Employee Resource Groups (not Affinity Groups)

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Roughly 90% of Fortune 500 companies report having Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).  An ERG is the utilization of an organization’s own talent to serve as internal SMEs (subject matter experts), instead of using an external research company.  The resounding success of this design has ERGs emerging in various countries globally.   In the EU, women’s resource groups and multicultural groups have been particularly prevalent.

 

What is the Difference between ERGs and Affinity Groups?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably as synonyms, there is a distinction, based off of its own cultural evolution.  Its members may choose to be involved in the other group’s activities.

ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) are Business- / Market-facing groups.  They are optimized think-tank groups which offer specialized intelligence for accelerating business development activity, or expanding marketplace reach, and for providing solutions to meet corporate growth objectives.  They are executive advisory panels which offer diverse perspectives on marketing techniques and map organizational goals to business goals.  ERGs raise employee engagement, and lead to strengthening the leadership pipeline by identifying high-potentials.  An employee does not have to have the make-up or orientation of the ERG to be in that group.  For example, a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) male can be in the APac (Asia-Pacific) ERG.  

Here is an excerpt on Microsoft’s ERGs from its website:  “Members voluntarily work together to align with the Microsoft GD&I strategy and to improve Microsoft business in the global marketplace. They serve as internal resources to ensure that diverse perspectives are included in business operations, marketing, and product development activities.” 

 

Affinity Groups (aka Employee Networks) are inward-facing groupsThey are more of a safe haven for reinforcing cultural differences, and often serve as social clubs.  Peer mentoring is informally offered, so it becomes an opportunity to develop professionally, and network internally across functions and service lines.  They often extend a hand towards recruiting others much like themselves.  The strength of the bonds formed in these groups have led others outside of the Affinity group, yet within the company, to feel excluded (which is typically perception-based); while others within the Affinity group have explicitly asked newcomers who do not have the group’s make-up or orientation to find another Affinity group (which is deliberate, yet typically unintentional, reverse discrimination). 

This latter occurrence (i.e. exclusion) is what has contributed towards the development of the ERG.  Organizations can leverage the strength of the diverse perspective by providing it with a business focus.  This is essentially “keeping the baby and throwing out the bathwater” – the organization retains the elements that carry less risk of contributing towards political schisms.  On LinkedIn’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network, powered by Citi, there has been an emergence of the two, ERG & Affinity (* see below).  Some women have complained, “We need to focus on business issues just like the men do; not on sexism and harassment.”  Isn’t it rather challenging (for most of us women, anyhow) to focus on strategy with someone else’s hand on your knee?  Yes, there is a need AND a place for that type of conversation…and it belongs in the safe environs of an Affinity group.  When a group is not defined with its specific purpose &/or identity, it becomes a free-for-all, rendering those initially interested members with the decision to leave.

 

Common ERGs

The top 5 ERGs are the following:

  1. Women
  2. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender)
  3. Multicultural
  4. Veterans
  5. Disabilities

Other popular ERGs include: Generational, Religious Affiliations, Working Parents, Single Parents.

 

CORPORATE EXAMPLE:  PepsiCo’s Hispanic/Latino ERG (aka Adelante)

PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay subsidiary realized that the growing number Hispanic/Latino demographics in the USA meant that an untapped market of snack consumers with different palettes exists.  They created a group of its employees (with Hispanic/Latino heritage) and asked them what would be the ideal-flavored chip.  This is how the Guacamole (i.e. avocado flavor) chip was born.  Unlike the “cherry Coke” failure, this idea took off by storm.  Since its inception, other flavors were introduced by this group and have also been met with broad public acclaim and consumption.  They include: Chile Limón (i.e. chile & lemon), Tapatío (i.e. the tobacco sauce), Pico de Gallo (i.e. salsa flavor), Jalapeño, etc.

 

You are the product of your culture.  Leverage your competitive advantage.

 

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com. 

* Similarly, Sheryl Sandberg’s online group, LeanIn.org, defines itself more like an ERG, which is the premise of her book (namely, women must “lean in” at the conference table); however, one must scroll down to find Leadership & Management. The three main topics presented on the website are more Affinity-related: Kids & Teens, Parenting, and Partnership.  In this last category, there is an excruciatingly stereotypical (dare I say, 1950’s) and non-professional e-article on “How to Know He’s the One.” 

 

Resources:

Connect: Professional Women’s Network, powered by Citi

DiversityBestPractices.com

LeanIn.org

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/diversity/programs/ergen/default.aspx

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About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on January 25, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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