Employee networks, also known as Employee Resources Groups (ERGs), can be a great support system for underrepresented staff. While Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) networks are growing, leaders need to help build better ones that connect them to organisational goals and wider employee culture.
DiversityQ offers five reasons why BAME networks are important for workplace diversity and inclusion which are inspired by research by Dr Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey and his 2016 PhD Thesis “Crafting an identity: an examination of the lived experiences of minority racial and ethnic individuals in the workplace.”
A key element of the thesis was the study of ERGs, which he said originated in the 1970s as women and Black employees entered management positions in the US and have since moved from organisations that tackled “overt discrimination” to more structured organisations.
His thesis referenced research that found that ERGs play a role in reducing “turnover intentions” among ethnic minorities at a managerial level, therefore by establishing them for BAME talent, organisations could retain and develop more of this group as business leaders as they remain underrepresented in leadership roles.
1. Psychosocial support
Dr Jonathan found that ERGs can provide members with “psychosocial support”, including friendship and social networking opportunities as well as shared experiences and peer support. However, because BAME staff don’t always get this support through the wider business, leadership must take a greater stake within these groups and involve members in initiatives that promote wider engagement.
2. Career development
Dr Jonathan’s research found that ERGs can benefit career development through idea sharing and guidance on accessing the right resources. Training on how to negotiate with superiors and make the best use of their ideas in a wider context could also help to improve role performance and enhance professional capabilities among members of BAME networks. Organisations should ensure that networks have individuals willing to help members with advice, mentorship, and general guidance.
ERGs are used to give individuals a voice within an organisation, here, Dr Jonathan’s research references it as “the efforts of employees to actively and constructively improve conditions through discussing problems with senior management and taking action to solve problems.” However, they can also give a voice to minority groups outside of the organisation, helping the company improve its visibility in new networks and markets, enhance its reputation, and become a recognised leader in equality.
While connecting BAME ERGs to the wider workplace makes learning and engaging with minority staff more relevant to all employees and breaks down barriers whilst improving company cohesion and performance, Dr Jonathan notes that it could be useful for BAME ERGs to collaborate with organisations “outside of the host organisation” such as other ERGs for learning purposes.
Dr Jonathan’s research revealed that ERGs might “have access to cultural knowledge and competencies that may be useful for the business”, where they can act as a “business resource” and align “with the wider organisational goals.” For example, enlisting BAME staff to meet with promising new BAME recruits to provide insight and training can improve employee relations and enable an organisation to tap into a new resource while better engagement between ERGs and the wider business could enhance organisational diversity and inclusion.