Professor Mary Zellmer-Bruhn, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
Employee resource groups (ERGs) have emerged as an organisational initiative to enhance the work experiences of employees. ERGs are collections of employees who share a common identity defined by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or shared extra-organisational values or interests. Workplace diversity research has grown, but comparatively little attention has been given to ERGs, particularly at the individual level. We have more knowledge about exclusion mechanisms than understanding mechanisms that improve inclusion. As ERGs are an organisational practice meant to improve inclusivity for underrepresented or marginalised individuals, examining their impact offers a valuable opportunity to extend research on diversity practices. Furthermore, the lack of research on employee outcomes of ERGs means we have little understanding of when and whether this kind of diversity initiative provides intended consequences. Increasingly, researchers find that diversity initiatives can generate negative spillovers for the very people they are intended to support. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to advance an understanding of ERG member experiences and consider conditions under which experiences may be more or less beneficial, including potential differences between identity-groups and the role and impact allies play. Our research adds a more expansive view on employee experiences related to ERG membership, proposing that responses may not be the same across all minority identity groups. By focusing on race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation of minority employees, we hope to understand more about how these demographic characteristics influence membership experiences. Further, we contribute to the small but growing literature on allyship in diversity and inclusion by investigating the role of allies from the perspective of minority and female ERG members.