Insider Tips For Effective Employee Resource Groups

Leaders from three credit unions share insights gleaned from launching and supporting employee resource groups.

 
 

Businesses today are struggling to attract and retain top talent. Diversity, equity, and inclusion has never been more important, and programs addressing DEI are becoming more prevalent. In this environment, voluntary, employee-led resource groups are gaining in popularity.

Although typically formed to support groups of employees with shared characteristics or life experiences, employee resource groups also benefit the organizations that encourage their creation. Here, three credit unions — BCU, Suncoast, and Verity — share takeaways, tips, and lessons learned from launching and supporting employee resource groups (ERGs). The groups featured here encompass multi-year programs as well as brand-new initiatives, and the credit unions’ insights are valuable.

BCU: An ERG Program With Deep Roots And Community Impact

Anjoli Walker, senior business partner for diversity and development at BCU ($4.9B, Vernon Hills, IL), oversees the cooperative’s diversity programming. This includes employee resource groups, which sprang to life as a result of the credit union’s mentoring and development culture.

Anjoli Walker, Senior Business Partner for Diversity and Development, BCU

Women in Leadership, a group mentoring program led by three female vice presidents, formed nearly six years ago with an initial plan to meet monthly for six months; however, the 10 participants continued to connect to support one another outside of their official meetings and well beyond the six-month time frame.

Getting Started

From Women in Leadership sprang BCU’s first official employee resource group, Women Engaged in Leadership, which rebranded to We for She to encourage male co-worker participation. BCU created a charter process, framework, and budget as well as named a dedicated administrator for the organization’s ERG program. It also created an FAQ for employees interested in starting an employee group, and it requires leaders of new ERGs to complete a charter proposal.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! Download BCU’s FAQ, charter proposal, and pillar outline for inspiration on how you can stand up an ERG program within your own credit union.

Within six months of the start of the women’s leadership ERG — and supported by communication as well as events that showcased the opportunity for employees to form their own groups — BCU’s ERG program was off the ground. Today, Other ERGs at BCU include an African American ERG, Early Career Professionals, The Point Pros, and Service Superheroes.

BCU employs a broadened definition of diversity in its ERGs to include employee networks built around professional experiences and skills. The Point Pros, for example, focuses on technology, and the ERG has had a major impact on how the credit union has transformed its collective use of the intranet.

“That’s one of my big success stories,” Walker says. “We can take what makes us unique — including our strengths and skills, not just race and gender — and leverage it to support employees and achieve better business outcomes.”

CU QUICK FACTS

BCU
Data as of 06.30.21

HQ: Vernon Hills, IL
ASSETS: $4.9B
MEMBERS: 298,855
BRANCHES: 61
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 17.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 14.8%
ROA: 1.88%

Encouraging Growth And Development

Every employee resource group at BCU is employee-led and voluntary. Walker oversees the program to ensure the missions and visions of each ERG aligns with the larger organization’s and that each group understands and tracks their budget.

In its charter, each ERG must describe its leadership structure. Some have a single leader who is willing to be its champion; others opt for co-chair or even committee leadership. All the groups now include the option to change leadership, with some holding formal elections every year.

Each group’s charter also includes four pillars: building awareness, bringing positive change to the organization, creating development opportunities within the group, and giving back to the community. How the groups decide to deliver in each of these areas is up to them. For example, We for She has conducted financial wellness workshops in women’s shelters and supported NASA’s Girls in STEM event.

Lessons Learned And Advice for Others

“The best first step is to connect and network with people doing the work,” Walker says. “If you’re not invested in a diversity network of some sort, join one. Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Walker also recommends conducting engagement surveys to identify needs and determine who is already a champion within the organization.

Suncoast Credit Union: Employee-Driven With A Discovery Phase

Gary Vien, chief administrative officer for Suncoast Credit Union ($13.8B, Tampa, FL), spent a year checking out the diversity programs at other organizations before launching an ERG program at the Florida cooperative. Suncoast encourages sustainable, organic groups to form from the ground up. Its current ERGs include Black Leaders and Allies Cultivating Change (BLACC) and LGBTQ+ & Allies; two more groups are in the works.

Gary Vien, Chief Administrative Officer, Suncoast Credit Union

Getting Started

“We’re setting the course and have a process to create these groups, but their future is determined by the employees driving it,” Vien says.

After a new group has confirmed three to five employees are on board, it begins the discovery phase. Suncoast provides a packet with questions designed to ensure the group has thought through everything from its name to its purpose. An official signing with cake, confetti, and senior leadership present celebrates the creation of a charter and the kickoff of a resource group.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! Download the charters for Suncoast’s Black Leaders and Allies Cultivating Change and LGBTQ+ & Allies employee resource groups for inspiration on how you can stand up an ERG program within your own credit union. .

In terms of budget, Suncoast encourages group leaders to come to Vien to discuss what they need — according to the CAO, he hasn’t said no to a request yet. Next year, the credit union will fold its ERG program budget into the cooperative’s broader community involvement and impact budget.

CU QUICK FACTS

SUNCOAST CREDIT UNION
Data as of 06.30.21

HQ: Tampa, FL
ASSETS: $13.8B
MEMBERS: 967,798
BRANCHES: 74
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 16.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 9.3%
ROA: 1.30%

Encouraging Group Formation And Asking the Right Questions

Communication is key. A diversity page is front and center on Suncoast’s intranet and every ERG has its own page to showcase events, meetings, involvement opportunities, and what they’ve done to date. Suncoast automatically opts all 2,000 employees into all of the groups; it’s up to the individual to decide how active they are in each one.

Importantly, Suncoast is trying to avoid creating rules that aren’t needed.

“We want to support the groups versus stay within the lines,” Vien says.

Sometimes, however, he must ask probing questions to keep a potential group on track. Several new groups are in the formation stage, but one would-be group failed before its launch due to a murky vision and the departure of the single employee who had been driving it.

Vien advises asking open-ended questions such as: How would this group benefit the organization? Is it rooted in our values and our mission? Does it have an inward focus or outward focus?

Advice for Others

“Don’t rush,” Vien says. “Slow down and fix things at the beginning. There is no finish line; this is a journey. You have to give employees the platform to speak while instilling that value of having their own voice. It’s amazing how much they can contribute and feel impacted by what we do as an organization.”

Verity Credit Union: Supporting Employees Versus Asking Them To Work

Angela Lowe, chief human resources officer for Verity Credit Union ($736.3M, Seattle, WA) began planning the credit union’s ERG program in 2019.

“We didn’t want our employees to feel like they needed to leave some part of themselves at the door when they came to work,” Lowe says.

Verity’s current employee resource groups include Verity Voices of Color (VVOC), a working parents group and Verity Voices with Pride for the LGBTQIA+ population.

Angela Lowe, Chief Human Resources Officer, Verity Credit

Getting Started

Employees lead and drive resource groups at Verity. The credit union’s cultural equity council, what other organizations call a DEI committee, serves as an umbrella. Each ERG forms a charter to lay out its mission and objectives and identify a chair.

According to Lowe, the credit union’s ERGs offer leadership opportunities especially beneficial for employees who might not have positional authority. ERG leaders speak directly with the executive team, which creates opportunities for development and connection-building. The program is a great way for employees to develop themselves as leaders and for the organization to create a leadership pipeline.

“One of our most shy employees came out of her shell by being part of an ERG and our equity council,” Lowe says.

CU QUICK FACTS

VERITY CREDIT UNION
Data as of 06.30.21

HQ: Seattle, wA
ASSETS: $736.3M
MEMBERS: 37,708
BRANCHES: 8
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 14.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 9.4%
ROA: 0.80%

Although Verity didn’t set a budget this year for its ERGs, it has tapped into its community relations budget or re-allocate training dollars. Next year, the credit union plans to formalize the budgeting process using its experience and best practices to date.

Staying Focused. Providing Support.

The biggest challenge Verity faced was in defining the purpose of an ERG. Are they work groups? Do they educate the entire organization? Do they drive change for the credit union? Are they groups that provide resources for employees?

“We want to be supporting the groups versus the groups doing the work for the entire organization,” Lowe says. “But there is still that mentality for some that these groups need to produce something and show their work.”

Clear expectations and structure is helpful. Employees participate in ERGs during working hours, so the credit union does, in effect, pay employees for their ERG involvement; however, it is trying to dismantle the expectation that ERGs and the people in them need to produce something. Occasionally, employees must stretch their schedules or skills to fit in additional work for an ERG that ultimately benefits the credit union and fellow employees. For those cases, Verity also is evaluating a special stipend or bonus model.

Advice For Others 

Employee resource groups are supposed to be a way to increase diversity and inclusion, so Lowe underscores the importance of leaving the door open for new groups and new voices. At Verity, one group was reluctant to include new members early on.

Lowe also advises keeping an open mind about the evolution of the program.

“This isn’t a straight path — it’s circular at times,” Lowe says. “Don’t worry if you end up starting and stopping to recalibrate. It’s important to have a plan but be flexible and adjust as you go. Don’t be disheartened if something you try doesn’t work.”

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