As organizations become more aware of the opportunities related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), interest in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) has increased as organizations have reached out to their employees for information that could help them build more robust employee strategies.
During my career, I have had multiple interactions with ERGs, either as a member of one, as an executive sponsor, or even as a speaker – and often discussed multicultural marketing trends. But there is one interesting experience that gave me a good lesson about the convergence between multicultural marketing and ERGs.
In 2004, I was hired by Nextel Corporation to work on their Hispanic marketing efforts. One of my first projects was customizing a general marketing campaign for the Hispanic segment.
After extensive consumer research, we came to the conclusion that the original idea needed to be changed and that simply translating the creative concept into Spanish for the purpose would not be effective. We had to create an adaptation that retained the essence of the idea while using the cultural insights of the segment.
When the campaign started, I received a call from my CMO that the Hispanic ERG had concerns about the new campaign and said that “we did a bad job translating it from English to Spanish”.
I offered to meet with the ERG team, explained that translations were never our goal and why a translated strategy would not be successful, presented our research study results and shared the positive research results on the new, adapted concept.
Their response was unanimous. You all understood and supported the proposed changes. More importantly, the company’s Hispanic marketing was being handled by professional subject matter experts (from the company and partner agencies) for marketing to Hispanics.
It was important for me and my team to bring ERG closer to our endeavors, even if they are not familiar with marketing and advertising. From that moment on, we continued our interactions and the positive internal word of mouth gave our team further support which led to significant results for the company.
I believe this anecdote is still relevant as the collaboration between multicultural marketers and ERGs may not be obvious until the last few days. Worse, these efforts can even be merged as such, which could pose risks to the companies’ business efforts.
To learn more about ERGs, I spoke to one of the country’s DE&I experts, Robert Rodriguez, President of DRR Advisors, who is a frequent speaker and advisor on building and maintaining ERG groups and is currently working solely on a new book works focused on ERGs. Below is an edited summary of our discussion:
Isaac Mizrahi – When was the first ERG made?
Robert Rodriguez – It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the first ERG was created. However, experts in the field believe it was in the late 60’s, early 70’s by Xerox and the first ERG group was an African American group.
Mizrahi – What should be the main goal of an ERG?
Rodriguez – It all depends on the company’s vision, but most of my clients use a model I created to create a clear focus. I call it the “4 Cs” model, which is four pillars: career, community, culture and commerce. Some companies prioritize one pillar over another, but most of the companies I work with focus on some of them.
Mizrahi – could you expand each column a little?
Rodriguez – Sure. The aim of Career is to help ERG members to gain professional opportunities, progress and experience. For the community, the idea is to help the company make a greater impact in the communities they serve. The aim of the culture is to raise awareness of the focus of the ERG within the organization, especially through the celebration of events such as “Heritage Month”. Finally, commerce is about how ERG can support the company’s business with that particular group.
Mizrahi – Is there a risk when ERGs are also responsible for multicultural business strategies?
Rodriguez – ERGs were not created to replace multicultural business professionals, but they can be allies, as you described in your anecdote. In addition to the fact that ERG members may not be complete experts in multicultural marketing, there is a significant risk that they will be biased towards their organizations and their own business.
Mizrahi – Who are the leading companies in implementing an integrated ERG strategy?
Rodriguez – Every industry has its leader, and B2C companies tend to do better than B2B companies. However, if I have to name a few, I would probably mention McDonald’s, IBM, J&J, Facebook, and Sodexo.
Mizrahi – What are the latest trends regarding ERGs?
Rodriguez – One of the biggest trends I’ve been observing is the idea of intersectionality when two or more segments come together, not necessarily to create a new ERG but to motivate discussions that multiple groups may have in common. For example, some ERGs for women and ERGs for Hispanics may host discussions about the professional challenges of Latinas.
Mizrahi – Are ERGs limited to employees who represent the group they focus on?
Rodriguez – Rodriguez – Not really. Most modern ERGs have an open concept, which means that any employee can be a member regardless of their background. This helps to raise awareness and education on key DE&I issues and strengthen the Ally Idea.
We are experiencing times of strategic convergence between external communication with customers and potential customers and internal communication efforts with employees and potential employees. A brand’s promise and narrative can no longer distinguish between these two dimensions.
For companies committed to building an environment that supports DE&I and multicultural marketing, leveraging your own people’s voices can be a source of ideas and suggestions that may not have been considered previously, and ERGs can be in great allies in this process. However, it’s also important to understand their limitations and how ERGs can interact, support, and reinforce their multicultural marketing efforts.