I am committed to the advancement of women in the workplace and have been for quite some time. So much so, I served as an Officer for my former employer’s women’s group on the chapter level as well as the ELT (Enterprise Leadership Team). What I observed fairly quickly in my roles is that progress was being made (increasing membership, mentorship) but unfortunately, there were blind spots that weren’t being addressed.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are designed to provide a supportive community for employees who share a common identity or experience. However, despite their good intentions, ERGs can sometimes fail women in the workplace. Here are some reasons why:
Lack of support from management: ERGs can struggle to make a meaningful impact without support from leaders. With insufficient or inadequate resources which includes financial support and backing of senior leadership, ERGs lack the influence needed to drive meaningful change.
Limited scope: ERGs become siloed if they only focus on issues that affect women but don’t intersect with other areas of diversity, such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. This can lead to a lack of intersectionality and leave some women feeling excluded. Stated another way, the intention is inclusion and the outcome is exclusion.
Limited engagement: ERGs can struggle to engage members beyond their core group of active participants. This can lead to a lack of diversity of thought and experience within the group and can make it difficult for the ERG to represent the views and concerns of all women in the workplace. For example, a bank teller, machine operator, customer facing or back-office employee may not have an opportunity to attend meetings or events due to performance guidelines. When this happens, employers limit engagement opportunities for certain employees.
Lack of accountability: ERGs can struggle to hold themselves accountable for achieving their goals which means there has to be a higher level of accountability. Without clear objectives and metrics for success, ERGs will struggle to demonstrate their impact and could be perceived as ineffective.
Lack of integration into the wider organization: ERGs can struggle to make a meaningful impact when this happens. To avoid this, employers should consider coordination with other diversity and inclusion initiatives and ensure there is alignment with broader business goals.
As employers continue to drive diversity initiatives, it’s important to note that good intentions don’t equate to great outcomes. To create an inclusive workspace for women, exclusion has to be eliminated in its entirety, accountability must be apparent and scope has to include support, integration and equitable access.