In this expert interview with Nettie Nitzberg, of West 5 Consulting, we explore the topic of employee resource groups (ERG) and how they foster connection in the workplace.
Interview with Nettie Nitzberg
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Essentials Wellbeing Expert interview. I’m Mari Ryan, and I’m the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Nettie Nitzberg. Nettie is the founder of West 5 Consulting, and Nettie has been changing the way global companies maximize their people investment for over twenty years. Her work focuses on creating work environments that attract, grow, and retain top talent. I’m so excited to have you here for this conversation, Nettie.
Nettie Nitzberg: I’m excited to be here and talk with you, today.
Mari Ryan: Good, thanks. Today we are going to explore the topic of employee resource groups. Nettie, let’s start by defining what this is.
Nettie Nitzberg: Employee resource groups are sometimes called business network, or affinity groups, and they are groups of employees who join together because they have either shared characteristics, life experiences, or specific interests around a topic. For example, a veteran’s group, women, millennials, or it could be a group that likes to go hiking, or a book club within an organization.
Mari Ryan: Are they mostly social groups? What’s the purpose?
Nettie Nitzberg: Many companies, some are [indecipherable - 0:01:37.5] just to build teams and to get people to know each other, but then many ERG groups have a mission, and a company sells its platform for what the ERG is looking for. For example, they have a mission to do community service, professional development, there may be something more mentor-y. It may be giving back to the workplace. It really is up to the individual organizations as to how they set up their ERGs and how they are using them and what the goal is.
Mari Ryan: Why do organizations even have ERGs?
Nettie Nitzberg: Many times they start because of grassroots efforts. It may be the women in the organization feel like they want to get to know each other, and break down silos. Sometimes they are talking to a team and they find “we all like to do yoga,” or “all of us have been reading this book so let’s bring the group together.” Sometimes organizations do this because it’s a great benefit. You can use it in recruiting, talent acquisitions, and say we have these groups that you can belong to, and it’s a way to meet people within the organization, it’s a way to break down silos. It’s also a way to break down hierarchy, especially in a group of people that are alike together, so a group of women where you may have executives and managers, and the new intern who belongs to this employee resource group.
Mari Ryan: You’ve done some work; tell us a little bit about the work that you’ve been doing with some of your clients around ERGs.
Nettie Nitzberg: For one client, I helped them to get ERGs started. There had been some grassroots efforts in the organization around women, and the HR group realized that it was about time, because many of their competitors were offering these, to look at how do we put an ERG together, what is the process, what is the mission or goals of the ERG, and how do we get people to apply to it, get a sponsor, as well as how much money do we give to the ERG for different programming. This one company; I helped set up all those parameters, and then helped them pull the women’s together, since that one was the first one they were doing, and get that launched. It was fun, and that company today has over 70 ERGs going on at this time.
Mari Ryan: Wow – that’s a lot, that’s great. It’s neat to hear that they are using that. What do you see as the benefits to the employees who are participating in these ERGs?
Nettie Nitzberg: For a larger company, I see opportunity to learn about other parts of the organization. Many times you are in a function or a business unit, and you don’t meet anybody outside of that. This gives you a chance to meet other people across the organization who are like-minded, or who have the interests that you have. I also think there’s a benefit, especially with an ERG within a company, and perhaps they are doing professional development, or community service as a way for you to be giving back to the community by participating in what this company is doing and giving back, or create an opportunity for you to develop, or perhaps you need a mentor, and you have somebody mentor you that would be outside of your specific organization, or team, or business function.
Mari Ryan: It sounds like there is a lot of benefits from the employee perspective, but how about for the employers? What’s the employers’ motivation for …
Nettie Nitzberg: Many of the companies that I work for that have ERGs, like I said before, it’s a great offering around benefits that they have these opportunities for groups to come together, and to meet each other, and do very specific activities and/or development. It’s also a great opportunity within the company to build teams, and it helps with retention to say that I’ve had exposure to other parts of the company. I’ve had exposure to executives that are either the stakeholder sponsor for that ERG, or that participate in the ERG, and I never would have been able to meet a CHRO or the director of marketing, or the person in sales, because I’m in a finance position, or I’m in a customer service position, I never would have met those people. It’s a great internal networking opportunity, which I don’t think some employees on their own know how to do.
Mari Ryan: Okay, so it can help them build some skills.
Nettie Nitzberg: Absolutely.
Mari Ryan: How would you say that this links to the individual employee wellbeing?
Nettie Nitzberg: Personally, if it was me within an organization, I would look for companies that are offering this because it’s another outlet for me to personally develop. If it’s around interests, if I’ve always wanted to take yoga, or go hiking, it provides an opportunity for some physical activity. I think if employees are happy, they’re well. It’ a great way to improve employee satisfaction and employee engagement within organizations.
Mari Ryan: Great, so it sounds like it could also have some additional benefits from a way of shaping culture within the organization.
Nettie Nitzberg: Absolutely. I think especially millennials today are looking for that culture match. They want to go into a company because of opportunities, like the company has the same values, or they offer programs for them to meet people, to do community service work. I think these are just great to have, and I’m noticing, too, that many companies that are smaller are also doing it, and employees are driving it, it’s not necessarily coming from Human Resources.
Mari Ryan: That’s great; I love it when it’s a grassroots effort.
Nettie Nitzberg: Me, too!
Mari Ryan: That’s great.
Nettie Nitzberg: I have to say around the community piece; some people want to give back and don’t know how to do it, and ERGs provide specific ways to do it without you having to do all the searching and find what’s out there. Then you get to do it with your colleagues, which is even more fun, because you get to know them on a different level, and that giving back to the community.
Mari Ryan: It sounds like it also draws on people’s passions and for some people, another core element of wellbeing is purpose. So, this [0:09:19.9] draw on those passion and purpose interests of the individuals within the organization.
Nettie Nitzberg: I totally agree. I think we all want to have purpose, and sometimes within an organization it’s hard to define, and then becoming involved in these ERGs, it puts a stake in the ground for us.
Mari Ryan: That’s great. Excellent. I love the connection to foundational elements of wellbeing. Thank you for sharing your insights and your experience, because I know you’ve got a lot of experience in this area. If our audience wants to learn more about your work, and the work of your firm, how can they find out that information?
Nettie Nitzberg: Well, we’re on the web at West5consulting.com.
Mari Ryan: Thank you again, Nettie, for being here. It’s always a delight to spend time with you.
Nettie Nitzberg: Thank you, Mari, it was so much fun to do this. I appreciate it.
Mari Ryan: Thanks.
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