How employee resource groups can help workers thrive, whether they are remote, hybrid, or in the office

The connection, support, and networking opportunities ERGs provide are more important than ever.

By Pamela DeLoatch — May 18, 2023

As organizations settle into hybrid work schedules, employers are seeking sustainable ways to keep employees engaged with work and with one another.  Employee resource groups (ERGs), which have been around for decades, are emerging as a critical connection point, particularly for women, employees of color, and others from historically marginalized groups.

The names vary — ERGs, affinity groups, diversity councils, or at HP, Business Impact Networks — but they serve a common purpose: to help employees build supportive relationships with one another and, in the process, feel more included at work.

“ERGs bring a sense of community and belonging,” explains Amy Baldwin, president of United Partnerships and creator of the ERG Leadership Conference. “People who may not interact in their jobs, meet and partner together in an ERG. They’re building stronger, greater networks that yield retention and engagement and increase collaboration, productivity, and innovation.”

With millions of employees now working remote or hybrid schedules, ERGs are becoming more important than ever, helping employees feel represented in the workplace and connected to their colleagues even when they may not be spending every day in a physical office, where natural bonds can form.

Three women working on laptops while engaging in conversation .

Arturo Olmos

LaTasha Gary, Director of Sustainable Impact Program Management at HP, engages with members of the Women’s Impact Network (WIN) BIN at the HP Houston campus.

Forging bonds and finding opportunities

More than informal clubs, ERGs are typically structured organizations with executive sponsorship and support from company leadership — recognition of the value they bring to employees and the businesses they work for. These groups have existed since the 1970s — HP’s first, in 1972, was for African American employees, and the company launched the nation’s first LGBTQ+ employee resource group in 1978. Today, 90% of Fortune 500 companies have employee resource groups, with the majority focused on African Americans, women, Hispanic and Latin Americans, Asian Americans, LGBTQ+ employees, military veterans, and employees with disabilities.

When Beau Taylor arrived at HP in 2017, one of his first acts as a new employee was to join HP’s Veteran Impact Network, one of several internal employee groups known as Business Impact Networks (BINs) at HP.

“It catapulted my network inside HP, and it’s not just work-related,” says Taylor, a veteran of the US Coast Guard who is now senior manager of Global Indirect Procurement for HP. “It can be personal as you develop that sense of camaraderie.”

Meanwhile, in Singapore, another one of HP’s BINs, the Women’s Impact Network (WIN), offers a program in experiential learning that helps women explore job opportunities. “The initiative focuses on having them do mini rotational projects,” says Marie Myers, HP’s CFO and WIN executive sponsor. “Through WIN, they are experimenting and trying out professional opportunities they would never have had, which is huge.”

Baldwin says that in the last 10 years, more employee resource groups have also developed around employee interests and well-being. “There are groups for sustainability, working parents, young professionals, and employees aged 50-plus and getting ready to retire. Faith-based, health and fitness, and mental health groups are also emerging.”

“People who may not interact in their jobs, meet and partner together in an ERG. They’re building stronger, greater networks.”

— Amy Baldwin, president of United Partnerships

Evolving for remote and hybrid work

As more employees have shifted to long-term remote or hybrid schedules, ERGs have adapted, finding new ways to build and maintain internal networks. Specifically, shifting from in-person events to video and virtual gatherings has helped ERGs stay relevant and bring more employees into the fold. Adapting to the realities of remote and hybrid work has the added benefit of making ERGs accessible to employees who may not have considered them before.

About 35% of companies have added or expanded support for ERGs since 2020 and the widespread, abrupt shift to remote work. “Employees felt such loneliness and isolation, and ERGs provide connectivity and a sense of inclusion,” says DEI consultant Brian Truelove

These connections can help boost careers and prevent employees who may have already felt marginalized from feeling even more isolated at work. For example, a Gartner report found one in three women prefer to work remotely, and one in two women want a hybrid schedule. However, working off-site means less face time, with fewer opportunities for being mentored or getting critical assignments. Through workshops, asynchronous messaging, mentoring programs, and leadership development experiences, ERGs can provide an even stronger support system to women and other employees than they could through the primarily in-person events of the past. 

Going virtual has also expanded the reach of corporate ERGs, creating global networks instead of location-specific groups that were more prevalent in the past.

“In some ways, it has allowed us to see what people are doing worldwide,” says Myers. “You can have a forum that people can attend from all over.”

Truelove adds that the virtual options have had the surprising benefit of leveling the playing field for employees who worked remotely before the pandemic. “Now we’re all connecting in a different way than we used to, and remote employees feel a sense of belonging that wasn’t there before.”

HP employees analyzing 3D printed shirts.

Arturo Olmos

Members of HP’s Cycling BIN seeing their cycling jerseys, custom printed using HP Stitch, for the first time.

Where employees are, and where they want to go

Baldwin says virtual activities also make it possible for ERGs to include employees who don’t work the traditional 9-to-5 in-office schedule. “How do we engage employees if they’re on the manufacturing floor in shifts? What about those in different time zones?” To reach more employees, Baldwin adds that ERGs should also consider the length of programming. “Employees may not be able to attend for an hour or two, but can they attend for 15 to 20 minutes?”

In addition to meetings and forum-style events, ERGs may offer virtual coffee breaks or happy hours for employees not in the building — all of which help new remote employees feel part of the company culture and connect with others beyond their work groups.

ERGs are also expanding in terms of their priorities and goals, working collectively to help one another, include allies who want to show their support, and reflect the complexity of employee identities. “While ERGs exist for their specific communities, they also recognize the collaboration, overlap, and intersectionality between groups, like veterans and the LGBTQ+ community,” Truelove notes.

Baldwin and Truelove say new generations of employees will define where ERGs go from here, and see technology playing an even bigger role in how ERGs continue to evolve to meet their needs.

“When you get all of these different minds together with different life experiences, they will look at solutions and problems in very different ways,” says Truelove. “This leads to innovation.”


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