Last week, in addition to laying off half of Twitter’s staff, the new owner also shut down the company’s employee resource groups (ERGs). This news was clearly upsetting to many current and former employees, who posted their displeasure, ironically, on Twitter. As I scrolled through the various comments, one of the most common from the general public was “what’s an ERG?”
What is an ERG?
For those not familiar with the term, these are groups that bring employees together who share an identity or affinity and often include allies as well. They are generally volunteer led, although companies increasingly have someone from the company’s diversity team supporting them organizationally. The most common are groups for women, veterans, LGBTQ, Black, Hispanic and Asian employees. But in our work, we’ve seen groups for parents, younger employees, diverse abilities, employees passionate about the environment, new employees, and many more. They can also be called business resource groups or affinity groups, although some nuances exist depending on the term used.
Why are employee resource groups important?
ERGs exist first and foremost to create a safe, supportive space and stronger sense of community among participants who may be underrepresented in the broader workforce. But when well-organized and active, they can be highly strategic and help fuel the company’s innovation and growth, drive talent acquisition and retention, and influence company policy. Blackbird, the ERG for Black employees at Twitter, had a reputation as a highly influential and effective ERG that helped make Twitter an employer of choice for Black tech professionals. As companies work to become more inclusive internally and better reach diverse customers and prospective employees externally, ERGs are increasingly seen as part of the strategy to achieve those goals.
Employee resource group software
WeSpire’s inclusive culture module has tools that help ERG leaders better organize and manage their members, publish events, campaigns and challenges, and share resources and announcements. We can run analytics that show how participating in, or leading, an ERG influences retention. We are often the first tool the ERG leaders have had besides email/chat and the Intranet to educate, organize and activate their members.
As a result, we can often see what an ERG is doing -- and what it’s not. When we are talking to prospective customers about ERG management tools, we now warn them that it will become very obvious which ERGs are active and thriving and which ones are struggling or even dormant. This information can be a wake-up call, particularly if the company was under the impression that these groups were having the intended impact. I’ve also seen what companies can do better to ensure the groups are thriving, by providing budgets, making ERG leadership part of the talent development process, ensuring participation is encouraged by managers, executive sponsorship, and setting clear expectations, goals and metrics.
Impact of ERGs at Twitter
I have no idea why shutting down Twitter’s ERGs made any sense, other than to add to the message of regime change. But the general impression it sent to many was that Twitter was going to be a less welcoming and inclusive workplace, and that is sending top talent fleeing. It also compounded the concerns about the platform itself becoming more toxic. According to Bloomberg, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, an influential racial-justice group, criticized Musk for the layoffs involving ERGs on a call with more than 60 civil rights organizations concerned about toxicity on Twitter. Such groups are “critical, not just for the employees, but for the communities they are connected to.”
The move did increase the awareness of ERGs and the important role they can play in helping a company succeed when they are run well. I’m also quite confident that shutting down ERGs will end up high on many lists of what not to do when acquiring a company.