Tips for building a disability employee resource group
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can offer a valuable way to bring together communities and promote allyship within your organization. But to optimize their effectiveness, ERGs should have a well-planned strategy that includes mission, objectives, clearly defined roles, alignment with business goals, leadership, and more.
Our webinar The ERG Journey: Defining mission, vision, and objectives for employees with disabilities explores considerations and steps to take when starting a disability ERG at your company. Here are tips to help evaluate your organizational readiness, align impact and mission with business goals, and build allyship to maximize the impact of your disability ERG.
Evaluate organizational readiness
“First, assess are you ready to do this?” says Nadine Vogel, CEO of Springboard Consulting LLC, and speaker at our webinar. “What else are you doing around disability and do you have employees requesting this type of group?” While many companies think that having a disability ERG is the place to start when offering resources for employees with disabilities, if it does not have broad-based business goals and objectives around disability already in place, then it may not be organizationally ready to launch. Review your company’s current objectives and programs around disability to see if there are opportunities for an ERG to align.
Understand the role of an ERG in your organization
While companies may have resources that can directly support employees with disabilities, the role of the ERG is not specifically to support. “We don’t want to use the word support,” says Vogel. “This group is not here to necessarily support the employee — there are a lot of other mechanisms to do that. If you put the word support in, you may inadvertently have employees with disabilities that don’t join because they don’t want to be seen as though you’re there to support them.”
Moreover, ERGs are generally not accountable cost-centers or responsible for compliance regulations such as enforcing guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
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Determine vision, mission, and objectives
Your vision is the big picture of your ERG; the mission defines what your ERG is going to do. Make sure that it aligns with the overall goals of your company and with business priorities and objectives. “What are the issues and impact of your group’s alignment with the business?” Vogel asks. By building a mission that is connected to your business’s larger goals, you’ll have a greater chance of achieving them.
Early on, your ERG might just have one initiative to focus on. “Come up with one or two initiatives at most during the first year,” notes Vogel. “This is really a developmental phase.” Make sure that the agreed-upon starter initiatives are measurable and defined. You’ll be measuring your success based on whether or not you achieve them, so being realistic is important.
Define roles and get clear on expectations and responsibilities
When establishing the ERG, make sure to define all leadership roles and specify their length of service. Vogel advises to use a Memo of Understanding (MOU) when people join to clearly outline roles and to set expectations. This can further clarify the scope and can be used for an employee when discussing their involvement with their manager.
Aligning roles with members’ career and professional goals can also be beneficial. “If an ERG leader does not have leadership skills, think about how we can develop those skills for them as related to the group,” says Vogel. “By doing so, it actually helps them in their profession and career progression.”
Develop your ERG
After your ERG is established, meet with key leaders in your company, such as a Chief Marketing Officer or a head of Human Resources or Talent Acquisition, Vogel advises. Find out what their key objectives and business goals are and then consider ways that disability might be related to these objectives. This can foster executive involvement and align your ERG’s goals with those of your company. See if your ERG can present to different business teams or share further information to develop relationships and alignment.
Build allies through intersectionality
Look to intersectionality and connectivity with other communities or ERGs, such as LGBTQ+ groups, Black employee networks, or veterans’ groups. “Think about individuals in the LGBTQ community coming out in the workplace. How is that any different than someone with an invisible disability disclosing? It’s really not,” says Vogel. These commonalities build connectivity with other groups, forging allyship and building mutual success.
Disability ERGs can be powerful networks to build community, put disability at the core of larger business objectives, and build allyship and alignment. And remember, keep the individual at the center of your work. “People with disabilities are individuals,” says Vogel. “They have families, jobs, hobbies, likes, dislikes, problems, and joys. And while a disability may be an integral part of who the person is, it alone should not define them.”
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