Technology

Employee Resource Groups Go Digital

By Sarah Fister Gale

Aug. 21, 2018

Companies love to tout their employee resource groups as a way to prove their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

employee resource groups
New software is enhancing the accountability of employee resource groups.

However, most ERG programs are run in such an ad hoc fashion, most leaders have little idea what they are up to.

“The typical ERG program has minimum governance and no consistency,” said Tommi Paris, diversity and inclusion manager for Southern Company Gas. Even when these groups receive support and funding to host events or invite speakers, HR rarely has processes in place to track them, she said.

That can create problems — for the ERGs and the business, said Alex Shubat, CEO of Espresa, an employee program automation company in Silicon Valley. Lack of structure around how ERGs are formed, governed and promoted reduces their value for companies and employees, he said.

Shubat co-founded Espresa three years ago with Raghavan Menon after Menon found that even when he worked at Google, the ERG experience was cumbersome and difficult to navigate.

“Information was hard to find, they all used different vendors, and the groups were all owned by different departments,” Shubat said.

That made it hard for employees to learn about events, and difficult for the company to track whether programs were thriving and where funding was being spent.

“Employees are used to modern consumer apps where they can find everything they need a few clicks,” he said. Expecting them to search through multiple sites, and wikis to learn about programs or sign up for events is unrealistic, and can cause a lot of well-meaning programs to fizzle out.

Menon and Shubat launched Espresa to solve this problem. The platform gives employees a single portal where they can launch and manage employee groups and programs, and get the word out to the rest of the company.

“If someone wants to host a garden club, or invite an expert to give a talk, they can go on the platform, set up the event and start promoting it,” Shubat said. “It automatically reduces friction, and makes it easier for employees to make these events happen.”

These kinds of platforms also make it easier for HR to keep track of ERGs, said Paris. When SCG acquired Nicor Gas in 2015, Paris’ team decided it was time to formalize its ERG management program. So they created a formal governance structure, and implemented ERG Insights, a cloud-based ERG management solution from Cockerham and Associates.

The platform now houses impact plans for all of the company’s 17 ERGs, which lay out the goals of the groups and provides Paris with a dashboard to keep track of their activities. She uses it to keep executives updated on what the ERGs are doing, how budgets are being used and which ones could use additional support or sponsorship.

She likes that all the information is in one place. “If they want member numbers, I can rattle them off in minutes,” she said.

Still Just Software
While this area of HR technology is still relatively new, it’s a natural evolution for companies that want to formalize their ERG programs, and track them in the same way they track other elements of HR, said Holger Mueller of Constellation Research. “It’s an interesting area of technology that traditional HR software doesn’t cover.”

He sees these platforms as a way to manage disparate employee activities and to create greater governance of budgets and compliance — all while encouraging employee engagement. He warns that ERG software alone won’t make these groups thrive. “People build engagement,” he said, “the software just helps.”

Paris encourages HR leaders to check out the technology and think about whether their current ERG programs are getting the management and oversight they deserve.
“ERGs are a business resource,” she said. “How you invest in them tells an important story about what your company values.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in Chicago. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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