Can Employee Resource Groups Really Help Streamline My Business? Yes. Here’s how…

In 1996, the harvard business review published an article titled Making Differences Count: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity, in which the authors argue that companies should embrace a radically new way of understanding a diverse workforce. Instead of hiring employees from different backgrounds and asking them to fit in or limit people to areas of work based on who they are, they suggested embracing and bringing together the diverse perspectives and approaches of work that members of different identity groups bring. Since then, a steady stream of companies – from GE to PricewaterhouseCoopers to cannabis companies – have implemented several new practices, initiatives and programs in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) category.

DE&I has become very big over the past few years and many companies are seeing the benefits. Today, 83% of professional investors are more inclined to invest in shares of a company recognized for its social responsibility. On the other hand, a business seen as irresponsible risks losing up to 39% of its potential customer base, with one in four consumers telling friends and family to avoid it. As these benefits drive more companies to focus on DE&I, it’s important to remember that your plans should ultimately be centered around building employees from all walks of life.

“Listen, test, learn, then listen again!” »Although still relatively new to the cannabis industry, one DE&I initiative that is making progress towards this goal is the Employee Resource Group (ERG). It is basically a group of employees who come together in their workplace based on common characteristics or life experiences. GREs work to create communities that bring people together, with internal and external partnerships to support these groups, and they are growing in popularity. In fact, according to a Bentley University report, nearly 90% of Fortune 500 companies use them. They are often used because issues are handled within an organization by those most directly affected. They can also serve as a direct pipeline of communication between employees and employers, as well as a place where new ideas and solutions to problems flourish.

When it comes to recruitment and retention, ERGs have their own specific advantages. According to a survey conducted by Software Advice, 70% of respondents aged 18-24 and 52% of respondents aged 25-34 said they would be more likely to apply for a position at a company with ERG. When it comes to retention, 50% of survey respondents of all ages said they would stay with a company because it had a GRE.

While some players in the cannabis industry have already implemented ERGs, this new practice is one that all cannabis companies should consider, especially as this industry grapples with its own challenges and DE&I history. To that end, check out the tips below to get you started.

  1. Interest gauge: Many ERGs start organically. The first question you need to answer before you start building an ERG is to ask if your employees want one. Statistics indicate that they probably will, but it is important to establish that leaders are willing to listen. Employees should play a major role in this process from the start. However, remember that the DE&I strategy is not their responsibility and ERGs should be part of a larger plan.
  2. Find volunteers and work with them: You have to find the people for whom these subjects are important and adopt them. Participation is key, and if the topic in question is one that someone isn’t personally connected to, your ERG may not reach its full potential. ERGs are a significant time investment, so you need to ensure that participants are ready, willing and able to balance their work responsibilities with their additional role in the group. Participation also goes both ways. You need to make sure managers know someone is in a GRE. “Be open to making mistakes and learning from them, and then changing for the better.”
  3. Use executive sponsors: A critical part of successfully integrating ERGs into your organization is recruiting executive allies from the business side to serve as sponsors. It can help break down barriers, make decisions, and keep all parties organized. Executive sponsors are also great for employee development because they can see the talent in the organization firsthand and become a mentor. Executive sponsors are often a big ask of ERGs, and they are worth recruiting. Sponsors don’t have to be of the same affinity as the band, and in some ways that can actually be a good thing. Solidarity is another important factor for the health of the company, and the alliance is an imperative of solidarity.
  4. Define aims: Define a mission from the beginning. It is important for ERGs to have a strong mission statement with core goals around which the group is formed. Keep in mind that these should be tangible goals with specific benchmarks. It can’t just be about “increasing diversity in hiring”. Set a number you want to reach and a date you want to reach it. Having clear goals helps keep a track record for your ERG and is the foundation for success. These will also ensure that your ERG is not just for marketing purposes. Achieving substantial goals will keep the group going, as trust is built inside and out.
  5. To be clear: ERGs are all about communication, so clarity should be a top priority. None of the tips above work without it. You need to ensure that groups do not question what is expected of them, the resources they have and the goals they are working towards. It will always be a learning process, and there will definitely be some unforeseen challenges, but being on the same page of the first chapter will make the process much more beneficial for everyone involved.

As noted above, ERGs are still new, and so is the industry we want to bring them into. Be open to making mistakes and learning from them, and then to changing for the better. This process is what ERGs exist for, after all. Listen, test, learn and listen again!

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