If you have been in an employee resource group before, you know the importance of having a committed executive sponsor. Sponsors can change the direction of an ERG, and get other company leaders to take them more seriously. Now that you are in the position to sponsor a group, we want to share some tips on how to be an effective executive sponsor.
Work With an ERG You Believe In
First, you’ll want to find an ERG you believe in. What does that even mean? Well, you’ll want to work with an employee resource group that you are passionate and excited about.
The employees who belong to this group will depend on you for advice and enthusiastic support. So try to find a group you can spend months or even years advocating for.
Connect with some leaders and members of the various ERGs at your organization before you make a decision. Employees need motivated sponsors on their side.
Attend as Many ERG Meetings as Possible
If you want to keep up with ERG news and updates, you need to attend meetings. The most effective executive sponsors take time to attend meetings and show ERG members the respect they deserve.
When you attend ERG meetings, take effective notes and strive to understand how you could best help the group. Sponsors aren’t ERG leadership. As a sponsor, your job is to understand the ERG and its goals. From there, you can share tips/advice from time to time and advocate for ERG members.
Provide a Listening Ear to ERG Members
Whether you are in a meeting or not, listening is an important part of how to be an effective executive sponsor. Are you being a good listener to ERG members? Do you take the time to understand their concerns as a group and as individuals?
Many ERGs help protect underserved communities in your organization, like people of color or working parents. Take the time to listen to concerns without jumping into help mode. You’ll be surprised what you might learn when you slow down.
Help ERG Members Advocate for Their Needs at Work
Did you know that self-advocacy is one of the most important skills that employees can learn?
After you listen to ERG members, you need to teach them to advocate for their own needs at work. Part of being an ERG sponsor is advocating, but you might not always be around to connect the dots with your company’s leadership team.
Teach your members about the importance of understanding the ERG mission and sharing that mission with other company executives.
Become an Advocate for ERG Policies and Updates
As an ERG executive sponsor, you should also be letting leaders know about the mission of the ERG.
Do you want to know how to be an effective executive sponsor? Try opening up a door at work.
For example, you could get your ERG for parents a meeting with HR to discuss benefits that would appeal to working parents.
As an executive sponsor, you are a connector. You help your team by being a supportive voice. For example, when you see an opportunity for the group to chat with a company leader, make the connection.
Challenge ERG Members to Think Outside the Box
ERG members can often be stuck playing small. Underrepresented team members might not realize all of the support they have or where to find that support.
You have to connect with ERG leaders/members and get them to think differently. If their current approach to change at work isn’t helping move things forward, maybe there’s another way to go about it.
Remind your team of this famous quote:
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.Alexander Graham Bell
If things have been a certain way for a while, change can feel hopeless. Your employee resource group may have given up excitement, or they may use meetings to vent in a safe space.
Find quick wins to reenergize group members and then encourage everyone to think outside of the box to make positive changes at work.
Develop ERG Members Into Successful Workplace Leaders
ERGs are great incubators of in-house talent. You’ve probably seen a ton of potential in current ERG leaders and members. As an executive sponsor, you have the ability to hone this talent.
Try these activities:
- Work with other executive sponsors to create an in-house leadership symposium to cultivate and find future workplace leaders.
- Have great ERG leaders shadow company executives and senior managers for a day/week.
- Build an in-house training program to fill open leadership positions and encourage ERG leaders to apply.
- Bring new manager-level jobs up to ERG leaders who might be interested.
When you reach out about these opportunities, you give employees a chance to see themselves taking on those larger roles. Some of your employees might not see themselves climbing the corporate ladder, but your connection can give them the confidence to do it.
Help Plan and Budget for ERG Activities
Last but not least, you can help employee resource groups plan and budget for the activities they want to host.
Help resource group leaders think outside the box and encourage them to join groups like the Global ERG Network to find unique events to hold at the company.
Once they have some ideas in mind, you can help them plan how the event will work at your organization and secure funding for the events they want to hold.
An effective executive sponsor should help groups see the bigger picture and get their events funded the right way. You can help them pick budget-friendly venues/experiences so they can take full advantage of whatever budget they are given for events.
Conclusion: Be a Supportive Voice for ERGs
At the end of the day, the executive sponsor’s role is simple: be a supportive voice for the ERG you are helping.
It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, especially since your role changes depending on the company budget, ERG leaders, and how company leadership feels.
Being an executive sponsor can be challenging because you never know how your role might change over time. So roll with the punches and try to be the most supportive leader you can be.