written by
Michele Heyward

How ERGs Should Be Leading the C-Suite for Cultural Change

DiversityandInclusion Business career advancement Anti-racism 8 min read
There is an increasing diversification in the employees, fueled by ERGs, in corporate America. But, is there any increasing inclusion?

If your organization has an ERG which the C-suite has not been engaging with now is the time. Why? The murder of George Floyd and the current protests are not going away anytime soon. Social change is among us. As organizational leaders, you should be leading for the betterment of your black employees.

Not only are your black employees reviewing your actions or lack thereof, but they also want to see if you 1) recognize the systemic racism which impacts their lives, 2) stun their career growth, and 3) notice how salary gaps reduce their economic and wealth-building power in the United States. They are waiting for you to say their lives matter i.e. Black Lives Matter.

Diversity and inclusion are generally discussed together, but have they ever been evaluated together? In today’s workplace, employees – predominantly the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) - are addressing cultural changes, racial and gender bias, and inclusion. These groups have been running for decades in some organizations and new to others to provide a safe place for underrepresented groups. In recent years, they have grown past their original goal and are now fruitful in recruitment, marketing, brand management, training, employee development, and above all, employee retention.


But where is the C-suite as it relates to the work of ERGs? Why are ERGs doing what the executives should have been doing all these years? What are they doing to make the black employees and other diverse groups in their organizations more comfortable in their workplace? Are ERGs silenced and not appropriately supported by the corporate hotshots? Or have these corporate culture gatekeepers, once again, failed to realize the need to foster a safe, inclusive, and progressing work environment?

What’s more shocking is that the majority of the corporate C-suite are devoid of the underrepresented employees especially, people of color. Where is the other half that deserves just as much to be among the top? The most dominant question of all is that what exactly has C-suite done to ensure the unrepresented employees have the right opportunities to feel safe and move up the ladder?


One of the most efficient ways to promote inclusivity in the workplace for black people is the role of ERGs. These groups can harness their power to create a real cultural change in the organization, especially during dire times like these. Unfortunately, most of the discussions on inclusivity and diversity today are only organized by these groups. The initiatives that the managers and the corporations themselves must take are being pushed to action by ERGs only.

These ERGs can become the access point for the corporations and the organization’s leadership to initiate a cultural change. These groups aren’t only beneficial for the employees, but they are invaluable for the companies themselves too. They are the bridge between lower-level employees and the C-suite. These groups can tactically work both outwardly and inwardly to educate the group members as well as the organizations. The ERGs are only responsible for making the C-suite aware of the deep-rooted racial issues at the place. It is the C-suite’s responsibility to become an Ally who is not only aware, but listens to the concerns of their black employees, keeps on learning about their changing situation & problems, and actively says YES to using their authority to aid them and make the change happen.

The Employee Resource Groups should be the one who makes the Executives aware of the circumstances of their employees of color. They are the ones who ensure that they use their voice to educate the C-suite about what’s happening in their organization. This is the only big responsibility an ERG should have because the C-suite has to listen, learn, and say yes to the organization-wide changes themselves. So, how can ERGs today become a clear line of action for directing the C-suite and work together to instigate a cultural change?

Here’s how!

Make Executive Sponsors The Change Drivers

The senior leaders of the organization must take the role of Executive Sponsors, as ERGs have been the ones pushing for that. If the C-suite intends to take action, the senior management should take on this role of an ally to fuel real change. It is high time that the top leaders should stop expecting ERGs to solve their problems, without getting involved. Recognize the systemic racism and other issues their company has in place including hiring from only top schools that have drastically less enrollment of minorities. Moreover, using networking methods to hire and recruit talent for the organization.

When the ERG provides the c-suite directives on making the workplace anti-racist, they become a catalyst in making these groups not only feel as though they belong but they are safe to be their authentic selves. They start seeing the potential in their diverse employees. The future-oriented Executive Sponsors should be normalizing the inclusion of people of color in Boardrooms and Executive Positions. Instead of following the hierarchies operating for decades, these sponsors should be rallying for diversified employees to move up the ladder as quickly as their privileged counterparts.

Hiring Is Not the Answer, Retention Is

The companies have now fashionably taken it upon themselves to hire diverse candidates, usually at entry-level. What they don’t understand is that hiring is not the solution. Retention is the way to go. These recruiters and senior management forget that behind the curtain, the company culture is the driving force on retaining black and other underrepresented employees. In companies that lack focus on creating a culture of belonging or anti-racism, the diverse employees leave just as quickly as they join.

The ERGs should be the support center of the C-suite here. A culture of safety and belonging must be created. What these Employee Resource Groups are doing to ensure that the diverse employees do not feel alone has to be implemented by the management. According to research, the traditionally underrepresented groups find it hard to adjust to a company in the first 60 to 90 days. These days make all the difference, as they decide whether the employee is going to stay, or you are just another company that does not value the diversification of employees.

The C-suite alongside the ERGs should leverage the latter’s resources to acclimate the new hires to make them stay in the long run. Hence, when hiring, the C-suite should actively use these resource groups for retention and long-term workforce stability.

More Numbers Isn’t the Solution

The ERGs should ensure that the C-suite knows only hiring diverse candidates isn’t the solution. Honoring them, letting them raise their voice, standing behind them, and valuing their experience is the solution. Two voices are better than one, but as an ally, you must be listening to what your black employees are sharing about the workplace. When in the boardroom, what matters is the right solution being voiced. C-suite executives who are allies should be leveraging their power to create an anti-racist organization.

Honoring diverse perspectives doesn’t happen from the bottom up. It must start from the top and should be a conscious decision. The C-suite nodding its head when the ERGs raise their voices in concern about systematic issues does not work anymore. Change what’s been revealed and do your part to implement the change. The employee resource groups must constantly push to honor their identity and force the C-suite to hire those who can do the same.

A Straight Line of Communication

The ERGs are the leadership development pipeline. They are the straight line between the diverse group and top-level management. When used effectively and successfully, these groups improve the leadership process of the organization. They drive results, foster relationships, and ensure the alignment between action and implementation.

ERGs are the reason the C-suite knows what’s happening in the company. When the C-suite hears them, they should provide ERGs with the feedback and updates, and implement their advice. When they do this, they not only create the culture of integration, but they make people of color feel in sync with the rest of the employees. That’s what’s needed. Trivialization of minorities in the workplace and their concerns being addressed should be the core focus.

Creating A Culture of Empathy

Too often corporations have high turnover or attrition rates for their employees of color. This is especially true for black employees. The major reason for the churn rate is because empathy has been lost somewhere. When the black employees join an organization on an entry or middle-level position, it is the job of their colleagues to ensure they do not become a target of racism. What happens is the decades-old history repeating itself, whereas the black employees feel out of place, discriminated against, and under-powered. There isn’t even a shred of empathy for these employees struggling to uphold their position and place in the company.

With the anti-racism work to be done, now more than ever, the leadership that values and practices empathy is required. The longer a company has been running, the harder it will be for the culture to change. Your diverse employees need people who hear them, who can make them feel safe, who can create a sense of belonging. They are tired of hearing empty promises and seeing the lack of action and commitment.

The diverse employees feel safe to share their concerns with ERGs. The C-suite should take this opportunity to make these resource groups a place for the concern to be heard and addressed. Creating a culture of empathy doesn’t mean you hear only, but you take the action too.

White For Black!

Every invitation for change is an invitation for everyone. While these groups are a safe haven for employees of color, they should be the privilege alarm for the others as well. The ERGs must make sure they start talking about allyship with their employee resource groups, especially NOW!. The C-suite should be talking about; ‘There is the room for you here!” “ I will use my power and influence to create an anti-racist organization”. They shouldn’t be allowed to go off the hook. Instead, their job is to stand up and be an ally for the change.

There is power in diversity. Being in denial that the diverse groups do not need a representation speaks about the privilege. No time is better than the present to change that!
Workplace Inclusive Career Advancement Diversity and Inclusion Workplace Culture