Employee resource groups (ERGs) are often touted as a way companies are promoting diversity and inclusion for their female and minority employees, but now one company -- Deloitte -- is saying it's time to rethink them. The consulting firm, which has had ERGs in place for 24 years, says it's doing away with them in favor of "inclusion councils" that bring white men into the mix.
Bloomberg reported this week that Deloitte Development LLC is ending its WIN women's network after 24 years in response to the fact that diversity progress is stalling in parts of corporate America. It's an idea being championed by 30-year-old consultant Megan Schumann as Deloitte also notes that Millennials make up 57% of its workforce, and they don't like "demographic pigeonholes."
In place of WIN and Deloitte's ERGs focused on gay employees, veterans and minorities, the firm is building inclusion councils that will bring together a variety of viewpoints to work on diversity issues. The hope is that by bringing everyone together, more advocates, allies and sponsors will emerge, including those who are white, male and hold leadership positions.
ERGs are fairly common in the tech world. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example, is proud of its 12 ERGs and nine employee networks built around a number of diversity traits. They are popular too, with 122,000 of its employees participating in some form. (See AT&T Releases 2015 Diversity & Inclusion Report.)
In general, ERGs can be a good way to help underrepresented employees feel comfortable in their work environment, meet peers of a similar background and discuss the issues that may matter to all of them. For a more cynical take on them, they're probably the easiest way for a company to advertise its commitment to "diversity and inclusion" without really having to move the needle much.
Oftentimes, the larger company may not even be aware of what the group is doing or discussing. For that reason, I think it makes a lot of sense to involve everyone in the conversation instead. Have women share their stories with the men in charge, have men mentor women and vice versa, and bring everyone together around a common cause.
I also thought the point about the younger generation of workers was interesting. Millennials and their younger cohorts often don’t like to talk labels at all. Separating employees out based on one characteristic doesn't fit their world view. Why not have ERGs around interests (coding? running? reading?) and inclusion committees around advocating for change? Sure, it's a lot of extracurricular activities in addition to demanding day jobs, but it's a model that should work for -- and actually include -- everyone.
More than anything, it comes back to having an authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion that permeates the entire company. That supersedes any ERG, council or initiative, and that seems to be the thing that companies still struggle with the most.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms