Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are not new. The idea of like-minded coworkers getting together to discuss their ideas, commonalities, and workplace concerns has been around informally for as long as there have been jobs. Formal ERGs came into existence in response to race-related tension in the 1960s. They have grown to become important networking, retention, and marketing groups that continue to benefit businesses. They serve as valuable focus groups for the company and advocacy groups for their members. These groups help businesses learn to accommodate, attract, retain, and market to people with disabilities (PWD). ERGs add strength to their voices and giving them more meaningful ways to contribute in the workplace.
It’s important that all ERGs include representation by people with disabilities. This allows all groups to gain a variety of perspectives because PWD are present in all groups within society, regardless of gender, nationality, race, or religion.
1. Improve employee retention.
Employees report more job satisfaction and better performance when they are comfortable bringing all aspects of themselves to work. They need to feel comfortable disclosing disabilities and asking for accommodations, with the expectation that their accommodation will be fulfilled. Employees with disabilities who have the tools they need to confidently accomplish job responsibilities are more likely to stay in a job than a non-disabled worker.
Employee resource groups can contribute to employee retention by showing employers what PWD need to be successful. They can also help employees with disabilities identify what tools are available and how to access them. Access to these tools is especially important in the first few weeks and months of employment as employees settle into the daily routines of their jobs.
ERGs also provide new employees with disabilities a community and a sense of belonging within the company, and help them feel less conspicuous. Seeing that there are other successful people with disabilities within the company demonstrates that the company values their contributions.
2. Encourage interdepartmental connection
Especially in larger companies with many office locations or departments, ERGs offer employees the opportunity to network with workers in other areas of the company. It’s a great way for employees to share how they’re making their departments accessible and make valuable connections. It also reinforces the idea of everyone being on one team and working for a common goal. Employees are able to step outside of their normal department groups.
3. Mimic customer demographics
ERGs can serve as in-house focus groups to determine what different demographics want and find valuable. An employee resource group for people with disabilities provides a great testing group to ensure your website or other resource are accessible. Asking an ERG for disabled employees to evaluate your website will more accurately evaluate accessibility than using a static checklist.
4. Help reach diverse talent pools
Employee Resource Groups can mimic the diversity you want in your job candidate talent pool. Use them as a resource to determine what qualities job searching PWD would look for in a company. Gaining information on what benefits they value, what kind of environment they work best in, or whether a job description would catch their attention can help attract the best, most diverse candidates for each job posting.
5. Give all employees a voice
Disability-related ERGs include all levels of experience or management, giving new hires or those with less experience and tenure equal opportunities for input to have their ideas or concerns heard. A newer employee may have insights into how the company can better accommodate everyone. The group can present the idea to management, increasing the chances it will be accepted.
Likewise, upper-level management may present a problem and request the group’s input. Perhaps they want to make resources more accessible but aren’t sure how best to accomplish that. All members of the group would have the opportunity to present possible solutions. This prevents the same leaders from making all the decisions for the company based solely on their own experiences.
6. Learn from other employee resource groups
It’s important not to pigeonhole PWD by only encouraging them to join ERGs that focus on disabilities. People with disabilities benefit all groups with which they identify. For example, groups for women should also include women with disabilities to prevent the group from only expressing the ideas of abled women.
Likewise, everyone- not just people with disabilities- should be invited to join disability ERGs to see what issues interest PWD and how they can help. It gives everyone a chance to learn from one another and become allies for the needs of their coworkers.
7. Develop talent and leadership
Even when professional development is not the main goal of an ERG, members may have the opportunity to learn and develop new skills by taking on roles within the organization that differ from their jobs. For example, an administrative assistant may find herself in charge of planning an event to celebrate national disabilities month for her ERG supporting people with disabilities. This could demonstrate her organizational and event planning skills, making her a great candidate for a position in event marketing.
Taking a leadership role within an ERG allows an employee to demonstrate successful leadership skills in the workplace. An employee might not otherwise have had the opportunity to develop those skills within the scope of their job responsibilities. ERGs might also provide opportunities to gain confidence in skills which they might be hesitant to perform in their actual job functions, such as leading a team or speaking in front of others. Giving employees opportunities to polish their talents can shape them for a role that they might not otherwise have considered.
Employee Resource Groups can show employees with disabilities tools and techniques they can use to develop important career skills. For example, an employee who is blind or has low vision may not feel comfortable presenting in front of a crowd and has never had the opportunity to practice that skill to gain confidence in it. Other members of his or her ERG can offer suggestions or advice as to how they have overcome similar challenges. It gives the employee the opportunity to practice presenting in front of people who can give them constructive advice.
A community in the workplace
ERGs offer great opportunities for employees with disabilities to build a community and develop professional relationships outside of the confines of their given departments. Employees with disabilities can share tools and ideas with one another, upper management, and the company as a whole to ensure their needs are met and that they are professionally successful.
Need help learning how you can make your workplace more accommodating to employees with disabilities? Contact us!
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Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”