Discussion Board: Are ERGs effectively increasing the pipeline of Latino talent for senior-level leadership positions?
Three experts discuss whether ERGs are still the best development tools for Latino employees—and how they can improve
Interviews by Mary Kenney
Chairman-Elect of the Board
US HISPANIC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Only those employee resource groups (ERGs) that are formally aligned to the existing human resources process will effectively support efforts to increase the Latino pipeline, both internally and externally. Otherwise, ERGs will plan and execute a lot of initiatives that, fundamentally, neither affect the root causes, nor change the workforce demographics in significant ways.
ERGs comprise employee volunteers who have full-time jobs doing something else. If management, both HR and line, is not supportive and not formally aligned to these ERG efforts, there will always be friction between the demands of each employee’s full-time job and their efforts to close the gaps that exist in the workforce. Always.
I believe that ERG members, particularly ERG leaders, should be given formal responsibilities to address enterprise-wide issues, be expected to deliver on certain goals, and be compensated appropriately for it. For example, a full-time Hispanic finance manager may be able spend 10–20 percent of his or her time addressing specific, enterprise-wide, diversity-related issues. The goals and compensation associated with this employee should be part of that individual’s annual performance scorecard. Once these goals are aligned—department, division, and enterprise—everyone will be clear on expectations and roles and should deliver on the goals. Only then will ERGs achieve a higher level of appreciation in, and value from, the company.
From a public relations perspective, the value of ERGs has increased, because more people know about them than ever before. I believe, though, that this is a double-edged sword because if the ERGs don’t deliver on that perception, they may lose relevance and credibility. Most people don’t realize how limited ERG budgets are or that they are seldom formally aligned to existing processes.
That trend will continue until each ERG proves its true value and potential. But it’s a catch-22; it will continue to be a challenge for an ERG to prove itself when it is limited by low budgets, influence (members tend to be lower-level employees), lack of alignment with company processes, and the amount of time staff has to do ERG-related work.
Chief Diversity Officer
ERGs are very effective in increasing Latino talent within an organization. First, they allow individuals to be part of a larger community that is trying to achieve common goals around participation, engagement, and development. Next, they allow employees the opportunity to participate in projects and efforts they would, perhaps, not normally get asked to participate in.
For example, a person who normally works as a contributor may be asked to lead a committee. The great thing is that an individual can be given the ability to steer in a safe environment. This practice prepares the individual, so when the opportunity to lead within their “regular job” is presented, they are ready. Some ERG opportunities give people access to lead groups of 250–1,000 members. There are business units today that are not that big in size and scope. It is a learning lab for leadership.
We need Latino employees to see ERGs as a way to test their ability to lead. It is a way in which they can get engaged—not just participate—in a company. It is a place in which they can add value beyond their current role. We are finding out that being engaged in ERGs is a way for employees to increase the velocity of their knowledge in the company.
I expect the relevance of ERGs to continue. The need to belong is a need that will last forever. What changes is the development of the ERG.
As ERGs mature, the focus and strategy will change. It may develop beyond just needing to be with people who are similar, and into the need to network. In turn, that may mature to talent development and access. And from access it may go to pipeline development or business involvement. The ERG must be mindful of the belonging, networking, access and/or business involvement equally, in order to take the pulse of its constituents.
HERNAN J. F. SAENZ, III
BAIN & COMPANY
In my experience, ERGs can be extraordinarily effective. The question is, what separates the ones that are from the ones that aren’t? I’ve never formally studied ERGs, but I can share some observations.
If you have groups that are helpful in recruiting, then, by definition, you will start with a larger pool of Latinos from whom to build senior talent.
Secondly, you need to have deliverable objectives for the group: to develop, mentor, and coach Latinos your company has already hired. Those objectives will help Latino employees grow into senior talent.
The third objective of ERGs is retention. You can get people excited, challenged, and thriving in your workplace, which will reduce the possibility that they will leave for other opportunities, because they are loyal to the company and excited to continue working with you. If you do all of those things, then you will develop talent and help them reach leadership positions.
That has been our experience at Bain and Company. LATBA (Latinos@Bain, an ERG) is built around those primary objectives. We want to bring in Latinos who are interested in business today, and we want to develop individuals on their own development tracks. We want to make sure each and every employee is thriving so that a bunch of really good people come up.
I think ERGs have always had the right sentiment, but I’m not sure we’ve always been pointed in the right direction to get there. They’ve always had the right set of objectives: how do we hire more Latinos, or, how do we ensure that the ones who are here are comfortable and are developing?
I think time has improved the set of tactics that are being used to achieve these objectives. ERGs are no longer built on simply bringing together people of similar demographics and characteristics at a conference or in a meeting. Now it’s about developing employees throughout their careers and recruiting people of similar interests and needs.
I think ERGS are more relevant today than ever because our workforce is becoming more diverse than ever before. The number of Latinos, the number of women, and the number of international employees have all increased. The good news is ERGs have been around for a while, so they’re getting better and better at what they do: developing initiatives and tactics to increase and retain diversity.