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Resource Groups 101: A Primer on Starting Them & Using Them for Business Goals

Resource Groups 101: A PrimerDefinition: Resource groups, known as employee-resource groups, business-resource groups, associate-resource groups, affinity groups and employee networks, have existed in corporate America for more than two decades. But it’s only in the past five years that their use in corporate America as key drivers for recruitment, retention, engagement, talent development, supplier diversity, and marketplace sales and customer service has escalated.

Historically, companies have started with resource groups for Blacks and women, and in their early versions, many of these were more social and were used for gripe sessions. Today, they are run by the company with specific business goals in mind.

Here’s a primer on how to set up resource groups and how to most effectively use them.

What do you call them?

These groups are known by many different names—employee-resource groups, business-resource groups, associate-resource groups, employee networks and affinity groups. In recent years, more companies in the DiversityInc Top 50 have chosen to use the word “resource” to emphasize their value to drive the business mission, including gaining market share through culturally competent sales and customer service, and recruiting and engaging a diverse workforce to create innovative, marketplace-focused business solutions.

Which resource groups should you start first?

While many companies start with groups for Blacks and women because they are easily identifiable and most commonly associated with historic diversity and affirmative-action plans, each company must address its own needs. If the marketplace is increasingly Latino or Asian and you are having a hard time recruiting Latino or Asian talent, then those resource groups might be the best place to start. If your company needs to be more inclusive of LGBT people, an LGBT and allies resource group would be valuable.

What’s important is to have specific resource groups based on the needs of your company—and to make sure the resource groups are inclusive of everyone, especially people who are not of that group’s demographic but who want to learn more about it or are allies.

What are best practices to get resource groups started?

First and foremost, have a business charter that is approved by your diversity department. State clearly what the role of the resource group is and how it will impact your business, whether it is through recruitment and talent development or external market relationships.

Make sure the resource group has an executive sponsor, preferably from the senior ranks of the organization, and if at all possible, have it be someone who is cross-cultural. Do not wait for critical mass to start a resource group; if it is needed and you don’t have enough employees, have corporate diversity start it and encourage others to join. Try to find people who are not already considered high potential for leadership positions within the resource group, and use the opportunity to offer them cross-functional experience and leadership training. Corporate funding for these groups varies widely, but an average for the DiversityInc Top 50 is $15,000 per year per group.

Who should be an executive sponsor and what role should they play?

The resource group’s executive sponsor should come from the highest ranks of the organization (CEO and direct reports, if possible) to send the message to the company that this is a high priority for reaching business goals. If possible, the sponsor should be from a different demographic group for both inclusivity and to create more awareness at executive levels. 

The sponsor should keep the resource group focused on business goals and report back to the executive diversity council on progress. The sponsor should not personally be the group’s leaders. At an increasing number of DiversityInc Top 50 companies, a portion of the sponsor’s compensation is tied to the resource group’s performance. The groups, once established, should also have regular meetings with the CEO and senior executives (quarterly is most prevalent among the DiversityInc Top 50).

How do you get people to join resource groups?

Our data shows that the best way to increase membership is to first open up resource groups to all employees, including hourly and union workers. Second, publicize internally the benefits of joining the groups and assuming leadership positions (including access to senior leaders, potential for promotions, ability to influence business results). Third, make group leadership part of performance reviews and, eventually, compensation.

How do you measure success of resource groups?

DiversityInc Top 50 companies measure the retention, engagement and promotion rates of group members versus those who are not members. They also measure the resource group’s contributions to the business. For example, see Novartis Pharmaceuticals’ presentation on ethnic resource groups at our recent Innovation Fest! on how the company saved $100 million in market-research fees using its resource groups.

For more best practices on diversity management and resource groups, read:

Diversity Web Seminar on Resource Groups: Connect With Customers for Top Sales Results

Diversity Management Done Right: 5 Best Practices to Achieve Measurable Success

Why You Need Global Resource Groups

Top 5 Ways to Use Your Resource Groups

Ask DiversityInc: Should Resource-Group Leaders Be Part of the Executive Diversity Council?

Ask DiversityInc: How Resource Groups, Mentoring and Accountability Drive Engagement

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