Dear Sam: My company lacks any sort of affinity for employee resource groups to celebrate and support diverse populations. We have about 500 team members, so I am kind of shocked we don’t have anything like this yet. We have grown really quickly, so I am imagining that HR is still sort of catching up and focused on recruitment and maybe not as much just yet on retention. How would I go about creating such programs? — Ian

Dear Ian: I am so impressed you are thinking of starting an Employee Resource Group (ERG). These employee-led groups are some of the best ways companies shape their culture, promote an inclusive environment, and positively impact retention. I am assuming you have already defined the focus of your ERG—race, gender, or any other defining characteristic group members may share—and possibly identified the leader from whom you are going to seek buy-in. When I perused the ERGs of several large organizations, I found groups including African, Black, American, Caribbean ERG, Asian Pacific American ERG, Disabilities ERG, Latino ERG, LBGTQ ERG, Millennials ERG, and a Women in Tech ERG. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas of the diversity of the ERG you could create.

Some employees launching an ERG focus on an organizational need and work with an associated executive sponsor to help support closing that gap. For instance, if you feel your organization struggles with engaging and retaining millennials, and that is something you identify with, creating an ERG focused on that guiding principle would be a great way to not only retain existing diverse team members but also to recruit new talent. Be specific when you define what your group is, who it is for, and what its objectives will be.

Next, promote the ERG internally, understanding that you do not have to have high interest and engagement at first to get the ERG off of the ground. Strive for a handful of members if you can—it will grow organically from there through word of mouth—promoting the group through your internal communications channel. Be specific in your communications so team members clearly understand if the group aligns with their purpose, passion, or key identifiers.

Once your group is up and running, continue to advance its mission and vision by connecting the group and its initiatives to how it can influence the business. Remember, for continued sponsorship, you will want your ERG to illustrate how it is positively impacting culture, engagement, inclusion, and more. Be clear in defining your value proposition and supporting ERG members in sharing their voices within and beyond the group. Try to reach beyond the obvious of employees identifying with the theme of your ERG, engaging others that share similar beliefs but may not possess the same characteristics. This will ensure your ERG truly is inclusive, represents the diversity of your organization, and promotes innovative thought and sustainable positive change and influence.

During your ERG meetings, consider hosting guest speakers on topics of interest, coordinating social outings, inviting internal executives to share through leadership, or initiating involvement in the community; the list is endless! The point is to foster camaraderie, to address shared concerns, to provide support for one another, and to advance a caring community. I would love to hear about what ERG you plan to create and about its success! Fantastic job celebrating and supporting your organization’s culture.