Five tips for starting an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group

Brian Banner
Brian McCabe, Global Head of Digital Communications and Co-founder of Q+, the LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG)at the Adecco Group, shares tips for successfully starting an ERG in large organisations.
June 29, 2022
Inclusive Futures
Future of Work
Last summer, I was asked to write an article for my company’s Pride campaign – my coming out at work story, and I happily jumped at the opportunity. The Group wanted to give their voice and platforms to the LGBTQ+ community as an opportunity to listen and learn. In parallel, a close colleague and friend of mine, Francesco, was asked to re-colour the Group’s logo in rainbow colours for the campaign. Talking over coffee, and we both had the same thought and desire – how could we make Pride an all-year-long campaign at the Adecco Group? This was the origin of the Adecco Group Q+ (abbreviated to TAGQ+), our LGBTQ+ employee resource group (ERG).

Francesco and I were both active in the LGBTQ+ community in our private lives and very aware of how companies and brands can be accused of “pinkwashing,” unless they foster true LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace. While we had (and still have) a robust D&I strategy driven by HR, we believed we could help feed into its progress by engaging LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies through an ERG or Employee Resource Group. So, we set upon a path to ensure when Pride 2022 rolled around, there would be some tangible output and resources for LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies.

What is an ERG?

Employee resource groups are volunteer employee-led communities who join based on shared characteristics, interests or life experiences. ERGs are generally non-exclusive, supportive communities, built to foster inclusivity and awareness, enhance career development, and contribute to personal and professional development in the workplace. 

Five lessons from setting up an LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group

Since launching in July 2021, Q+ has gone from strength to strength. We have received executive sponsorship from Chief Financial Officer Coram Williams, who has committed to being the voice for LGBTQ+ colleagues at the Board of Directors level. We’ve delivered engaging employee webinars on topics like “Out Leadership” and written whitepapers (or Qzines as we call them) on allyship pronouns and inclusive language. We’ve created safer spaces where colleagues share their personal stories (and tears) and can be open about coming out at work. We even hosted an online drag show during one of the toughest Covid lockdowns to bolster the spirits of our members.

Honestly, if you had told me a few years ago, that I would have all this support to set something like this up for a Fortune 500 company, I would have never believed you.

However, starting an employee resource group is no easy task; it takes a lot of hard work and commitment, and that is on top of your day job. Yet, when it all comes together in the way Q+ has, it is truly worth the effort, and the rewards are endless. You get to meet and support talented people across the organization that you might never have the opportunity to connect with otherwise. And, what’s more important, you help create a safer workplace for people to be their true selves.

For anyone considering starting their own LGBTQ+ ERG (or any ERG even), I have outlined five tips to help you get started below:

Work closely with HR and align with your organisation's overall D&I strategy

Partner with your Human Resources team to ensure that everything the ERG supports is aligned and is also part of the HR’s and the company's overall diversity and inclusion strategy. Ultimately, you want to ensure any activity you do aligns with your company's overall vision of creating an inclusive working environment. Join the wider D&I network and work closely with your D&I officer if there is one. If other ERGs exist, partner closely with them, too, keeping in mind the importance of intersectionality and avoiding competing with one another. Find similar local groups if they also exist and share resources and budgets. Your goal is to make an affirmative and inclusive working environment for LGBTQ+ colleagues, and understanding this is inherently linked to every colleague's experience is critical to your success.

Start with your strategy and vision and translate them into year long tactics.

We started with a vision of "making a future where LGBTQ+ colleagues can continue to thrive and be their authentic selves at work" and built out objectives and tactics that supported enabling this vision. We designed every resource within Q+ to target one of two target groups. We have the Q+, which we defined as LGBTQ+ colleagues and vocal allies. The rest of the organisation falls into a category we refer to as "Allies in Incubation". These are allies who do not know they are allies yet. (It’s an expression a good friend of mine Mike Mark used once when I interviewed him for a web series, and I have borrowed with pride from him).

For the Q+ colleagues, we focused on building them up and creating an affirming culture that supports them in bringing their authentic selves to work. For our Allies in Incubation, we focused on educating them with content like webinars and whitepapers in the hope of converting them to active members of the network. With this approach, we built out a monthly schedule of tactics (webinars, coffee catchups, magazine releases etc.) to keep momentum and discussion going beyond Pride month.

Make a budget based on those tactics.

It sounds simple enough, but once you have your yearlong plan, make sure to cost out your activities to build a budget. Ask around to colleagues and those in the know within your company if you are unsure of how much tactics cost. Ask questions like how much does it cost to print 100 magazines, what is the usual ballpark fee for an external speaker for a panel discussion or ask HR how much it costs to produce an eLearning, etc. You can try to include an amount for a charitable donation to organisations that support LGBTQ+ progress if possible. In that case, this will illustrate to the LGBTQ+ community that your organisation is serious about helping them and going beyond rainbow logos. 

Seek executive sponsorship 

Now that you have a concept, plan, and budget, you will need to secure backing to bring your vision to life. There are different methods within an organisation to do this; however, I believe visibility at the highest level of the organisation matters and strongly recommend you look for a sponsor at the C-Suite level. At the Adecco Group, we approached our CFO, Coram Williams. We saw him as our first "Ally in Incubation" to convert to the network, and he was delighted to help us once asked. He has committed to being our ally on the executive board and regularly shares our resources with his peers. I am sure there are other methods within an organisation to secure sponsorship for your ERG; however, none, I believe, give as much visibility as having the support of the senior leadership. 

Create safer spaces 

Yes, safer means more private. While this might seem counterintuitive to a diverse and inclusive working culture, hear me out. Generally, marginalised people need to feel safe before they can let their guard down, and for queer people, coming out is a continuous process that may at first be easier only in a space they feel is secure. We launched the Q+ ERG publicly on our global intranet and offered a secure Microsoft Teams site as a safer space where our LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies can share their stories and connect. We have regular coffee catchups on this site where we touch on coming out at work experiences and any other aspects of queer life at work. Once colleagues feel safe and secure in smaller groups, they likely will open up further beyond these safer spaces you create.