Discover the Business of Diversity in Your Backyard: The Employee Resource Group

Editor’s note: In celebration of Black History Month in February, PRSA invited prominent public relations professionals to offer their views and ideas for achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity in the profession as well as what Black History Month means to them.  A compilation of previous PRSA Black History Month blog posts can be found here.

As we look to increase the number of African Americans who work in the public relations profession, can employee resource groups (ERGs) help with our diversity efforts?

ERGs, also known as affinity or networking groups, emerged in the U.S. corporate landscape almost 30 years ago, during a time of racial discrimination, political advocacy and equal opportunity. Members were brought together by a shared characteristic, often race, ethnicity or gender, or life experiences with the goal of asking what would make employees feel welcomed and valued. The ERG would provide support in the work environment and enhance career and professional development.

Today, ERGs have seen a rise in popularity given the fact that workplace of the future looks a little different than it did 30 years ago. The Diversity Journal addressed this evolution of the ERG in a May 2012 article.

The speed of change is exponentially increasing and the hyperconnected, digital world we live in has fundamentally changed how we work and connect. Globalization and the distributed workforce create new challenges and opportunities for collaboration where the skills and capabilities of the workforce are constantly changing, especially with new generation of employees entering the organization. Today, nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an ERG.

New outreach, new generation of employees, and new business focus are what fuel ERG growth. There are a number of companies such as Dell, HSBC, McDonalds, Wells Fargo, Microsoft and Google that have highly successful ERGs that make a significant impact on the business. Public relations professionals should explore ERGs to gain valuable insights and information around business strategies and also how the evolution of ERG affects new professionals in the workplace.

The more we as public relations professionals can direct our attention to ERG activities with direct impact on business results for our brands or clients, the more successful we can become at surfacing and developing talent and help drive the diversity agenda. Not only do ERGs drive the diversity agenda, but these groups also drive the business agenda and influence the growth of the bottom line.

My IBM ERG has evolved and transitioned from a diversity ERG into a business resource group (BRG). IBM Business Resource Groups (BRGs) consist of IBM employees who voluntarily come together with the ultimate goal of enhancing the success of IBM’s business and people, by helping their fellow IBMers succeed.

Our business resource group has a direct impact on business because we enable unique thinking into different points of view and perspectives that translate into solutions to meet our corporate growth objectives and initiatives.  In the early stages of the diversity journey our role was to be an internal advocate for black employees. Currently, we are part of our company’s business strategy as we cultivate business innovation and creativity while developing and recruiting top Black talent while continuing to build client relationships.

The changing face of America’s workforce demands this change and gives public relations an opportunity to shape and define the workplace of the future by harnessing the power of diverse thinking to influence not only the publics we serve, but also our profession holistically.

Brandi Boatner is the Chair of IBM’s Black Network of New York business resource group and is Digital Experience Manager in New York City. She is the current Chair of the PRSA Diversity Committee and former PRSSA national president.

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Brandi Boatner

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