The Importance of Internal Employee Networks in Career Development
By Melinda DiBenedetto
During work hours, employees can enjoy networking with colleagues, develop skills outside of their primary job responsibilities, and cultivate friendships and allyships throughout their organizations. This can be accomplished by joining internal employee networks that offer professional and social events, leadership development opportunities, and strategic insights into their organizations (Waters, 2021).
What are Internal Employee Networks?
Internal employee networks have different names within organizations and are often known as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs), or Affinity Groups. ERGs are about inclusion, and employees are welcome to join any ERG they identify with or support.
ERGs are considered diversity groups that gather together people with a shared characteristic such as race, culture, or age. They are voluntary, collaborative, employee-led groups of individuals with common backgrounds or interests (University of Connecticut Center for Career Development, 2021). ERGs may focus on:
- military and veterans
- Black or African American
- young professionals
- individuals with disabilities
These grassroots communities are employer-recognized and promoted by their organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which often fall under the human resources department or under the office of corporate and social responsibility (Taylor, 2019). Employers may use ERGs to improve consistency between their business and diversity strategies (Goode, 2016).
Approximately 8.5% of employees in US-based companies belong to ERGs (Five to Nine, 2019). According to research conducted by Bentley University, 90% of Fortune 500 companies (averaging 60,000 employees) have ERGs, and the Kessler Foundation found that 47% of large companies, 25% of medium-size companies, and 10% of small companies offer them (Shunney, 2021).
ERGs are generally designed with four primary board members: president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. In smaller organizations, the roles may overlap. ERGs also form committees led by chairs overseeing responsibilities including membership, professional development, recognition, and community outreach.
ERGs Offer Internal Networking Opportunities
The internal networking benefits of ERGs include:
1. Opportunities for Professional Development
ERGs offer virtual and in-person networking events during work hours that often focus on professional development topics. For example, a women’s ERG event may feature a presentation by a successful female business owner who discusses her career journey and offers career advice.
ERGs may also host internal speakers who discuss their career paths. A common format is a panel discussion at which senior managers describe their backgrounds, career progression, and how they navigated to various roles within the organization.
2. Opportunities for Internal Advancement
ERG events can provide valuable career advice. Participants can learn more about their organization, opportunities for future roles, and skills needed for those positions. Employees can meet colleagues and arrange informational interviews or other valuable career-oriented discussions (DiversityInc., 2021).
3. Opportunities to Meet Co-Workers Socially and Help Break Down Barriers
ERG events also offer unique opportunities to develop relationships with colleagues on a more personal level. Employees can meet co-workers, including managers and senior leadership, in social settings where the organizational hierarchy may relax, and ERG participants are regarded as peers. These new internal contacts may organically develop into mentorship or sponsorship relationships (DiversityInc., 2021). This increased employee engagement is naturally good for business and may reduce turnover rates.
The Benefits of ERG Active Membership
Being actively involved in an ERG can be beneficial to one's career journey. ERG involvement can be included on employees’ resumes and LinkedIn pages either under Work Experience or Volunteering. The many benefits of ERG active membership include:
1. Developing Leadership Skills
Employees desiring leadership opportunities can take an active role within an ERG. As a committee member, employees have significant opportunities to develop skills outside of their primary job function. They can also form allyships with colleagues in other parts of the organization and gain key insights (Diversity Inc., 2021). These allies can use their voices to support others, raise awareness of injustice, and effect change (Shrouder, 2018). Senior managers may also look to ERGs to fill leadership roles (McGraw, 2019).
2. Positioning Employees for Recognition and Growth
DEI expert and author Ashley Brundage (2020) started out in the banking industry as a part-time teller. Through her participation in ERGs, she strategically navigated her career to eventually attain a position as vice president of DEI – all in less than five years. She shared her story of recognition and growth through ERG and DEI experiences in her leadership book, Empowering Differences.
3. Strengthening Communication and Connection During the Pandemic
ERGs can help improve emotional well-being, which benefits both employers and employees. During the pandemic, ERGs have offered a vital way for employees to feel supported and engaged, even while working remotely. ERGs’ bottom-up structure has been used to drive higher levels of coping and help isolated employees working at home (Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2020).
ERGs may help reduce employee fears, increase connection, and maintain productivity during the pandemic. Likewise, ERGs provide virtual programming and resources that support their communities, creating safe spaces for people to share their feelings and experiences (Nicastro, 2021). ERGs have also been pivotal in increasing awareness, teaching others about employees’ needs, and breaking cycles of discrimination through meaningful conversations (Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2020). Nicastro (2021) points out that when employees believe their voices matter, they feel understood and therefore less isolated. ERGs provide a venue to heighten understanding, break down barriers, and foster community.
Joining or Creating an ERG
ERGs are valuable resources for career growth and engagement; this article highlights a few of the many benefits for employees and businesses. Employees can visit the DEI web page of their employer’s intranet site to investigate ERGs of interest. If diversity groups do not yet exist in their organization, employees may decide to contact HR and start an ERG themselves.
Boston College Center for Work & Family, Carroll School of Management. (2020, April). COVID-19 impact on diversity & inclusion. https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/cwf/research/Info%20Request_D%26IImpact_April2020.pdf
Brundage, A. (2020). Empowering differences. Self-published.
DiversityInc. (2021). Joining an ERG can help your career development. [Webinar]. https://www.diversityincbestpractices.com/webinar-recap-joining-an-erg-can-help-your-career-development/
Five to Nine team. (2019, February). Employee resource groups (ERGs): A key part of your inclusion strategy. Five to Nine. https://medium.com/@info_37650/employee-resource-groups-ergs-a-key-part-of-your-inclusion-strategy-c6929627cf9d
Goode, S. & Dixon, I. (2016, August). Are employee resource groups good for business? SHRM https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0916/pages/are-employee-resource-groups-good-for-business.aspx
McGraw, M. (2019, April). Tapping the power of ERGs to develop leaders. 14cp Productivity Blog. https://www.i4cp.com/productivity-blog/tapping-the-power-of-ergs-to-develop-leaders
Nicastro, D. (2021, September). Why employee resource groups are on the rise. CMSWire. https://www.cmswire.com/employee-experience/why-employee-resource-groups-are-a-rising-entity/
Shrouder, A. (2018, December). The importance of allyship. Annemarie Shrouder International. https://annemarieshrouder.com/2282/the-importance-of-allyship
Shunney, M. (2021, August). Are employee resource groups only for big companies? Short answer: No. Cultivate. https://www.cultivateall.com/blog/are-ergs-only-for-big-companies
Taylor P. M. (2019, October). Today’s affinity groups: risks and rewards. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/affinity-groups-risks-rewards.aspx
University of Connecticut Center for Career Development. (2021). Employee resource groups. https://career.uconn.edu/resources/employee-resource-groups-ergs/
Waters, S. (2021, June). What is an employee resource group and why do they matter? Betterup. https://www.betterup.com/blog/employee-resource-group#why-are-ergs-important
Melinda DiBenedetto, M.B.A., CSP, enjoys helping others identify and reach their career goals. She recently completed coursework to obtain the Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP) credential. In 2021, Melinda launched Career Clarity, LLC to advise students on post-secondary career plans. During her 20+ year career in financial services, Melinda co-founded the Women’s Employee Business Resource Group in her market and held various leadership positions. She also sat on the Regional Diversity & Inclusion Council. Melinda currently serves as the Treasurer of NJCDA. Contact her at email@example.com or linkedin.com/in/Melinda-dibenedetto-nj