What About The Black ERGs? The Dwindled Support of Executive Sponsors & Allies
Since I became familiar with the concept of employee resource groups (ERGs) in 2016 — four years after entering the workforce, these groups played a critical role in my personal and professional development and preservation. However, employers fail to realize this is the case for many Black employees — even more so today — yet fail to be intentional with their support.
Support with joining ERGs wasn’t part of the onboarding process and still isn’t for most companies. Upon researching and joining the Black ERG, I found the leadership team rigid in their decision-making and ingenuity. Speaking frankly about diversity issues within the company was also discouraged. It wasn’t a space that welcomed and harnessed the beauty of my authentic self; it was a space that expected me to align my Blackness to the company culture.
I was confused by the idea that a concept created to foster community, encourage authenticity, and ensure diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging, was instead used to pacify and gaslight. This confusion led to frustration, and my frustration led to action. I later became active in forming and supporting ERGs. And while I always struggled with assertiveness, I learned from a favorite quote that “if you want something, you had better make some noise.” Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).
I paired my actions with being persistently and unapologetically vocal about diversity and inclusion and the need for executive sponsorship of ERGs. As a result, the opposition often met me with resistance and aversion. Many, including company executives, consider ERGs as extracurricular instead of essential.
But with the continued devastating injustices of 2020 and either the fear of being exposed as a covert racist employer or becoming “woke,” drove executives and traditional naysayers to issue public statements of solidarity and request a significant presence of ERGs in their companies. It took hashtags of deceased Black and Brown individuals for White employees to realize why ERGs matter — why their Black and Brown employees mattered. Sadly, for others, they remain caught between a battle of their egos and devotion— a case of performative allyship.
However, even after pleas to continue the momentum for change, all our sworn allies’ grandiose solidarity statements were abandoned on timelines and buried in inboxes.
Black ERGs are working more than before to tackle diversity and inclusion without the support that genuinely matters — collective efforts towards systemic company changes. We must continue to put forth demands as well as how we expect our colleagues to meet them.
ERGs continue to play a critical role in many employees’ personal and professional development and preservation because they are the primary source of shared wisdom, skill development, and encouragement. ERGs are not platforms for those with corporate political agendas from which they may exploit. They’ve offered to pay graciously, so now’s our time to collect.
What do ERGs do for you? What has your experience been like as a contributor, member, ally, or a combination — especially in 2020? What changes would you like to see?