10 Steps to Effective Employee-Resource-Group Charters

May 8, 2014 6:24 pm

Best practices from Dell, WellPoint, Northrop Grumman, TIAA-CREF and Aetna

By Barbara Frankel

Data from The 2014 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey show a strong correlation between companies with formal charters for employee resource groups and more diversity at key human-capital levels.

For example, companies that have formal employee-resource-group charters promoted 9 percent more women into management than those that don’t.

For sample charters, click here.

1. Communicate the Need for Structure

Dell developed a new governance model for its global employee resource groups four years ago and launched them two and a half years ago.

Consuelo Rodriguez, Dell


“We previously had very loose government. We had about 60 chapters across the globe but they were just networking groups with informal do’s and don’ts,” says Consuelo Rodriguez, Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion.

The lack of a model hurt new chapters trying to form and caused a lot of churn for group leaders, notes Rodriguez.

At TIAA-CREF, employee resource groups were formed in 2009 but had unwritten rules until 2012, says Jerome Miller, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

WellPoint has had charters since it started its associate resource groups in 2008, says Tracy Edmonds, Staff Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. Edmonds, who was one of the founders of the women’s group, said charters initially specified three- to five-year goals but now include shorter-term goals.

2. Always Stress Values

Grace Figueredo, Aetna


At Aetna, the 15 employee resource groups have charters aligned to business goals and the company’s values. Those values—attraction and retention of talent, professional development and network, community outreach and wellness, and marketplace value—are core to the groups’ missions.

“They may format it differently in each group but they all align around these areas,” says Grace Figueredo, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.

3. Ensure Every Group Plays by the Same Rules

When you have several different employee resource groups, it’s critical that they all understand the guidelines. “It’s the same process for all the groups,” says WellPoint’s Edmonds. “If they want to launch, they need a business case, mission, key objectives and a long-term plan that the Diversity & Inclusion office reviews and the Chief Human Resources Officer approves.”

Before formalizing charters and structures, Dell’s groups weren’t aligned to the same strategies, missions and initiatives, Rodriguez says. ”They just picked and chose what they wanted to do and didn’t talk to each other. We weren’t leveraging our ideas for the greater good.”

The charters “enable us to find our common pain points and see that we are more alike than different. It took us a year and a half to get it right and have collective buy-in across the globe,” says Rodriguez.

4. But Allow Room for Differentiation

Tracy Edmonds, WellPoint


Within the structure, groups’ different needs do have to be taken into account. For example, at WellPoint the veterans employee resource group is very focused on bringing veterans into the organization and helping them transition. “It’s less about networking and personal development than for some of the other groups,” Edmonds says.

While each group is asked how it will contribute to the organization’s four main goals—commerce space (marketplace), internal workplace (culture), career development and community perspective—“some are heavy in one bucket or lighter in another,” says Edmonds.

“It’s important to empower people to localize the overall mission to their overall site,” says Aetna’s Figueredo. For example, the Fresno, Calif., site has a high percentage of Latinos and Blacks in the community, and so education on hypertension, diabetes and obesity is critical to that chapter’s mission. And Aetna’s group for caregivers recently helped develop a program to help put monitoring devices in the homes of individuals who need extra care.

5. Create a Simple Toolkit With a Charter Model

Dell gives each group leader a toolkit, which was developed after extensive interviews with executive sponsors, leaders and members of six groups. The toolkit centers around the three areas of common business focus—professional development, community support and new strategies.

“We have 10 ERGs today. Any new chapter must be aligned to that global mission and strategy. They can tailor their initiatives to meet hose pillars but everything must align,” Rodriguez says.

The toolkits include the budgeting process, how to manage group finances, how to communicate across the company globally, and launching and facilitating events.

6. Define Structure and Regulations Clearly

Sandra Evers-Manly, Northrop Grumman


At Northrop Grumman, every employee resource group must have the same operating model, according to Sandra Evers-Manly, Vice President, Global Corporate Responsibility. Specifically, the charter states each group must have:

  • An executive sponsor
  • At least three members
  • A set of company-approved bylaws stipulating that regular meetings be held
  • An operating plan for events and activities
  • Do’s and don’ts—such as not discriminating against anyone joining the group

“We at least want them meeting more than one time a year and most chapters meet four times a year,” says Evers-Manly. Northrop Grumman has 13 groups with about 175 chapters representing 14,000 employees.  “We have requests for new chapters every day, more than 30 right now,” she says.

Evers-Manly sees great value in linking the groups to business goals. For example, she cites the way the LGBT and Latino groups have helped Northrop Grumman identify suppliers in their communities and how the LGBT group has been instrumental in developing a process for employees to self-identify based on orientation or gender expression.

7. Specify Roles of Executive Sponsors and Mission/Goals

At TIAA-CREF, charters require that each group has to have support from two executive sponsors and has to have a national chairperson. Sample charter details include:

  • ERG name
  • ERG vision, e.g., being “employer of choice by networking, building relationships, and strengthening the influence and position of our members enterprise-wide”
  • ERG mission, e.g., “Learn, Act, Lead”
  • ERG goals, e.g., for its Young Professionals group, TIAA-CREF defines “young” professionals not by age but by length of time in a position. It sets as goals for them: networking, career development, community, generating business value, building the brand
  • ERG strategies, e.g., for its Young Professionals group, these include: growing membership and awareness of organization; events; networking opportunities; reaching employees in remote locations; connecting members with business initiatives such as focus groups and product development; collaborating with other resource groups; innovative ideas

8. Have Diversity Office Review Charters

At Aetna, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion sits down with the leaders of each group to go over the charter, mission and operating plan. Each executive sponsor also reviews.

9. Have Measurable Goals to Assess Success

At Dell, resource-group leaders present twice a year to the Global Executive Diversity & Inclusion Council, chaired by CEO Michael Dell. The groups also are assessed by their regional D&I leaders on how they are meeting the goals set forth in the charters.

The annual employee evaluation, Tell Dell, asks questions about resource-group participation. In the last survey, between 80 percent and 90 percent of the company’s 100,000 global employees participated in Tell Dell. The company found that resource-group members, especially those actively involved in groups (attending at least four events a year), feel better about the company.

Jerome Miller, TIAA-CREF


TIAA-CREF’s Miller stresses that it’s important for each group to have specific objectives. For example, TIAA-CREF asked its Young Professionals group to increase membership during the first year by 20 percent.

At WellPoint, the groups originally were assessed on how they grew their membership. Now such factors as community involvement, recruitment, and promotion and retention rates are assessed.

10. Be Flexible in Updating Your Charters

As business priorities shift and your groups grow, their goals and guidelines may need to be adjusted. “That document is a living document and so we need to make changes from time to time,” says Evers-Manly.

TIAA-CREF urges its groups to innovate as part of their charters. “Nothing is off limits. We want them to be creative, to think,” says Miller.

“Our charters continue to evolve as we look at them on an annual basis,” says Aetna’s Figueredo.