So, you’re new to a company and you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community. You would like to find a group with other members of your community, but you can’t think of what those types of groups are called so you do a Google search and……. you find:
Employee resource groups (also known as ERGs, affinity groups, or business network groups) are groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences.
But what does each term mean and are they different? If they are different, then how so? Well, the answer is not that simple because as you can see, the Google definition lumps them all together and many people, including diversity & inclusion practitioners do too. This creates lots of confusion around what they really mean, so let’s try to create some clarity around these terms.
Affinity Groups (AGs)
Affinity Groups are most often informal in structure and leaders are usually self-appointed and don’t have a formal executive sponsor role – although an executive might align themselves to a group and provide guidance. Many times, these groups are self-funded, and the focus is usually social in nature. You can think of AGs as a steppingstone to the creation or evolution of an Employee Resource Group.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or Employee Networks (ENs)
Employee Resource Groups or Employee Networks are the two terms that are most often used interchangeably. For the purpose of defining them, let’s use ERG. ERGs are much more structured and formalized than AGs. You can think of ERGs as grown-up AGs.
ERGs have the support of Human Resources, Executive Leadership, and the Diversity & Inclusion Office. This support ensures ERGs are more integrated into the organization and aligned to the company and their values. ERGs have a formalized structure which includes executive sponsors and an ERG leadership team. Leaders for ERGs are usually elected or appointed and they ‘report’ to the group’s executive sponsors. In addition, there is almost always some level of oversight from the D&I office.
Business Resource Groups (BRGs)
Sometimes BRGs are referred to as grown-up ERGs because many times BRGs grow out of well-run ERGs. BRGs have the same support and structure as ERGs but have additional support and integration into the business., This means BRG’s goals are aligned to the business’ goals and this provides focus on business development opportunities across specific customer and client demographics.
Whether you are part of an AG, ERG/EN, or BRG, the purpose of these groups is becoming more and more important to companies in attracting and retaining the best employees and in focusing on product and business development across a multitude of customer and client demographics.