Employee-Resource Groups & Retention

February 9, 2011 12:00 am

Accenture’s Pedro Suriel recalls that several years ago when the consulting firm was starting its Latino employee-resource group, several young, male managers got together. They were uncomfortable with the corporate culture in which more junior managers who spoke out were gaining recognition. “Because I was brought up to respect people in positions of authority,” says Suriel, he and his Latino peers were quiet during meetings and were, therefore, not on the fast track. They were thinking of leaving the company.

Instead, the Latino ERG worked with the company to find ways to address the cultural gap and keep—and develop—these talented managers. Suriel, now global diversity and inclusion director in Accenture’s Health & Public Service, credits the group with this major retention coup.

The lesson to be learned here for chief diversity officers and diversity managers is clear: Now that you have established employee-resource groups, how can you leverage them to improve retention among traditionally underrepresented groups as well as among white men who work with ALL employees? Here are five lessons we’ve learned from talking to hundreds of companies about exactly how they do it.

Lesson No. 1: Ensure Your ERGs Understand Their Mission

Close to 80 percent of companies we’ve surveyed have formal charters for their employee-resource groups, but only a handful deal directly with retention. These groups are your most vital link in ascertaining what is causing members of their particular group to leave—the types of things they never talk about. It could be a culture that doesn’t allow LGBT employees to be out about their personal lives or a culture that subtly puts down people who don’t dress or communicate in a certain way.

The mission of an ERG should be to further the company’s business goals, which certainly includes retaining the best and the brightest talent. But ERG leaders and members need to keep this in mind and have that reinforced in their charter by the senior executive who is the liaison to the group.

Lesson No. 2: Train ERG Leadership

Only about half the companies we surveyed ensure thelr ERG leaders have formal training to create atmospheres where workers can speak candidly—and constructively—about the issues that drive retention. Since 88 percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 mandate diversity training for their managers and 64 percent mandate it for their entire workforces, the tools already are in place.

Positively, that can mean identifying such retention triggers as work/life benefits or addressing how to help employees deal with supervisory conflicts that may be tied to cultural competence.

Lesson No. 3: Expose ERG Members to Senior Leaders, Including CEO

CEO Commitment is the most heavily weighted sector of the DiversityInc Top 50 since it heavily influences all other diversity-management efforts. A factor that has had increased weightings in recent years because of its huge importance in recognizing talent and giving the CEO an unfiltered ear into the corporate culture is the CEO’s ability to meet at regular intervals with ERG leaders and members. These meetings should be separate from any diversity-council meetings and should focus solely on giving the CEO an idea of what the ERG members are hearing and seeing, including important factors that could impact retention. What’s most critical here is the ability to speak candidly—and for action to be taken without repercussions.

Eighty-eight percent of DiversityInc Top 50 CEOs now meet regularly with ERG members, up from 84 percent last year and 37 percent five years ago. Most of those meetings occur on a quarterly basis and include the presence of the ERG senior-executive sponsor but not necessarily other senior executives.

Lesson No. 4: Communicate ERG Success Throughout the Organization

Take a lesson from Sodexo, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and IBM. They clearly communicate their ERG successes and highlight the individuals who are so crucial to these groups, both internally and externally.

By visibly showing the people from traditionally underrepresented groups who are having an impact in the company—at all levels—these organizations reduce “regrettable loss”—the lack of retention of valued employees.

Lesson No. 5: Measure ERG Impact on Retention and Document It

Aetna has done a masterful job of measuring the effect of ERGs on retention. In a recent survey, Aetna surveyed employee engagement of ERG members and non-members year to year. ERG members had a 15 percent increase in engagement, compared with 5 percent for non-members.