“ERGs Are the Heartbeat of Organizations”: 10 Takeaways From enERGize by Catalyst (Blog Post)
By Megan Kincaid Kramer
At Catalyst’s employee resource group (ERG) community event, enERGize, on June 7, I was blown away by the passion and commitment our attendees shared for their ERG work.
Catalyst gathered hundreds of global ERG leaders, members, sponsors, HR professionals, CEOs, and more to discuss their ERG challenges and strategies for success. For the second year in a row, we brought our ERG community together virtually, following our four-part virtual event series in 2022, enERGize Your Workforce. Here are my top 10 takeaways.
- Be intentional with intersectionality. In an opening conversation with Catalyst EMEA Executive Director Lucy Kallin, Bank of America’s Ngoc-Vu Nguyen, Senior Vice President, DEI, said there’s tremendous opportunity in bringing employee networks together. Doing so can create not only safe but brave spaces.
“You don’t have to be Asian to be a parent, or to be a veteran,” Nguyen said. “With multiple ERGs in a company, if you’re just focused on your silo, you’re actually building a culture of exclusion, not inclusion… There’s so many intersectional facets of us as a whole.”
- Learn from people who don’t look like you. Humana’s Schaka Davis, Director of Business Intelligence, emphasized that simply joining an ERG is not enough—you have to commit yourself to a constant learning and teaching journey. “When we truly open ourselves up to learn about others, it not only enhances our experience, but it makes someone else feel seen and heard,” she said. “Today, tomorrow, next week—I encourage you to engage with someone who does not look like you. I bet that you will be better off than when you started.”
- Provide value to ERG leaders.In a discussion featuring SHRM’s Alexander Alonso, Chief Knowledge Officer; MLSE’s Angela White, Senior Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion; and RBC’s Dani Law, Senior Manager, Global Diversity & Inclusion, the panelists spoke about providing value back to ERG leaders who are providing benefit to their businesses.
This value could include monetary bonuses, formal organization-wide recognitions, success metrics baked into performance reviews, or exposure and visibility to senior leaders. But every panelist agreed that companies need to recognize and reward this integral work, which White referred to as a “lifeline because it not only drives DEI outcomes but also business outcomes.”
- If you’re an ERG leader—communicate the value of what you’re learning. Leaders shouldn’t shy away from sharing with their supervisors the skills and accomplishments they’re building with their ERG work, noted BMO’s Lauren Barron, Director and Team Lead—Credit Risk Review. “Not only are you working on a DEI initiative, you’re also developing crucial soft skills as a leader to help you move to the next level. That has to be communicated,” she said.
Chevron’s Kristan Crapps, Senior Advisor to CDIO, added that leaders should learn to tell a story about their ERG experiences. Highlight the impact of the work that they’ve done, who they’ve done it with, and the skills they’ve developed—like collaboration, cross-functional management, event planning, executive engagement, public speaking, and more.
- Connect ERGs to employees’ sense of purpose. According to McKinsey research, 70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work. Zoetis’s Elizabeth Creveling, Sr. Director, Inclusion & Engagement, and GHD’s Joel Howell, Inclusion & Diversity Leader – Americas/EMEA advised that ERGs should focus on connecting their work to something bigger.
“Purpose is the driving force behind why we do what we do,” Howell said. “When we talk about the power of our stories and that lived experience… How do we use that lived experience to help attract, engage, and grow our professionals in our organization?”
- Leverage ERGs to build inclusion and equity in the community. “To build for everyone we have to build with everyone… ERGs are key partners,” noted Google’s Tomas Flier, EMEA Inclusion Partner, discussing his company’s use of ERG feedback throughout their product development process. “ERGs serve as a platform where we can amplify these voices.”
KKR’s Kerryann Benjamin, Chief Diversity Officer, also emphasized her firm’s work to build mentorship as a programmatic imperative into each ERG’s mission—creating practical opportunities for allies to get involved and build community.
- Engage allies from across your organization. Chevron’s Kimberly Hoyle, CCUS Commercial Advisor, and Christine Frazier-Hollins, Enterprise Product Manager, Asset Care, shared their company’s success in engaging men as allies with Catalyst’s MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) program. Initially piloted through Chevron’s women’s network, the initiative was so successful that MARC is now running everywhere Chevron has its operations globally.
“It’s amazing to have conversations about gender, but if we can use these opportunities to open conversations about other dimensions of diversity, maybe we can close that empathy gap,” Hoyle said.
Similarly, Accenture’s Ali Cupito, Global Inclusion & Diversity Senior Manager, added that through an official Allies and Action program, the company works to ensure that “allyship extends across segments and topics.”
- Connect individual actions to the broader organization. Through nationally aligned environmental inclusion networks, PwC Canada works to ensure that “environmental sustainability doesn’t feel like a side-of-the-desk job but ladders up to our broader sustainability commitments [and] connects to our other inclusion network groups,” said James Temple, Chief Sustainability Officer. “Environmental and social outcomes are not mutually exclusive.”
Maple Leaf Food’s Leaya Amey, Manager of Sustainability, added that building sustainability change to them means “empowering members to take on initiatives that can lead to behavior or practice changes at the facilities that they work in.”
- If you’re a senior leader, support ERGs by getting out of the way.In the final session, we heard from Catalyst Canada Executive Director Julie Cafley in conversation with two CEOs who are leaders in cultivating and supporting ERGs within their companies: Michele Boudria, CEO of McDonald’s Canada, and Evan Siddall, CEO of Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).
“Sometimes the best thing for the leadership team to do is to get out of the way,” Boudria said. “Create the space, provide the support, the resources, and then listen.”
Siddall echoed Boudria’s sentiment, saying, “We all have to have a voice and we all have to feel like we belong.” Referencing his own experiences being called out for un-inclusive behavior, Siddall also spoke about the critical need for CEOs to create safe and courageous spaces, because uncomfortable moments for leaders offer the opportunity for the most growth.
- Don’t forget to acknowledge the importance of your work as an ERG leader, member, or sponsor.In my closing comments to attendees, I provided this takeaway from the entire event: Employee resource groups are doing more than perhaps any other initiative in the workplace to create community and belonging. If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—a theory from psychologist Abraham Maslow that categorizes and ranks human motivation—belonging is right after physiological and safety needs. So this incredibly important work that you’re doing day in and day out in addition to your day job—and all of the intersecting identities that make you who you are—creates the opportunity for all of your colleagues, your clients, and the communities that you serve to authentically be who they are. Lastly, as Vu from Bank of America said, ‘ERGs are the heartbeat of organizations where the benefits can be seen, felt, and heard.’”
Keep the conversation going:
- Looking for more ERG resources and insights? Go to Catalyst’s ERG Resource Center.
- Need help creating ERGs in your organization? Reach out to Catalyst’s Advisory Services team today.
- Join us again next year at enERGize 2024—official date to be announced soon. See you next time!
Vice President, Community Growth and Engagement
Megan Kincaid Kramer joined Catalyst in 2004 as an assistant. Over the past two decades she has played content and fundraising roles on the Events team and eventually led the team, strategy, and execution of Catalyst’s global events including the Catalyst Awards Conference and Dinner. In her current role as…