Strategic ERG Insights

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Stop Failing At ERG Leader Compensation

June 15, 20237 min read

We're doing it!! We're venturing into the land of the taboo and discussing compensation for #employeeresourcegroup #ERG leaders. We're looking at both sides of the argument - to pay and not to pay - and getting into strategies that work no matter what side you're on. But first, a brief commercial break!

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ERGs have firmly established their footing in the modern professional realm, contributing meaningfully to diversity and inclusion initiatives. As I’ve written in past issues, ERGs are the single most important conduit and bridge to diversity and inclusion efforts in most organizations and communities. Given their importance and the contributions made by ERG leaders, we can’t keep avoiding the topic of compensation just because we’re afraid we’re going to get it wrong or because we're afraid we don't have the budget.

To Pay Or Not To Pay?

The prospect of compensating ERG leaders is typically shrouded in debate, with pretty valid arguments from both sides. The debate centers on the balance between acknowledging the extra, often monumental efforts ERG leaders put forth and preserving the voluntarism and passion that underpins ERGs. It’s tricky.

One school of thought advocates for the compensation of ERG leaders. The rationale is rooted in the considerable time, effort, and expertise ERG leaders invest beyond their regular day jobs. They are the drivers of diversity and inclusion, shaping conversations, and leading initiatives and events that redefine an organization's culture. Understandably, proponents argue that it's only fair to compensate ERG leaders in a way that reflects their additional responsibilities, commitment AND contribution to the organization.

However, the flip-side, (there’s always a flip side!)  cautions against the potential pitfalls of introducing the almighty dollar into the equation. Detractors contend that ERGs' spirit hinges on voluntarism and a genuine commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion. Introducing pay risks transforming ERGs from intention-driven initiatives into just a job performed for monetary gains. To make matters worse, how do you distinguish what’s fair when only the leaders are paid even though much of the heavy lifting is done by key members who may not have a formal leadership role?

Like I said, it’s tricky and I don’t dismiss that, so we’re taking a nuanced approach to valuing and compensating our ERG leaders.

Getting Straight A’s In ERG Leader Compensation

Introducing (drum roll please) my new framework, the 'Straight A’s' Approach to ERG leader compensation:

Accolades, Acknowledgement, Allowances, Advancement, and Access

Accolades: Enterprise-wide recognition for ERG leaders

The essence of Accolades transcends a  'pat on the back.' It’s an affirmation of the value ERG leaders deliver, reflected through organization-wide recognition, not just recognition at the annual ERG summit or D&I event.

Consider an organization that awards outstanding employee achievements. By including a specific award, such as 'ERG Champion of the Year,' it’s not only a great way to give ERG leaders some well-deserved recognition for their tireless contributions, but also to show the rest of the organization the value of the ERG program as a whole, and that the organization values the efforts of their ERGs. Even runners-up get a social capital boost on this one.

Acknowledgment: ERG leadership reflected in performance metrics

Acknowledgment refers to incorporating ERG leadership roles into formal performance evaluations and placing them on equal footing with other critical roles and tasks in the organization. The work of ERGs and ERG leaders is important, and requires effort, time management, and leadership skills, among others, so why not recognize those competencies and capabilities?

Imagine an employee tasked with managing the demands of their regular job responsibilities in addition to their ERG commitments to celebrate and engage a specific identity group. Whether it’s a veterans group, women’s alliance, or Asian employees group, by acknowledging the ERG leadership role within their performance assessment, the organization unambiguously signals the critical value of their contribution.

Allowances: Propelling flexibility and enhanced benefits

Allowances refer to extending premium perks and increased flexibility to ERG leaders, perks typically reserved for more senior organizational tiers.

As mentioned, ERG leaders often perform a balancing act, managing their ERG responsibilities along with their standard roles. Acknowledging this, an organization can offer flexible work schedules, allowing leaders to allocate time effectively across their tasks. That's not all, many HRIS systems will allow you to provide ERG leaders with extra floating holidays or exclusive benefits typically reserved for more senior personnel, validating the extra lengths they go to in support of the organization’s ERG and employees.

Advancement: Paving career pathways and promotions

Advancement assures that ERG leaders are presented with avenues for career growth. ERG leaders can receive exclusive access to leadership development programs or receive sponsorship for professional certifications. Plus, their role as an ERG leader should signal their high potential, resulting in priority consideration for new opportunities, promotions, and special projects.

Access: Building bonds with senior leaders

Access is about providing ERG leaders with a golden opportunity to engage with senior leaders, providing valuable exposure, and fostering a robust professional network within the organization.

Establishing a quarterly interaction between ERG leaders and top executives can be life-changing, not to mention the impact on employee engagement!  This type of access empowers ERG leaders to learn from seasoned leaders, share challenges and receive advice, and build influential relationships. This privileged access provides a meaningful experience and an avenue to impact strategic decision-making. Plus can you imagine members lining up for consideration for ERG leadership roles?!

Sidenote: I was in Chicago with DEIB leaders from across the country these past few days, in case you’re curious it was a fantastic conference put together by Diversity Woman Media, and one of the senior leaders mentioned that she still had a photo on her desk from 20-years ago of her with the CEO of her Fortune 500 employer.  I can’t imagine anyone would prize a 2% pay bump in the same way, can you?

The bottom line is that I created the Straight A’s Approach to be a comprehensive strategy for rewarding ERG leaders while preserving the voluntary spirit and heart of ERGs. I don't know about you, but it feels somewhat less tricky now!

Acknowledgment, Authority, Allowances, Advancement, and Access.

Now the question goes from whether to compensate ERG  leaders to which option(s) to start with!

Want to see immediate progress? Here's a quick cheat:

How about a LinkedIn recommendation from the executive sponsor? I still remember when my bosses boss endorsed me for a skill on LinkedIn many years ago. It wasn’t even a recommendation but a skill endorsement and I was still so proud!

I want to hear from you, let me know which one you decide to start with or what else you think I should add to the Straight A’s Approach for ERG leader compensation. I'm going to be talking about this a-lot, so please chime in!

Watch out for next month's newsletter where we're getting strategic around ERG leadership structures and succession planning.

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Always in your corner,


ERG leader compensationCompensation strategiesEmployee Resource Group (ERG) leadershipDiversity and inclusion initiativesVoluntary contributionsRecognition and rewardsPerformance evaluationCareer advancementProfessional developmentExecutive engagement
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Asia Bribiesca-Hedin

Asia Bribiesca-Hedin, MBA, MPA, CPC, CPCC, Principal Coach and CEO of Bridgewell LLC Professional Services

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