Conference PaperPDF Available


Employee resource groups (ERGs) are within-organization groups, staffed by employee volunteers, which have evolved since their inception in the 1960s. Originally called affinity groups, they began when racial tensions escalated in the United States and were focused on diversity and inclusion goals. Recently, their purpose has transformed to include organizational challenges such as leadership development, innovation, and change management, which should translate to significant research from the academic community. However, to date, very little is known about ERGs, and there is a dearth of studies, either conceptual or empirical, on these groups and their impact on the firm. In this paper we provide an introduction to ERGs, review the literature that exists to date, and provide ideas for a research agenda. We hope that this work spurs additional research on a critical topic for today's businesses.
Employee Resource Groups:
An Introduction, Review and Research Agenda
Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD*
FirsTier Banks Distinguished Professor of Business
Univeristy of Nebraska-Lincoln and
Affiliated Research Scientist, Center for Effective Organizations
University of Southern Callifornia
Skylar Rolf
PhD student; Research Assistant
University of Nebrsaka-Lincoln
Steven Schlachter
PhD student; Research Assistant
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
*Dr. Welbourne is the corresponding author.,
+1-402-472-3353, 1320 Q Street, Lincoln, NE 68508
Employee Resource Groups:
An Introduction, Review and Research Agenda
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are within-organization groups, staffed by employee
volunteers, which have evolved since their inception in the 1960s. Originally called affinity
groups, they began when racial tensions escalated in the United States and businesses utilized
them to help achieve diversity and inclusion goals. Recently, their purpose has transformed to
include organizational challenges such as leadership development, innovation, and change
management, which should translate to significant research from the academic community.
However, to date, very little is known about ERGs, and there is a dearth of studies, either
conceptual or empirical, on these groups and their impact on the firm. In this paper we provide
an introduction to ERGs, review the literature that exists to date, and provide ideas for a research
agenda. We hope that this work spurs additional research on a critical topic for today's
Employee resource groups (ERGs), diversity and inclusion, human resource management
Organizations are made up of people, who are by nature social creatures. These people
come together in a slew of formal ways set up by organizational structures (e.g., company
hierarchy, formal work teams), and in many cases, employees also use informal methods to meet
others like themselves (Byrne, 1971; Tsui & O’Reilly, 1989). The “like themselves”
phenomenon has led to many formal and informal groupings of people at work. For example,
unions were formed when people who had similar interests in improving wages and working
conditions gathered together. Employees start clubs based on sports activity (e.g. baseball teams)
and other interests (e.g. cooking clubs). Additionally, employees over the years have sought to
unite based on other forms of similarity, for example, focused on demographic criteria such as
age, gender and race (Douglas, 2008; MacGillivray & Golden, 2007).
In the 1960s, the needs of individuals to be socially connected coincided with the
business goals of organizations trying to improve diversity and inclusion within their workforces.
Affinity groups were formed. According to Douglas (2008: 12), "affinity groups began as race-
based employee forums that were created in response to the racial conflict that exploded during
the 1960s. In 1964, Rochester, New York had the grim distinction of being the first city to
experience a modern-day race riot. The violence shocked the nation - and no one more than
Joseph Wilson, CEO of Xerox Corporation…it was with his support that the black employees
within Xerox formed the first caucus group to address the issues of overt discrimination and
agitate for a fair and equitable corporate environment." Since that first black caucus,
organizations around the world have added similar internal groups, not just to focus on race
issues, but as will be discussed in this paper, to bring together people based on other
characteristics and interests.
Today, the term caucus is rarely used, and these groups go by numerous names including
affinity groups, employee resource groups (ERGs), employee networks, employee councils,
employee forums and business resource groups. Over recent years, the popular ‘affinity group’
term has given way to the more frequently used term ‘employee resource groups’ (ERGs), with a
future pointed towards use of the phrase business resource group (BRGs). For the purposes of
this paper, we refer to all of these groups as ERGs. Catalyst, which is a not-for-profit
organization studying ERGs for over 20 years, defines the ERG today as follows: "ERGs are
groups of employees in an organization formed to act as a resource for both members and the
organization. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that can have a few members or a few
thousand. They are typically based on a demographic (e.g. women), life stage (e.g. Generation
Y), or function (e.g. sales). They are dedicated to fostering a diverse and inclusive work
environment within the context of the organization's mission, values, goals, business practices
and objectives" (Kaplan, Sabin & Smaller-Swift, 2009: 1).
ERGs are sponsored by the organization, but they are staffed by volunteers. Employees
who are already working paid jobs take it upon themselves to spend additional unpaid time to
help improve the organization by being members of one or more ERGs in their firms. These
ERGs are creating environments where employees are going above and beyond their core job,
and although ERGs can originate at the corporate level (Douglas, 2008), in most cases,
employees are the people who initially ask to start ERGs. Because of this, they are best described
as bottom-up phenomenon that are becoming prevalent in a large percentage of Fortune 500
firms and gaining traction in mid-size firms as well.
Members of ERGs work to pursue goals that help recruit and retain others like
themselves and also work to improve the communities they live in and organizations where they
work (MacGillivray & Golden, 2007). ERGs provide social and professional support for
members (e.g. mentoring programs, visibility with senior leaders), function as a path for
advocacy (e.g. help promote learning about their causes and positive change, such as working for
equality via LGBT organizations), and provide avenues for information sharing (e.g. programs
for black history month, teaching about women leaders, etc.) (Kravitz, 2008: 185; McGrath &
Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, Monetta, & Sink, 1994).
According to various reports, ERGs have been growing over the past 25 years (Friedman
& Craig, 2004). A study by Kaplan, Sabin, and Smaller-Swift (2009) indicates that the most
popular types of groups today include women and LGBT ERGs. Similarly, Mercer (2011)
reports ERGs that focus on women, race/ethnicity, and LGBT are the most widely used. Their
research also notes that ERGs address topics such as multicultural interests while generations
and environmental needs are being added to the working agenda, and ERGs are becoming more
prevalent globally. For example, Hewlett Packard has approximately 150 ERG chapters, many of
which are located outside of the United States.
At the same time, ERGs do not include all employees in a firm. For example, an ERG
that is created for female employees naturally excludes male employees. Such exclusion can
prompt some employees to view ERGS as “exclusive or providing preferential treatment” while
raising questions such as “Why isn’t there an ERG for my group?” or “Why do we need an ERG
for this group?” (Kaplan, Sabin, Smaller-Swift, 2009: 5). In response, some organizations are
requiring ERGs to accept any employee that wants to join in an effort to make the ERGs
inclusive (Kaplan, Sabin, Smaller-Swift, 2009). It is unclear how this focus on inclusivity will
impact the popularity and success of the ERGs.
Despite the growth and complexity of ERGs in large and mid-size organizations, there is
an underwhelming amount of research regarding the impact that they make on individuals, ERG
members, the ERG entity or the firm overall. Even though these voluntary, company-sponsored
groups have been in existence for many years, and they are evolving considerably, much more
still needs to be learned. Indeed, the growth and resurgence of ERGs has escaped the attention of
most introductory HR textbooks, teaching in organizational behavior, and certainly academic
research in diversity and inclusion. For example, over the last 25 years, only a handful of papers
addressing ERGs were published in top-tier academic journals. We think this is a serious missed
opportunity for researchers studying employees at work. The 2011 Mercer report, published
results from a survey of 64 companies. The authors of the report note that “ERGs are thriving ...
many companies are experiencing a resurgence of enthusiasm for ERGs” (Mercer, 2011: 1). This
enthusiasm for ERGs suggests a missed opportunity for research and learning.
In this paper we provide an introduction to ERGs as we believe that since there is so little
published about them, this background information is essential reading. Next, we conduct a
literature review and then summarize with suggestions for future research. Our goal is to
encourage researchers to consider the inclusion of ERGs in their work. ERGs today are not just a
tool for diversity and inclusion but are driving innovation and change in many firms. The
potential for ERGs to build individual skills and knowledge as well as help companies improve
their ability to compete is significant. The existence of these groups is on the rise; organizations
are investing money into them, companies are transforming them to become more business
focused, and employees who are already incredibly busy are volunteering time for these
organizations. This is clearly a phenomenon that needs to be better understood.
For the most part, general agreement exists that ERGs are comprised of individuals who
share a common demographic, life stage, function, or alternative identity (Kaplan, Sabin, &
Smaller-Swift, 2009; McGrath & Sparks, 2005). Welbourne and Leone McLaughlin (2013)
suggest three overarching categories for ERGs. The first is social-cause centered ERGs, for
example those formed through an interest in supporting environmental, literacy or cancer work.
The second is professional-centered ERGs, and in this grouping one finds ERGs composed of
engineers, programmers or administrative staff. The third category is attribute-centered, which
encompasses ERGs focused on personal characteristics or demographics one is born which, such
as ERGs for women, Chinese origin, black, Latino or LGBT.
ERGs are staffed by volunteers; in fact, in most cases employees need to create the
demand for an ERG as they are not dictated by the firm (Friedman & Craig, 2004; Kaplan,
Sabin, & Smaller-Swift, 2009). In addition, ERGs are formal groups within the firm (Friedman
& Craig, 2004), are run by group members or are self-managing (Bowie & Bronte-Tinkew,
2006; Friedman & Craig, 2004; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, Monetta, & Sink 1994),
are self-financing or run at low costs (Friedman & Craig, 2004), are horizontal (McGrath &
Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, et al., 1994), contain formalized member roles (Bowie & Bronte-
Tinkew, 2006; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, et al., 1994), have regular and frequent
meetings (Bowie & Bronte-Tinkew, 2006; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Van Aken et al., 1994) and
create the same status amongst all members (Connelly & Kelloway, 2003). Most have formal
governance processes imposed by the firm, and there is structure within the ERG (see series of
Catalyst reports, 2009, for more information on these topics). The overarching governance
structure usually includes committees of senior executives, steering committees, and each ERG
is assigned a senior executive liaison.
Much of what we know about ERGs, at least through published research, comes from the
study of individual ERGs (vs. all ERGs within an organization). For example, Colgan &
McKearney (2012) examined the growth of LGBT ERGs. This specific focus on LGBT issues
and history rather than the ERG itself is not unique (e.g., Briscoe & Safford, 2010; Githens,
2009; Waldo, 1999) and occurs when focusing on other types of ERGs as well. While many
studies only focus on the history of one type of ERG, other papers that relay the story of one
company are popular. Perhaps most often cited as the first ERG is the Black Caucus at Xerox
Corporation (Briscoe & Safford, 2010; Friedman & Deinard, 1991; Scully, 2009) whose purpose
was to achieve equal opportunity and pay (Scully, 2009). Another company cited in various
papers is Hewlett Packard, noted for forming the first LGBT group in 1978 (Briscoe & Safford,
As noted earlier, the topic of ERGs is not well studied. Thus, a literature review is limited
because there simply is not much literature. Also, there is a dearth of information in academic
publications, in particular top tier journals. Thus, in order to understand what we do know about
ERGs, we needed to include a wide variety of articles; we could not focus on only academic
journals. The published work includes quantitative studies (Wang & Schwarz, 2010; Friedman &
Holtom, 2002), qualitative studies (eg. Brooks & Edwards, 2009; Colgan & McKearney, 2012)
conceptual articles (eg. Githens, 2009; Rocco, Delgado, & Landorf, 2008), historical reviews
(eg. Baillie & Gedro, 2009; Briscoe & Safford, 2010) and practitioner oriented articles (Catalyst,
2012; Izlar, 2005).
Much of the literature on ERGs consists of conceptual insights and case studies. There
have been few studies that have quantitatively examined the impact that ERGs make on
individuals, the ERGs overall or the firm. These quantitative studies have added value to our
understanding of ERGs; however, they only skim the surface of what we need to learn about this
topic. Those few quantitative studies that exist primarily present results of surveys of
participants within the ERGs at one point in time. There is a lack of longitudinal data in the
published work, leading to questions about causality (Waldo, 1999).
ERG Theory
There is no overarching theory used to study ERGs. In fact, most of the studies fail to
incorporate any specific theory explicitly. Only ten papers from the literature review utilized
theory or included a conceptual model in the work. One example of a paper using theory is
Scully (2009), who uses negotiation theory and social movement theory to help explain the rise
of ERGs and how they view their achieved outcomes. Githens (2009) uses queer theory which
“rejects notions of sexual identity and instead emphasizes the fluidity of human sexuality”
(Githens, 2009: 23) to help examine how LGBT employees have utilized capitalist structures to
create their own spaces that provide social support. Colgan & McKearney (2012) utilize Noelle-
Neumann’s (1991) spirals of silence theory to help explain the lack of voice from LGBT
individuals inside organizations.
Friedman & Craig (2004) use cognitive-dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) to test
whether dissatisfaction is related to the joining of network groups. Social networks (Friedman,
Kane, & Cornfield, 1998; Friedman & Craig, 2004) and independently created models (Van
Aken, et al., 1994; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Gates, Teller, Bernat, Cabrera, & Della-Piana,
1999) construct the majority of the remaining theoretical frameworks. Overall, these theories
tend to be used with individual types of ERGs and focused on individual outcomes rather than
group or firm-level outcomes.
Despite the absence of an overall model for ERGs or a guiding theory, there are a variety
of useful research studies that are building this literature. Studies have examined topics such as
social capital (Friedman & Holtom, 2002; McGrath & Sparks, 2005), voice (Colgan &
McKearney, 2012), social ties (Friedman & Craig, 2004; Friedman & Holtom, 2002), allies
(Brooks & Edwards, 2009), intangible assets (Carayannis, 2004), and engagement (Kaplan,
Sabin, & Smaller-Swift, 2009) under the label of ERGs. Table 1 below outlines some of these
papers focusing on the relevant constructs studied, theories, or models used in their theoretical
Insert Table 1 Here
Although there are a variety of types of ERGs, it appears that most of the individual
ERG-focused work has dealt with LGBT groups. However, there were several studies addressing
ethnic, minority, women, and student ERGs as well. These results are shown in Table 2.
The criteria for inclusion in Table 2 required three general constraints: (1) articles listing
examples of ERGs (eg. Konrad, 2006) that were not either directly studied or the focus of the
article content were not included, (2) articles that addressed ERGs at a conceptual level without
studying or focusing on a specific type of ERG were not included and (3) only those articles that
directly addressed or examined a specific type(s) of ERG were included. Results of our literature
review indicated that 16 articles addressed LGBT ERGs, 6 articles addressed Women ERGs, and
4 articles addressed Ethnic or Minority ERGs.
Insert Table 2 Here
Perhaps the lack of an overarching model or theory for ERGs is not surprising given the
variations in focus of the literature. The majority of studies focusing on LGBT issues seem to
indicate that ERGs have been primarily viewed as vehicles for promoting diversity rather than
other business-level outcomes. Although some frameworks do exist that attempt to categorize the
stages of ERGs or suggest their purpose, the models are still largely incomplete. Put simply,
there appears to be ample room for considerable research both in integrating multiple types of
ERGs into given studies as well as in crafting theoretical arguments for the benefits of ERG
Outcomes of ERGs
Within the ERG literature, a variety of outcomes have been considered. Of primary
interest in the ERG literature is the focus on the benefits that ERGs provide. These benefits can
be observed at both the individual and the organizational level.
ERGs impact organizations through: (1) having a direct effect on business operations, (2)
attracting and developing employees, and (3) contributing to a diverse and broad employee base
(Hastings, 2011). As a result of their examination of LGBT ERGs, a framework of LGBT ERGS
was presented by Githens and Aragon (2007). This framework identifies different orientations
that LGBT ERGs may embody. On the horizontal axis, ERGs range from an emphasis on social
change to an emphasis on producing more effective organizations. The vertical axis demonstrates
the amount of order existing in the ERG, ranging from emergence to structured order.
ERGs produce several benefits at the organizational level. In Kaplan, Sabin, and Smaller-
Swift’s study, they conclude that ERGs “are a critical element in creating a culture of inclusion
and a workplace that supports diversity of background, thought, and perspective” (2009: 3).
Furthermore, they suggest that ERGs are beneficial in leadership development, helping
employees’ bridge cultural differences across corporate boundaries, and building a connection
with the community, which can boost the corporation’s reputation. In Githens & Aragon’s
(2009) study, they observed an LGBT ERG that effectively aided change in their organization,
leading to diversity training and domestic partner benefits.
In addition to organizational level outcomes, ERGs are designed to benefit employees.
Employees receive personal and professional development opportunities, such as educational and
networking activities (Kaplan, Sabin, & Smaller-Swift, 2009). For example, in a survey
conducted by Catalyst, fifty percent of organizations indicated that the chief purpose of their
ERGs was to “provide leadership development opportunities and management experience”
(2012: 5). The results of the Friedman et al. (1998) study suggest that mentoring within the ERG
contributes to a positive outlook for black managers regarding their careers. ERGs also are
helpful in aiding the process of information sharing between members, along with enabling
“creative problem solving and collaboration” (McGrath & Sparks, 2005: 48). Similarly, Van
Aken, et al. (1994) identified the following positive outcomes of ERGs: communication within
and across groups, problem-solving, professional development, building a culture of trust and
community, and an increased knowledge of the organization. Regardless of working more hours
than their non-ERG participant contemporaries, employees who participate in ERGs indicate the
experience is energizing (Welbourne & Ziskin, 2012).
Despite the positive outcomes noted above, some research has identified difficulties and
the general ineffectiveness of ERGs. Van Aken et al. (1994) observed that it takes time for ERGs
to become effective groups, with some not establishing group roles for over six months from
initiation. Additionally, they observed that frequency of meetings had an impact on the ERGs
growth as did a lack of commitment from group members. Other challenges included employees
adapting to the cooperative nature of the ERG and the process of making decisions within the
group (Van Aken et al., 1994). In a study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals, Waldo
observed that a GLB ERG, in combination with the organization instituting GLB-inclusive
guidelines, a larger GLB community, and diversity education, “did not directly serve to reduce
the amount of heterosexism experienced by the respondents” (1999: 226).
Summary of ERG Literature
Although ERGs and affinity groups have been in existence for over 50 years, there is a
very small body of research or even writing on this topic. The work done is varied, and in most
cases, deals with one type of ERG, documenting history and case studies. Additionally, a handful
of studies examine individual reactions to ERGs and focus on how these groups can help people
and organizations. However, the focus on building models that explain why ERGs work or do
not work or utilizing theory to research ERGs, is still in its infancy. Therefore, in the next section
we propose ideas for an ERG research agenda.
Based on literature to date, what we know about ERGs and the potential for these groups
to have an impact on individual employees (members and non-members of ERGs), the ERG
groups themselves, and the organization as a whole. Therefore, in order to structure our
discussion, we utilize the three potential outcome levels of analysis and, when appropriate,
differentiate ERG types using the Welbourne and Leone-McLaughlin (2013) typology.
Individual Outcomes
Most of the research conducted to date falls into examining one type of ERG and the
evolution of that ERG's work and/or results of membership and ERG work on individuals.
However, there is a host of other research questions that can be asked by examining the impact
of ERGs on individual outcomes.
First, does the type of ERG matter? If we isolate an individual level outcome such as
career growth or promotions, it would seem that professional-focused ERGs may have a greater
impact on that particular outcome. By their very nature, professional-focused ERGs bring
individuals together who care about a relevant field (such as engineering or sales) who seek to
personally benefit from their membership (Welbourne & McLaughlin, 2013). As such, it is likely
that the professional-focused ERG will encourage professional development of the individual.
On the other hand, social cause-centered and attribute-centered ERGs focus on topics that are not
directly related to ERG members work roles. Therefore, we propose the following:
Proposition 1: Members joining professionally-focused ERGs will see more positive
impacts on their career or promotions within the firm.
The roles that an individual fills within the ERG may also impact the outcomes he/she
experiences. For example, being a leader of a group or team is generally considered a positive
influence on one's career. In addition, most ERGs have a senior executive as a sponsor on its
leadership team (Mercer, 2011; Douglas, 2008). The senior executive’s presence provides the
other individuals leading the ERG with exposure to the top of the organization that they would
not receive in other roles. Consider young employees in one of the growing ERGs called
millennial or generation ERGs. These young individuals are not in a position to meet the
executive VPs of the firm; however, if they serve as an ERG leader they are provided with the
opportunity to meet, work with, and get to know senior executives. This type of internal visibility
is incredibly beneficial to their mentoring (Dreher & Ash, 1990) and networking (Forret &
Dougherty, 2004). Thus, it also should have a positive impact on their career.
Proposition 2: Being in a leadership role within an ERG will have positive impacts on
career growth and promotions within the firm.
Many firms are looking at ERGs as a way to enhance employee engagement. For
example, Wells Fargo expects each of its ERGs to augment ERG members’ engagement with the
firm (Mercer, 2011). The ability to bring one's "whole self" to work and contribute in ways that
are not solely part of the formal job is part of what employee engagement campaigns are
designed to do (Kahn, 1990). Indeed, firms with ERGs provide an avenue for a firm to take a
“personal interest” in employees and thus it is “no surprise that companies with affinity groups
make the list of best places to work” (Douglas, 2008: 18). However, there is no readily available
evidence to suggest that being in an ERG does or does not affect engagement or other employee
attitudes. Therefore, this too is another area for future research, and we speculate that
membership will indeed have positive effects on these variables.
Proposition 3: Members of ERGs will have higher levels of individual work-related
attitudinal variables, such as employee engagement, commitment and overall job
We also speculate that the degree to which being a member of an ERG has a positive
effect on employee engagement, commitment, and job satisfaction depends on whether the ERG
promotes employee contributions beyond the core job. For example, Milliman, Czaplewski, and
Ferguson (2003) found that meaningful work, sense of community, and value alignment each
had a positive association with an employee’s commitment to an organization. As such, we
suggest that ERGs that focus on attributes and causes that go beyond professionally-centered
issues bring a greater sense of meaningfulness and connection between the ERG members and
the firm. Thus, we see type of ERG as a moderator for the relationship between members of
ERGs and their attitudinal variables with both social-cause ERGs and attribute-centered ERGs
having stronger impacts on individual attitudinal variables.
Proposition 4: Type of ERG will moderate the relationship between ERG members and
individual employee attitudes about work, such that the social cause and attribute-
focused ERGs will have stronger and more positive impacts.
ERG Group Level Outcomes
The question of outcomes for the ERG group overall has not been asked to date.
However, in order to live beyond the term of one group of leaders, the ERG itself must provide
value to its members and the business. Therefore, considering the ERG itself to be a business
unit inside the firm may be a useful path for researchers.
Individuals may become tied to these groups over time, dubbed by Reichers (1985) as
‘constituent commitments’. Although perhaps not originally designed by the organization itself,
ERGs may act as systems to create attachments (Cohen & Bailey, 1997). As employees enjoy
this sense of belonging, they may transform into social gatherings for established members rather
than systems for inciting organizational change. As norms are established over time (Feldman,
1984; Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 2000) and subsequently enforced, new individuals may feel like
outsiders and choose either to leave quickly or not choose to participate despite the desire to do
so. Thus, age of the ERG may have an impact on the ability of the leadership teams to attract
members, with newer ERGs having more success than older ERGs. This suggests a potential life
cycle for ERGs, with the early years rendering more interest and commitment to crafting societal
and organizational change, while later years do not necessarily signal the same inclusiveness and
excitement that surrounded the initial creation. Therefore, we suggest that effectiveness of an
ERG is a function of the life cycle of the ERG.
Proposition 5: Stage in the ERGs life cycle will impact the ERGs overall effectiveness,
with newer ERGs having more positive results.
Traditionally, ERGs were based on demographic characteristics that represented certain
subsets of the organizational population. Although these groups were often small initially, such
as the first black ERGs, since their mission was largely to recruit and retain (MacGillivray &
Golden, 2007), their numbers eventually rose. However, as ERGs gain in popularity, they are
becoming increasingly more specialized and focused on issues such as beliefs and ideologies
(Mercer, 2011). As these attitudes and beliefs are largely hidden or difficult to detect amongst
strangers, it is potentially more difficult to recruit to these specific groups. Since ERGs are
inherently composed of individuals from an organization across many business-units, they can
rely on member’s abilities for the formalized roles characteristic of ERGs (Bowie & Bronte-
Tinkew, 2006; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, et al., 1994) such as marketing or
management of the group. Therefore, the type of ERG likely dictates the number of available
members and subsequently, the amount of skills from which to draw on to further group
effectiveness. Clearly this is a complex topic, because we speculate that industry, age of firm,
company strategy and other variables will affect which ERGs are more popular as well.
Proposition 6: Type of ERG will impact overall effectiveness and popularity
(membership levels); however, this relationship will be moderated by firm strategy and
other organization-specific factors.
ERGs were designed as an avenue for members to gather around a common purpose and
are generally organized by employees (Friedman, Kane & Cornfield, 1998; Konrad, 2006) and
are “horizontal and cross cutting” (McGrath & Sparks, 2005: 47). Though the intent is to
eliminate any hierarchy from an ERG, hierarchy is a “fundamental feature of social relations”
(Magee & Galinsky, 2008: 352) that emerges in spite of intentions to eliminate it (Leavitt, 2005;
Tannenbaum, Kavi, Rosner, Vianello, & Wieser, 1974). Therefore, a potentially important
avenue for research is to examine how dynamics change between a supervisor and his/her
employee in the context of the ERG. Additionally, are employees who find themselves in the
same group fearful of speaking forthrightly because their supervisor is present? How does
sharing this experience impact the supervisor’s impressions of his/her subordinate? Connelly and
Kelloway (2003: 295) suggest that employees are “inhibited by their superiors” while Bowie and
Bronte-Tinkew (2006: 4) suggest that individuals in ERGs where there are no power disparities
are “less likely to feel inhibited at meetings because they need not fear repercussions from those
with more formal power.” However, there is a lack of empirical investigation within an ERG
context regarding their claims. Therefore, we suggest that a fruitful avenue for further research is
a close examination of the ERGs effectiveness when both the employee(s) and the supervisor is
present. Following the logic of Connelly and Kelloway (2003) and Bowie and Bronte-Tinkew
(2006), we propose:
Proposition 7: The membership of both employee(s) and supervisor in the same ERG
will have a negative impact on ERG effectiveness.
Although previous research has stated that ERGs are horizontal (McGrath & Sparks,
2005; Van Aken, et al., 1994) in nature, other research suggests that they contain formalized
member roles (Bowie & Bronte-Tinkew, 2006; McGrath & Sparks, 2005; Van Aken, et al.,
1994). While not necessarily counter to one another, more formalized member roles usually
imply a more hierarchical, rigid structure, rather than necessarily an open system in which
individuals can engage in any activity. It’s very possible that the variation in hierarchical
structure has a profound effect on the types of activities that these groups engage in. For
example, Githens & Aragon (2007) remarked that LGBT employee resource groups that were
structured sought primarily to encourage discourse on diversity while informal networking
groups sought to create social support among LGBTQ workers. As such, employee resource
groups that function more primarily as network and informal systems may seek different agendas
and goals than those that function primarily for the development of social change or
organizational shifts. In addition, the level of hierarchy may impact how successful these groups
are at certain activities.
While egalitarian structures may be preferred in theory, hierarchy establishes order and
facilitates coordination and emerges even in social groups (Magee & Galinsky, 2008). This
coordination and order will more likely allow for these social groups to engage in recruiting
activities, convey their message, communicate clearly, and demonstrate legitimacy to their
organization and potential recruits. However, hierarchy and formalized member roles implies
power, which can change an individual’s psychological state (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson,
2003). As power can reduce awareness of others, overly-hierarchical ERG structures may fail to
integrate the viewpoints of multiple participants, decreasing the expected utility that the groups
provide for free-flow of ideas and knowledge. In addition, the standardization of these groups
may create a “community of standards” when pressure is placed on them to formalize
(Carayannis, In Press: 18).Therefore we propose:
Proposition 8a: ERGs that enact a more hierarchical structure will have more success in
recruitment and selection processes and ensure greater long-term sustainability
Proposition 8b: ERGs that enact a more horizontal structure will have more success in
creating a free-flow of ideas and knowledge across all members
In the realm of organizations, there is the potential concern that, when given the
opportunity, workers may seek to unionize or create bargaining groups against their business.
The literature on ERGs does suggest that this is a potential concern of management in these
organizations with allowing the social groups to exist (Friedman, 1996; Friedman & Craig, 2004;
Friedman & Deinard, 1996) and even some definitions of the groups take pause to point out their
operation “outside the jurisdiction of collective bargaining laws” (Briscoe & Safford, In Press:
1). As such, we argue that these ERGs operate on the precipice of acceptance and skepticism. It
is thus important that top management accept these ERGs and support them while refraining
from becoming fearful of their potential influence.
Proposition 9: Organizations with management teams that are fearful of ERGs gaining
bargaining or union power will be less likely to gain the full benefits of their potential.
Firm Level Outcomes
ERGs were originally formed and continue to evolve in order to meet firm-level goals
and objectives. In most cases, the tie to firm performance is through the diversity and inclusion
(D&I) function and goals. Therefore, one would expect that ERG presence, in and of itself,
would have a positive impact on meeting D&I when compared to not having an ERG. Thus,
longitudinal studies on the effect of ERGs might demonstrate higher retention rates of people
represented by ERGs, and it also may have a positive effect on recruitment. In addition,
knowledge of the various ERG groups is expanded to have positive impacts on culture.
Therefore, our first proposition is that adding ERGs will have a positive impact on D&I goals,
including creating a culture that is more knowledgeable and open to the needs of the various
groups represented by the ERG.
Proposition 10: Addition of ERGs will have a positive impact on meeting D&I goals.
Firms with ERGs will have more success with D&I than firms without ERGs.
As noted earlier in this manuscript, there can be backlash from adding ERGs. Despite
some organizations allowing any person to join, regardless of the theoretically ‘required’
characteristic, (Kaplan, Sabin, Smaller-Swift, 2009) the practice is not necessarily universal. As
such, people who are not in the ERGs may resent the funding provided to ERGs although they
are often self-funded or run at low costs (Friedman & Craig, 2004). They may also dislike the
meetings and the mere existence of ERGs if they think they are being discriminated against by
not having an ERGs that represents them in some way. Thus, the degree to which the firm
communicates the goals of the ERG to all employees, not just those in the ERG, will be
important in moderating the impact of ERGs on meeting D&I goals and objectives.
Proposition 11: Communication strategies designed to target entire organization and
minimize the negative effect of ERG presence will moderate the relationship between
ERG presence and achievement of D&I goals.
ERGs are getting more involved with innovation initiatives. Organizations like Clorox
and Ford have tapped into ERGs to help create products for specific markets assisted by their
established ERGs (Jennifer Brown Consulting, 2010). The involvement of ERGs is potentially
enhancing an organization’s ability to innovate and sell to new markets by bringing in
perspectives that may have been untargeted without the formulation of the ERGs. Although
every ERG certainly doesn’t contribute equally to innovative practices at every firm, they do
have the potential, through innovation, to have an even greater impact on firm performance.
Proposition 12: Firms that involve ERGs in innovation initiatives will experience
positive gains from these programs, and those new products or services (or
enhancements through innovation) will have positive effects on overall firm performance.
ERGs have been tapped to help with several core HR functions, including recruiting,
acculturation and retention (MacGillivray & Golden, 2007). Employees who are part of ERGs
can provide realistic job and company previews for candidates which have been shown to lower
turnover through aligning expectations (Buckley et al., 2002). In addition, by helping new
employees join ERGs, the new recruit has another network and opportunity for mentoring. All of
these impacts on HR practices have indirect impacts on the firm via its ability to attract and
retain high quality job candidates.
Proposition 13: ERGs involved in HR practices will have positive impacts on HR
outcomes, which then translate to positive business results.
ERGs bring people together who are the same on some dimension, and via that closeness,
the individuals have reason to trust each other, especially if combined with a high perceived
climate for psychological safety (Baer & Frese, 2003) in which individuals feel open to sharing
their ideas and opinions. Through trust, individuals feel the ability to express their true selves at
work (Kahn, 1990; Schein & Bennis, 1965). Trust, overall, has been found to have positive
impacts on relationships at work in potentially reducing conflict (Bradley, Postlethwaite, Klotz,
Hamdani, & Brown, 2012) and spurring members to engage in creativity and innovation
(Edmondson & Mogelof, 2006; West & Farr, 1990).
Proposition 14: By enhancing levels of trust in the organization, ERGs help build
stronger teams and lead to more positive outcomes in the firm.
Previous ERG literature has recognized that ERGs contribute to the ability of employees
to cross inter-organizational boundaries (McGrath & Sparks, 2005). However, there has been
little research into the opportunities and impact that ERGs have when working together. Does
competition exist between ERGs within the organization? How do employees who are a part of
more than one ERG distribute their efforts? According to the Mercer report (2011), most firms
mandate that the goals and strategies of their ERGs be in alignment with the overarching firm’s
goals and strategies. On the other hand, they also find that there is much less attention given to
ERGs aligning and collaborating together (Mercer, 2011). Knowledge sharing can be an
important way that firms generate more innovation (Argote, McEvily, & Reagans, 2003), which
suggests that ERGs within a firm that do not collaborate miss an opportunity to contribute to the
success of a firm as innovation “has become important for value creation in many industries”
(Hitt, Hoskisson, Johnson, & Moesel, 1996: 1085). Thus, we suggest that creating an
overarching ERG program that encourages collaboration and alignment between ERGs will have
a more positive effect at the firm level, and the degree to which ERGs are less silo oriented, the
higher the positive impact will be.
Proposition 15: ERG programs that are coordinated at the firm level to cooperate with
all firm ERGs and contribute to overarching firm goals will bring more positive results
than silo focused ERGs.
There is a wide and varying literature on the effects of corporate social responsibility and
firm performance; however, there has been limited attention on how corporate social
responsibility has been used strategically to add value to the firm (McWilliams & Siegel, 2010).
Therefore, one potential avenue for future research is to examine the value that ERGs contribute
to a firm in terms of corporate social responsibility. Social cause-centered and attribute-centered
ERGs tend to be more visible in the community, focusing on causes that are in the public eye or
being involved in community outreach programs that are often covered by the press. Such public
attention enhances the firm’s public image and thereby its reputation (Lin-Hi & Muller, 2013).
Therefore, we suggest that these types of ERGs contribute value to the firm by having a positive
effect on brand and reputation.
Proposition 16: Social cause and attribution-centered ERGs are more likely to impact
firm brand and reputation.
Summary of Propositions and Research Suggestions
Our approach to developing a research model and propositions is a small sampling of
what can be studied with ERGs. Very little is known about the differential impact of the various
ERG types on individual, ERG level or firm outcomes. Almost every proposition could be
examined in either one ERG type or across ERGs. Organizations are adding new ERG types, and
as that happens, researchers are presented with opportunities to understand the life cycle of
ERGs, leadership process, importance of ERG type and why employees are motivated to join and
Most ERGs are used within larger firms; however, mid-size firms are now starting to
implement ERGs because they view them as paths to retain employees and drive innovation. If
ERGs help build trust, and this non- traditional working group fosters new ways of thinking and
innovation, and at the same time helps employees create a higher quality job experience, then
why should they be isolated to large and mid-size firms? Smaller, and even more entrepreneurial
firms may benefit from the key aspects that make ERGs work. However, the problem today is
that we have no idea what these key criteria are because there is so little research done on this
Affinity groups began as a solution to racial unrest, and today the evolution of these
groups has resulted in a new business phenomenon that goes by many names. In this paper we
called them ERGs; however, in many firms they are moving to become business resource groups
(BRGs). The key difference is that BRGs are held more accountable for business results. Is this
trend a good one? Or will the movement away from diversity and inclusion goals harm have a
negative effect on employees' willingness to join?
In this paper we bring the topic of ERGs to the forefront. We provided definitions and
summary learning for researchers who are interested in studying a topic that has not been
addressed in much detail to date. There is ample room to bring theory from multiple disciplines
to the study of ERGs, and our goal is that this work sparks interest in creating a new body of
knowledge that can be shared with both academics and practitioners.
Baer, M., & Frese, M. 2003. Innovation is not enough: Climates for initiative and psychological
safety, process innovations, and firm performance. Journal of Organizational
Behavior, 24(1): 45-68.
Baillie, P., & Gedro, J. 2009. Perspective on out & equal workplace advocates building bridges
model: A retrospect of the past, present, and future of training impacting lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender employees in the workplace. New Horizons in Adult
Education & Human Resource Development, 23(2): 39-46.
Bell, M. P., Özbilgin, M. F., Beauregard, T. A., & Sürgevil, O. 2011. Voice, silence, and
diversity in 21st century organizations: Strategies for inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual,
and transgender employees. Human Resource Management, 50(1): 131-146.
Bowie, L., & Bronte-Tinkew, J. 2006. The importance of professional development for youth
workers. Child trends: 1-9.
Bradley, B. H., Postlethwaite, B. E., Klotz, A. C., Hamdani, M. R., & Brown, K. G. 2012.
Reaping the benefits of task conflict in teams: the critical role of team psychological
safety climate. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(1): 151-158.
Briscoe, F., & Safford, S. 2010. Employee affinity groups: Their evolution from social
movement vehicles to employer strategies. Perspectives on Work, 14(1): 42-45.
Brooks, A. K., & Edwards, K. 2009. Allies in the workplace: Including LGBT in HRD.
Advances in Developing Human Resources, 11(1): 136-149.
Buckley, M. R., Mobbs, T. A., Mendoza, J. L., Novicevic, M. M., Carraher, S. M., & Beu, D. S.
2002. Implementing realistic job previews and expectation-lowering procedures: A field
experiment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 61(2): 263-278.
Byrne, D. E. 1971. The attraction paradigm (Vol. 11). Academic Pr.
Carayannis, E. G. 2004. Measuring intangibles: managing intangibles for tangible outcomes in
research and innovation. International Journal of Nuclear Knowledge Management,
1(1): 49-67.
Catalyst 2012. Making every day count: Driving business success through the employee
experience. Volume 1: 1-11.
Cohen, S. G., & Bailey, D. E. 1997. What makes teams work: Group effectiveness research from
the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23(3): 239-290.
Colgan, F., & McKearney, A. 2012. Visibility and voice in organisations: Lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgendered employee networks. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An
International Journal, 31(4): 359-378.
Connelly, C. E., & Kelloway, E. K. 2003. Predictors of employees’ perceptions of knowledge
sharing cultures. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 24(5): 294-301.
Douglas, P. H. 2008. Affinity groups: Catalyst for inclusive organizations. Employment
Relations Today, 34(4): 11-18.
Dreher, G. F., & Ash, R. A. 1990. A comparative study of mentoring among men and women in
managerial, professional, and technical positions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(5):
Edmondson, A. C., & Mogelof, J. P. 2006. Explaining psychological safety in innovation teams:
Organizational culture, team dynamics, or personality? In L. L. Thompson & H.-S. Choi
(Eds.), Creativity and innovation in organizational teams: 109136.
Festinger, L. 1957. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Forret, M. L., & Dougherty, T. W. 2004. Networking behaviors and career outcomes: differences
for men and women?. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(3): 419-437.
Friedman, R. A., & Craig, K. M. 2004. Predicting joining and participating in minority employee
network groups. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 43(4): 793-
Friedman, R., Kane, M., & Cornfield, D. B. 1998. Social support and career optimism:
Examining the effectiveness of network groups among black managers. Human
Relations, 51(9): 1155-1177.
Deinard, C., & Friedman, R. A. 1990. Black caucus groups at Xerox Corporation. Harvard
Business School.
Feldman, D. C. 1984. The development and enforcement of group norms. Academy of
Management Review, 9(1): 47-53.
Friedman, R. A., & Holtom, B. 2002. The effects of network groups on minority employee
turnover intentions. Human Resource Management, 41(4): 405-421.
Friedman, R., Kane, M., & Cornfield, D. B. 1998. Social support and career optimism:
Examining the effectiveness of network groups among black managers. Human
Relations, 51(9): 1155-1177.
Gates, A. Q., Teller, P. J., Bernat, A., Cabrera, S., & Della-Piana, C. K. 1999. A cooperative
model for orienting students to research groups. Proceedings of the 29th ASEE/IEEE
Frontiers in Education Conference, San Juan, PR.
Gates, A., Delgado, N., Bernat, A., & Cabrera, S. 2006. Building affinity groups to enable and
encourage student success in computing. In Proceedings WEPAN/NAMEPA 1997
Joint National Conference: 233-238.
Githens, R. P. 2009. Capitalism, identity politics, and queerness converge: LGBT employee
resource groups. New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource
Development, 23(3): 18-31.
Githens, R. P., & Aragon, S. R. 2007. LGBTQ employee groups: Who are they good for?
How are they organized? Proceedings of the Joint International Conference of the Adult
Education Research Conference and the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult
Education: 223-228.
Githens, R. P., & Aragon, S. R. 2009. LGBT employee groups: Goals and organizational
structures. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 11(1): 121-135.
Hastings, R.R. 2011. Employee resource groups drive business results. Retrieved from:
Jennifer Brown Consulting (2010). Employee resource groups that drive business. Retrieved
Johnston, D., & Malina, M. A. 2008. Managing sexual orientation diversity: The impact on firm
value. Group & Organization Management, 33(5): 602-625.
Kahn, W. A. 1990. Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at
work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4): 692-724.
Kaplan, M.M., Sabin, E., & Smaller-Swift, S. 2009. The Catalyst Guide to Employee
Resource Groups. Volume 1: Introduction to ERGS.
Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D. H, & Anderson, C. 2003. Power, approach, and inhibition.
Psychological Review, 110(2): 265-284.
Konrad, A. M. 2006. Leveraging workplace diversity in organizations. Organization
Management Journal, 3(3): 164-189.
Kravitz, D. A. 2008. The diversityvalidity dilemma: Beyond selectionthe role of affirmative
action. Personnel Psychology, 61(1), 173-193.
Leavitt, H.J. 2005. Top down: Why hierarchies are here to stay and how to manage them
more efficiently. Harvard Business Press.
MacGillivray, E. D., & Golden, D. 2007. Global diversity: Managing and leveraging diversity in
a global workforce. International HR Journal, 38-46.
Magee, J. C., & Galinsky, A. D. 2008. Social hierarchy: The selfreinforcing nature of power and
status. The Academy of Management Annals, 2(1): 351-398.
Marti, G. 2009. Affinity, identity, and transcendence: The experience of religious racial
integration in diverse congregations. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,
48(1): 53-68.
McGrath, R., & Sparks, W. L. 2005. The importance of building social capital. Quality Control
and Applied Statistics, 50(4): 45-49.
Mercer. 2011. ERGs come of age: The evolution of employee resource groups. Retrieved from
Milliman, J., Czaplewski, A. J., & Ferguson, J. 2003. Workplace spirituality and employee work
attitudes: An exploratory empirical assessment. Journal of Organizational Change
Management, 16(4): 426-447.
Ocasio, W. 1997. Towards an attentionbased view of the firm. Strategic Management
Journal, 18: 187-206.
Postmes, T., Spears, R., & Lea, M. 2000. The formation of group norms in computermediated
communication. Human Communication Research, 26(3): 341-371.
Ployhart, R. E., & Vandenberg, R. J. 2010. Longitudinal research: The theory, design, and
analysis of change. Journal of Management, 36(1): 94-120.
Reichers, A. E. 1985. A review and reconceptualization of organizational commitment. Academy
of Management Review, 10(3): 465-476.
Rocco, T. S., Delgado, A., & Landorf, H. 2008. Framing the issue/framing the question: How
are sexual minority issues included in diversity initiatives? In T.J. Chermack (Ed.),
Academy of Human Resource Development Conference Proceedings: 201-208.
Sandler, L. A., & Blanck, P. 2005. The quest to make accessibility a corporate article of faith at
Microsoft: case study of corporate culture and human resource dimensions. Behavioral
Sciences & the Law, 23(1): 39-64.
Schein, E. H., & Bennis, W. G. 1965. Personal and organizational change through group
methods: The laboratory approach. New York: Wiley.
Schubert, P., & Ginsburg, M. 2000. Virtual communities of transaction: The role of
personalization in electronic commerce. Electronic Markets, 10(1): 45-55.
Scully, M. A. 2009. A rainbow coalition or separate wavelengths? Negotiations among employee
network groups. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2(1): 74-91.
Sutton, R. I., & Staw, B. M. 1995. What theory is not. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40:
Tannenbaum, A.S., Kavcic, B., Rosner, M., Vianello, M., & Wieser, G. 1974. Hierarchy
them more effectively. Harvard Business School Press.
Tsui, A. S., & O'reilly, C. A. 1989. Beyond simple demographic effects: The
importance of relational demography in superior-subordinate dyads. Academy of
Management Journal, 32(2), 402-423.
Van Aken, E. M., Monetta, D. J., & Sink, D. S. 1994. Affinity groups: The missing link in
employee involvement. Organizational Dynamics, 22(4): 38-54.
Van Maanen, J. E., & Schein, E. H. 1977. Toward a theory of organizational socialization. In
B.M. Staw (Ed.), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 1: 209-264, Greenwich,
CT: JAI Press.
Waldo, C. R. 1999. Working in a majority context: A structural model of heterosexism as
minority stress in the workplace. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46(2): 218-232.
Wang, P., & Schwarz, J. L. 2010. Stock price reactions to GLBT nondiscrimination policies.
Human Resource Management, 49(2): 195-216.
West, M. A. and Farr, J. L. (Eds) 1990. Innovation and Creativity at Work: Psychological and
Organizational Strategies, Wiley, Chichester.
Welbourne, T. M., & McLaughlin, L. L. 2013. Making the Business Case for Employee
Resource Groups. Employment Relations Today, 40(2): 35-44.
Welbourne, T.M., & Ziskin, I. 2012. Employee resource groups as sources of innovation.
Presented at the 2012 ERG Conference.
Tables & Figures
Table 1: A Brief Overview of the ERG Literature
Author(s) and
Research Question / Purpose
Theories /
Models Used
Scully (2009)
“To examine instances when groups
did collaborate on local remedies to
embedded inequalities” (p. 74).
Theory; Social
None (Case
None (Case
Githens (2009)
“To explore the ways in which the
productive tensions between
identity politics, and queerness have
manifested themselves in LGBT
ERGs and created structures and
activities that result in development
for individuals, organizations, and
societies” (p. 19).
Queer Theory;
Colgan &
McKearney (2012)
“To focus on the activism of lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgendered
(LGBT) people and their allies within
work organisations. Specifically, it
explores whether LGBT trade
union groups and company employee
network groups provide mechanisms
for visibility, voice and
activism for LGBT employees within
UK organisations” (p. 359).
Friedman & Craig
To “provide insight into an emerging
strategy for
‘managing diversity’” (p. 794).
Author(s) and
Research Question / Purpose
Theories /
Models Used
Costs &
Friedman &
Holtom, 2002
To “assess the impact of one
approach to supporting minority
employees: minority employee
“network” groups” (p. 405).
No express
Level; Number
of High-Level
Managers; Job
McGrath &
Sparks, 2005
To explore how “affinity groups—
semiformal groups that cut across the
supply chain structureare useful in
initiating efforts to build social
capital” (p. 45).
No express
Gates, Teller,
Bernat, Cabrera, &
Della-Piana, 1999
To outline the purpose and objectives
of affinity groups at a University
No express
Table 2: Types of ERGs
Type of ERG
Baillie, P., & Gedro, J. (2009); Bell, M. P., Özbilgin, M. F., Beauregard, T. A., &
Sürgevil, O. (2011); Briscoe, F., & Safford, S. (2010); Brooks, A. K., & Edwards, K.
(2009); Colgan, F., & McKearney, A. (2012); Githens, R. P. (2009); Githens, R. P., &
Aragon, S. R. (2009); Jain, S., & Lobo, R. (2012); Johnston, D., & Malina, M. A. (2008);
King, E. B., & Cortina, J. M. (2010); Rocco, T. S., Delgado, A., & Landorf, H. (2008);
Schmidt, S. W., Githens, R. P., Rocco, T. S., & Kormanik, M. B. (2012); Wang, P., &
Schwarz, J. L. (2010); Waldo, C. R. (1999); Githens, R. P., & Aragon, S. R. (2007, June);
Catalyst (2012)
Friedman, R. A., & Holtom, B. (2002); Izlar, A. C. (2005); Jain, S., & Lobo, R. (2012);
Tyler, K. (2007); Catalyst (2012); Duran, L., & delCampo, R. G. (2010)
Ethnic or Minority
Friedman, R. A., & Craig, K. M. (2004); Friedman, R. A., & Holtom, B. (2002); Catalyst
(2012); Duran, L., & delCampo, R. G. (2010)
Gates, A. Q., Teller, P. J., Bernat, A., Cabrera, S., & Della-Piana, C. K. (1999); Gates, A.,
Delgado, N., Bernat, A., & Cabrera, S. (2006)
Jain, S., & Lobo, R. (2012); Catalyst (2012)
Customer Affinity
Schubert, P., & Ginsburg, M. (2000)
Green, H. B., Payne, N. R., & Green, J. (2011)
Youth Group
Bowie, L., & Bronte-Tinkew, J. (2006)
Church Groups
Marti, G. (2009)
Type of ERG
Supply Chain Related
McGrath, R., & Sparks, W. L. (2005)
White Students
Confronting Racism
Michael, A., & Conger, M. C. (2009)
Culturally Focused ERGs
Izlar, A. C. (2005)
Family Matters
Jain, S., & Lobo, R. (2012)
Creating Common
Jain, S., & Lobo, R. (2012)
Clerical and
Administrative Support
Van Aken, E. M., Monetta, D. J., & Scott Sink, D. (1994)
Technical, Managerial,
and Administrative
Van Aken, E. M., Monetta, D. J., & Scott Sink, D. (1994)
Improvement Project
Van Aken, E. M., Monetta, D. J., & Scott Sink, D. (1994)
Veteran Support
Catalyst (2012)
Catalyst (2012)
... The growing migrant workforce presents a diverse set of social, cultural, and professional opportunities and challenges for successful socialization into the US work environment. To meet migrant employees' social needs, organizations provide support structures such as Affinity Groups (AGs), voluntary groups whose members share common interests and attributes [4,5,6]. AGs originated to support historically marginalizes populations and evolved to provide an avenue for employees with common interests (e.g., sports, hobbies) to develop social connections in order to develop a sense of belonging [4,5,6]. ...
... To meet migrant employees' social needs, organizations provide support structures such as Affinity Groups (AGs), voluntary groups whose members share common interests and attributes [4,5,6]. AGs originated to support historically marginalizes populations and evolved to provide an avenue for employees with common interests (e.g., sports, hobbies) to develop social connections in order to develop a sense of belonging [4,5,6]. Communities of Practice (CoPs) [7,8] is another mechanism that provides potential opportunities for learning and mentoring for these migrant professionals in the IT industry. ...
... In their most traditional form, AGs are communities of employees who share common individual characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality [4,6]. AGs are often formed by a grassroots effort by employees who determine a need and create self-led groups in a specific organizational context [5]. ...
... These groups are organised by the employees themselves but might receive financial or organisational support from HR or the division in charge of D&I. [50] The most common networks are Women ERGs, racial ERGs (e.g. Black or Latinos) and ...
... LGBTQ+ ERGs, but bigger organisations have created such an engagement on their employees that some new ERGs are becoming popular: parents, generational groups, veterans, employees with disabilities (when the number of employees allows it), among others. [50] The most successful example is SAP, the German software company, which prides itself on owning over 80 ERGs, managed by their employees. The extended number of employees in their Headquarters has allowed them to even create specific ERGs, like "Accessibility" for employees that have a physical disability and use accessibility features on technological devices and "Autism at Work" for their 180 autistic employees. ...
Full-text available
The goal of this paper is to help leadership teams to first understand what D&I is about, and to then learn from examples of other DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland Region) companies how to be more inclusive. This can be considered an easy, practical and actionable guide to start taking action about D&I and therefore, profiting from the benefits of being a diverse company in the middle term.
... Many organizations have established employee groups, unions and networks that at the end have different missions and goals. In literature, a term "employee resource group" or ERG is often used (in earlier studies the term "affinity groups" was frequently used (Douglas 2008;Welbourne, Rolf and Schlachter 2015)). ERGs can be social cause oriented (e.g. ...
... The ERGs were shown to provide employees with an engaging and fulfilling work experience, thus positively influencing productivity and efficiency of the workforce. Interestingly, The drive for success created within certain ERGs encouraged leadership to use this potential for the organization beyond the ERG"s scope, thus demonstrating inside out impact of the ERG on the business that continues to grow (Welbourne, Rolf and Schlachter 2015). ...
Full-text available
We evaluated impact of employees" participation in an employee resource group (ERG) on their soft skills learning and development and proposed a tool for assessing competence development that is often difficult to quantify. ERG has a positive effect on soft skills development, however certain soft skills do not develop in the interaction between management and new employees. Some soft skills require focused and organized learning. The role of ERG stretches beyond integration of new employees only. We propose a multidimensional paradigm where the management and organizational culture are considered as the object of development and new employees facilitate this process.
... As another example, hyper-managers are supposed to formally support employees' myriad identities and hobbies in firm-based affinity groups. Employee resource groups (ERGs) proliferate (Briscoe & Safford, 2010;Welbourne, Rolf, & Schlachter, 2015). And employees can become social intrapreneurs (Alt & Craig, 2016;Davis & White, 2015). ...
Full-text available
Recent decades have witnessed a discursive expansion of calls for abstract and charismatic management beyond the systematic administration of concrete settings—hyper-management. A first dimension of hyper-management is the lionization of individuals and organizations as empowered purposive actors, embodied in celebrations of vision, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A second dimension is the intended unification of empowered internal and external actors and their diverse purposes, manifest in calls for leadership qualities beyond formal authority such as communication, collaboration, and inspiration. The changes are broad and cultural, cutting across countries and social sectors, and are often decoupled from realistic practice. Thus they are better accounted for by a neo-institutional perspective than by theories emphasizing particular functions and interests. Hyper-management is generated by a culture of global neoliberalism and the ideologies of empowered individual and organizational actorhood that flow from it. During the global hegemony of neoliberal culture, hyper-management has become institutionalized in contemporary education programs, consulting arrangements, and exaggerated managerial status and income. But, given its cultural bases, current and future resistance to neoliberal globalization may undercut it.
... Sometimes, such networks may also help organizations in reaching a diverse customer base, or diverse job candidates, or they may take on other diversity-related responsibilities within the organizations. Indicative of this role and its assumed economic value for the organization is the labeling of such networks as "employee resource groups" (Douglas, 2008;McFadden & Crowley-Henry, 2018;Welbourne et al., 2015). Although not necessarily related to diversity issues, organizations will frequently integrate initiatives into their diversity approaches that aim at supporting their employees in managing their work/life interface more effectively. ...
Although a widespread management approach, diversity management is far from being a well-defined and unambiguous one. This article outlines how this management practice emerged, and how it is enacted, and it identifies and critically discusses the two crucial areas of dissent or ambivalence within the diversity management discourse: first, the dimensionality of diversity management, and second, its legitimacy. The first issue addresses the prioritization of certain dimensions, the difficulty of clearly demarcating one dimension from another, and the unequal consideration of specific manifestations of each dimension. Taking into account the fact that everyone embodies at least one manifestation of every dimension of diversity, the aspect of intersectionality also belongs to the dimensionality of diversity. The legitimacy issue includes legitimate starting points, operating ranges, and desired outcomes of diversity management practices. The article concludes by looking toward possible future directions in diversity management research and diversity management practice.
... These groups have been found to participate in advocacy, mentoring, community engagement, increasing visibility and voice, recruitment and retention, as well as learning and development (Bierema, 2005;Friedman and Craig, 2004;Githens and Aragon, 2009;Green, 2011;McNulty et al., 2018). Although organizational nomenclature for these groups is varied, this paper utilizes the term ERGs to define social identity affinity groups based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation that operate using volunteers within an organizational setting (Welbourne et al., 2015). This paper draws from a case study of six ERGs in one for-profit organization. ...
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in a multi-national, for-profit corporate. The paper focuses on how ERGs facilitate learning. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative case study approach was used to examine 6 social-identity based ERGs in one multi-national for-profit organization headquartered in the United States. Findings The study found that ERGs facilitate learning and development activities in order to support their membership. ERGs, operating as communities of practice, also engaged in informal learning opportunities that were designed to shift perspectives of non-members and executive level leaders in the organization Originality/value There is a growing body of literature on ERGs across organizations and higher education that examine how these groups engage in activism, advocacy, recruitment, retention, and education. This study examines the processes by which these groups facilitate learning and development activities and the benefits perceived by the membership. The paper provides value to human resources professionals and others who are interested in how ERGs function as learning communities and which outcomes the membership perceive as most important.
Full-text available
The purpose of this paper is to present a scale that captures employee perceptions of the efficacy of employee resource groups (ERGs). The study aimed to develop a perceptions of employee resource groups scale. The authors recruited data from 268 participants from a for-profit organization in the United States. An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to examine the factor structure of the ERGS. Cronbach's alpha was used to determine the internal consistency of each factor. The exploratory factor analysis identified 2 factors: employee resource group outcomes, and supervisory support. There is a growing body of research that examines the activities and the efficacy of employee resource groups within for-profit organizations. There is not a validated scale that measures perceptions of the outcomes of ERGs and how supervisory support influences the employees' participation in the ERGs.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups with a shared social identity, common interest, and commitment to continuous learning and development through traditional approaches such as mentoring and career development. Despite growing popularity among practitioners, there has been limited research and academic literature that has focused on ERGs in an organizational context. Given the limited studies on ERGs, developmental relationships among members of an ERG as a source of relational social justice activism is an unexplored topic for human resource development (HRD). In this chapter, I will integrate research that has studied ERGs, developmental relationships, and social justice to respond to the question: What is the potential for developmental relationships among members of employee resource groups to influence socially just and morally inclusive organizations?
Most scholarship on corporate political activity assumes that market forces wholly motivate firms’ political strategies. However, this conventional wisdom overlooks the role of employee groups in encouraging corporate activism. To evaluate whether employee groups are associated with firm social activism, we gathered all public statements in support of LGBT rights made by the five hundred largest publicly-traded US corporations from 2011 to 2017. In an exploratory observational analysis, we found robust evidence that in highly-educated workforces LGBT employee groups persuade management to take public stances in support of LGBT rights. Our findings suggest that internal pressure promotes activism on LGBT issues, and market, political, or social forces are insufficient to fully explain firm social activism. Although each does play an important role, since employee groups will use political, social, and especially market-based arguments to convince their managers to engage in activism.
The relatively recent emergence of spirituality in the workplace suggests an innovative alternative to understanding and managing diversity in Corporate America. On the one hand, research has demonstrated that business corporations have served as effective agents of positive social change. On the other hand, many of the social ideals emerging from religious and spiritual movements have historically managed to unmask institutional abuses and reclaim the value, wholeness, and dignity of the human person. This chapter discusses the many performance indicators influenced by the voices of spiritual communities living within the organization capable of identifying structural biases and promoting a more balanced view of corporate performance, both relational and operational.
Full-text available
Linkages between a global measure of mentoring experiences, gender, and four outcome variables were investigated. Also, the moderating effects of gender were examined to determine whether mentoring is differentially associated with career outcomes for men and women. Business school graduates (147 women and 173 men) provided information about their backgrounds, companies, positions, mentoring practices, compensation, and compensation satisfaction. Individuals experiencing extensive mentoring relationships reported receiving more promotions, had higher incomes, and were more satisfied with their pay and benefits than individuals experiencing less extensive mentoring relationships. There were no gender differences with regard to the frequency of mentoring activities, and gender did not moderate mentoring-outcome relationships. The results are discussed within the context of a $7,990 income difference between men and women.
Full-text available
Creativity and Innovation in Organizational Teams stemmed from a conference held at the Kellogg School of Management in June 2003 covering creativity and innovation in groups and organizations. Each chapter of the book is written by an expert and covers original theory about creative processes in organizations. The organization of the text reflects a longstanding notion that creativity in the world of work is a joint outcome of three interdependent forces--individual thinking, group processes, and organizational environment. Part I explores basic cognitive mechanisms that underlie creative thinking, and includes chapters that discuss cognitive foundations of creativity, a cognitive network model of creativity that explains how and why creative solutions form in the human mind, and imports a ground-breaking concept of "creativity templates" to the study of creative idea generation in negotiation context. The second part is devoted to understanding how groups and teams in organizational settings produce creative ideas and implement innovations. Finally, Part III contains three chapters that discuss the role of social, organizational context in which creative endeavors take place. The book has a strong international mix of scholarship and includes clear business implications based on scientific research. It weds the disciplines of psychology, cognition, and business theory into one text.
The importance of building social capital by enhancing the relationships in the supply chain is discussed. Developing social capital in the supply chain and the subsequent mutually beneficial supplier relationships have the benefit of optimization of costs and resources. Organizations need to maintain the integrity of their supply chains in times of economic uncertainty. Affinity groups, collegial associations of peers who meet on a regular basis to share information and capture emerging opportunities, offer a unique opportunity to enhance supply chain management.
As companies look for better ways to manage diversity, one of the approaches that is emerging is the use of female and minority network groups. These groups are not well understood, and there has been no quantitative analysis of their impact on minority employees. Social network theory suggests that network groups should enhance the social resources available to women and minorities and in that way enhance their chance of career success, but some critics of network groups suggest that backlash might produce greater social isolation and discrimination. In this paper, we analyze a survey of members of the National Black MBA Association to find out whether network groups have a positive impact on career optimism, what specific effects of these groups are most beneficial, and whether groups enhance isolation or discrimination. Results indicate that network groups have a positive overall impact on career optimism of Black managers, and that this occurs primarily via enhanced mentoring. Network groups have no effect on discrimination, either positive or negative. There are some indications of greater isolation, but also some indications of greater contact with Whites.
While the number of studies on spirituality at work has increased significantly in the last decade, this body of research contains some important limitations. One limitation is that much of the past research has lacked rigor or critical thinking (Gibbons, 2000). In addition, many of the studies have been on personal experiences of spirituality at work (Konz & Ryan, 1999), rather than on the potentially positive impact of spirituality on employee work attitudes King & Nicol,1999). The purpose of this manuscript is to conduct exploratory empirical research concerning the relationship of employee job attitudes to three core dimensions of workplace spirituality; community, alignment with organizational values, and meaningful work. In doing so we also seek to examine the predictive validity of several survey measures of spirituality developed by Ashmos and Duchon (1999). First, we review the literature and propose hypotheses regarding the relationship of spirituality to employee job attitudes. Next, we discuss the results of our analyses which indicate that at least one of three dimensions of spirituality has a significant positive relationship with each of five job attitude variables. We conclude with implications for research and practice.