The Multiplier Effect of Colleague Resource Groups on Workplace DE&I Outcomes

November 16, 2021

Undoubtedly, there is much work to do to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in our workplaces—and doubling down on colleague resource group (CRG) development and engagement can help organizations get closer to that goal.  

Sometimes also referred to as employee business networks, resource groups, or affinity groups, CRGs are formal collectives of employees with similar backgrounds or shared dimensions of identity. While vital in their own right to the DE&I efforts of any organization, the true efficacy of CRGs comes from having an organized framework within each group. While each individual CRG is its own entity, in general, CRGs should: 

  • Be employee-led and driven 
  • Have a defined mission and purpose 
  • Have identified leaders and a governance structure 
  • Have an executive sponsor and organizational commitment 
  • Encourage ally participation 
  • Have concrete goals and action plans 
  • Have a clear connection to organizational outcomes 

What is most crucial, however, is approaching CRGs with authenticity and intention. Between that and a commitment to best practices, the greatest outcome—organizational transformation—can be achieved. While this goal is certainly aspirational, the component outcomes of this effort are also key. What, then, are these and why are they important to organizations?  

Engagement and culture enhancements
CRG development is a premier inclusion strategy. When employees are given the opportunity to unite based on a dimension of their identity, it communicates to them who they are as a person is important and valuable to their employer and that their identity is not based solely their job function or role. 

Feeling seen is affirming. When employees can come together with others in a CRG who share an aspect of their identity, a sense of belonging and psychological safety is nurtured in the workplace. This creates a culture where employee engagement can flourish. When people are free to be their authentic selves—and valued for it—they can use their energy to contribute their talents and gifts, as opposed to using it to hide or diminish part of their identity because they are afraid of how it could influence their career trajectory. 

Career and leadership development opportunities
Since CRGs are employee-led, involvement provides employees—under-represented talent specifically—opportunities to lead initiatives that could grow their visibility and impact in their organizations. Whether it’s creating a colleague panel to elevate a historical or heritage observance, organizing a CRG leadership development program or diverse talent recruitment event, or developing a business partnership with an organization that centers on diversity, CRGs provide opportunities to lead. 

When given the opportunity to lead, one’s exposure is maximized, which could open doors to career advancement and further opportunity. For most organizations committed to DE&I, career advancement for under-represented populations is an indicator of progress when it comes to metrics and outcomes. 

Colleague education and awareness building 
CRGs are often inspired to provide education about their community to the organization as a whole. CRG education can have multiple goals: to share one’s lived experience, to be a trusted source, to disrupt bias, to foster allyship, to encourage empathy capacity building, raise awareness of how privilege—or lack thereof—can show up in our workplaces, and more.  

As employers, it’s important to honor the emotional energy and courage it can take to talk about aspects of one’s identity. Those leaning in to listen should do so with humility and a genuine intent to learn and to apply learnings for the betterment of the self, others, and the organization. Creating a budget so the CRG can bring in outside guest speakers is a great way to supplement the labor expended by the CRG. 

Allyship growth 
Allies are important members of CRGs. They help to advance the CRG mission by creating opportunities, removing behaviors, and speaking up in support and belief.  What we learn in the workplace about diversity and about historically marginalized communities can inspire us to action, especially when someone with whom we work shares a glimpse into their lived experience with us. Additionally, when we foster growth in and act as allies in our organizations, we expand the number of individuals who bring energy to DE&I work. 

Diverse talent acquisition collaboration 
Most organizations commit to a DE&I strategy because they want to change how their organization shows up in the marketplace and in their communities. Leveraging the relationships, experiences, creativity, and diversity of thought that come from CRGs brings value and authenticity to a diverse talent sourcing strategy. CRGs can establish partnerships with organizations that may have been difficult to navigate without their valuable collaboration and contribution.  

Community impact potential
Corporate social responsibility has a spotlight on it within many organizations. Over the last several years, businesses have been called to be more than our business expertise and success. Instead of solely leading these social responsibility efforts from our corporate or corner offices, CRGs can help make a material impact. By asking for their input, providing them with a budget for community impact or social justice endeavors, and inviting them (and joining them) to be our hands and feet in our communities, we can elevate their voices and talents to increase their visibility and to amplify the commitment to both colleagues and communities.  

Ultimately, CRGs have great potential for substantial and sustainable impact—but these results don’t happen overnight. CRGs can’t be placed on the back burner when something else demands our attention—because something inevitably will. The reality is that CRGs aren’t just good for diverse talent—they’re good for all talent. At their core, CRGs foster a culture of inclusion and belonging, but as with anything worthwhile, CRGs require continued investment, nurture, focus, and energy.