Our latest NEEOPA forum held on Tuesday, 25 October 2016 focused on the evolution of Employer Resource Group/Networks (ERGs) to Business Resource Groups (BRGs). The forum touched upon important lessons learnt in setting up and building a successful network, avoiding pitfalls, the ERG to BRG maturity process and leveraging ERGs to become a source of diverse talent and contributor to business growth.

NEEOPA Executive Committee members Rowan Arndt, Diane Utatao, Anne-Marie Paterson and William Taing opened the forum by welcoming our guest panellists, Todd Wright from IBM and Lucy Riggall from Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). This was followed by Diane presenting a brief background into ERGs and the latest research on them – best outcomes in diversity and inclusion for an organisation and its employees are achieved when ERGs evolve into BRGs. Anne-Marie then provided a legal perspective on what to be careful of when setting up ERGs including the minor state/territory employee law variations organisations need to be aware of before we moved onto our panel discussion. All presentations provided new and interesting insights for participants.

Our panellists are from some of the most progressive networks in Australia. Todd Wright from IBM, Diversabilty Chair supporting people from the disability community and Lucy Riggall from CBA, Unity Network Co-Chair supporting the LGBTI community. Both shared their experience and insight on the following:

1. Getting involved with their organisation’s ERG/BRG and tips for setting up a new ERG/BRG

2. Developing an organisational charter and governance model for an ERG/BRG

3. Achieving Executive Sponsors or Champions for their network and how they kept momentum within the ERG/BRG

4. Getting funding for their ERG/BRG and issues around budgeting and allocation of funding for groups and/or programs

5. Overcoming their greatest challenges to building a successful ERG/BRG and how they overcame these

6. Adding value to the organisation through the ERG/BRG.

Both panellists agreed that all it was a combination of the above items that lead to a successful employee network. They also emphasised that success and momentum within these groups must be lead and driven by employees.

Participants then broke into groups to reflect and discuss the future of the ERG/BRG model and how it could be improved to grow revenue and new markets for the organisation – here are some of the top headlines for each question asked.

  • Starting out – What’s the benefit to the business of setting up an ERG?

  • Develops goodwill between employees and the organisation

  • Brings out the best in people and improves employee engagement

  • Builds stronger connections with the organisation

  • Builds communities of support and provides employees a voice

  • Provides networking opportunities.

Mature ERG – How is the group continuing to add value to the business?

  • Network with industry peers to discover and apply best practices

  • Be inclusive of all employees and engage allies

  • Continue to align ERG to business strategy

  • Share ERG progress and outcomes with business

  • Assist in talent recruitment and management.

What’s the future – Future thinking: what is the future of the ERG how can it be used to create revenue, a pathway to new markets for the organisation or other?

  • Engage in early product and service development for organisation to provide diverse ideas

  • Engage in business development activities

  • Assist with talent recruitment and succession planning in promoting diverse talent

  • Greater collaboration within organisational teams and other sectors to share ideas and push innovation

Overall, the forum was a great learning experience for everyone as it allowed us to reflect on the efforts made by our organisations and share best practices with each other. For those who are just starting their journey or looking to start it, the guest panellists and other organisations have shown the numerous employee and business benefits in having such groups. Organisations will need to be mindful of the legal implications however including the legal variations between States and Territories within Australia. For those who have established ERGs already, the challenge will be to maintain momentum including employee engagement and sponsorship. The ultimate challenge will be whether organisations can or want to evolve their ERG model into a BRG that is fully integrated into the business.

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