review found that, on average, mentoring programs boost the representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men by anywhere from 9% to 24%.
  • Coaching has been found to be a great equalizer when it comes to leadership development access.
  • A study by Heidrick & Struggles found that mentoring programs are especially important to women and people in underrepresented groups. 30% of women said their mentoring relationship was extremely important compared to 23% of men. Similarly, 32% of minorities found it extremely important, compared with 27% of the overall sample.
  • When combined with other DEI efforts, coaching is a powerful and effective method that helps leaders and managers arrive at their own solutions instead of being told the steps they should take.

ERGs play a more critical role in today’s workplace than ever before. To better support your employees, find ways to connect them to the right resources and amplify their work throughout the organization. Want to learn how to design the right approach to coaching and mentoring for DEI at your company? Download our eBook.