Employee Resource Groups – Why East and Southeast Asian groups and leaders need to be represented in the workplace

Many companies and places of work are no strangers to Diversity and Inclusion policies, as well as the increased use of employee led groups. Read on to find out, “what are Employee Resource Groups?”, why they are beneficial for the leadership development of ESEA people and workplaces as a whole, as aswell as the considerations to make these spaces a safe and sustainable place for growth, employee happiness and retention.

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In the 21st century, diversity and inclusion groups are becoming more desirable in organisations of all sizes as they bring both the organisation and the employees a range of benefits. In the UK, 66% of the workforce is made up of ethnic minorities (GOV.uk) and as a result, Employee Resource Groups are being introduced in organisations to support diverse employee groups. A report conducted by Sir John Parker (of the Parker Review Committee) investigates the representation of ethnic minorities in director positions, or similar in FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 organisations. It was found that in the FTSE 100, there are 1,056 director positions, and 164 of these positions are held by a director from a minority ethnic group. This is a 32% increase from 2020 as only 124 positions were filled by an ethnic group member. In FTSE 250, there are a total of 1,849 director positions with 178 positions being held by a director from a minority ethnic group. The number of ethnic minorities in director positions is seen to be increasing, which is a huge win for our greater society!

The most recent Parker Review (2022) states that by increasing the number of ethnic minorities in director positions, there will be a “growth in the number of directors from minority ethnic groups in the most influential roles around the Boardroom table”. Alongside these statics, we only need to look to the wider societal events in the UK and around the world to historically marginalised groups to understand why diversity and inclusion efforts need to not only be in place, but be sustained and data driven, in an impactful way.

How can organisations and places of work support their employees and impact the wider societal change? At Asian Leadership Collective, we believe this all starts by promoting diversity at all levels of recruitment, through to talent management, and succession planning processes with an overall goal to create a system that focuses on recruiting and retaining diverse talent. These processes executed by both the business and management levels should be accompanied by programmes (i.e. Employee Resource Groups) that are available to everyone in the company, allowing employees from diverse backgrounds to be supported; creating a company culture where everyone will be encouraged and helped to reach their maximum potential.

So what are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)?

Whilst there are a varying degrees of business alignment and responsibilities from workplace to workplace, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are typically focused on fostering or strengthening community, offering support, and assisting with personal and professional growth at work. An ERG is a type of diversity group which is typically led by volunteers who are employees of the company. These employees come together based on commonalities such as their background or demographics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, etc.) as well as allies of these particular groups. ERGs tend to structure and host initiatives which align to the wider company goals and objectives; supporting the company in their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programming.

Why join an Employee Resource Group?

Employee Resource Groups exist to offer support to colleagues by providing a growing community where members can share a common identity and sense of belonging with others; delivers a space for others to meet new people in their community.

There are a number of opportunities in joining an Employee Resource Group:

  • Acts as a support network for both professional and individual development in the workplace as they offer resources that align with organisational missions, values, goals, and practices
  • Provides tangible resources and subject matter expertise for leadership, decision makers regarding colleague/community issues, needs, and policies
  • Encourages a respectful and inclusive company culture and reinforce the importance of intersectional equity
  • Develops and nurture future leaders and increase employee engagement
  • Reverse mentoring and sponsorship opportunities for ERG members and senior members of the workplace
  • Provides minorities with representation and equal opportunities

“In my experience, East and Southeast Asian people are either usually left out of many DEI conversations or come under the banner of “Asian” in BAME which includes South Asian communities; both leading to erasure or a monolith reflection of these diverse and intersectional groups. Employee Resource Groups are and should be an integral part of the workplace, not only for awareness building but to be a part of initiatives that feed into business objectives for success. More East and Southeast Asian grassroots community organisations over the past few years to combat many of the aggressions and violence experienced by this community all over the world. I believe our workplaces need to reflect this movement in society, it is no longer acceptable for companies to ignore, or “tick box” their way through DEI programming.”

Anna Chan, Asian Leadership Collective Founder and Director

Why should East and Southeast Asian people get involved with Employee Resource Groups?

ERGs involvement and/or leadership from the East and Southeast community can help to support what has been identified as 3 integral areas of growth opportunities as described in literature (Gee et al. 2015; Gee, Peck. 2018) on leadership for East and Southeast Asian communities:

  • To build self aware and understand the workplace environment
  • Be able to navigate and progress to be able to lead
  • Battling the bias and structures present in the workplace

These groups can provide a safe space for East and Southeast Asian people to build on their strengths and identify their weaknesses; practice in leading a committees of their peers.

Many ERGs of varying causes tend to work together on larger initiatives, which allows for the opportunity to build inclusive leadership, challenge bias (in themselves and others), and work together towards common understanding and goals. Having this opportunity to work in the wider business context as part of an ERG allows East and Southeast Asian people access to the same resources, executive level sponsorships, and form part of the DEI initiatives for the whole company. It also allows for the wider community of colleagues who identify with the ESEA community to be represented.

“Reflecting on my own experiences in my current and previous job, I have noticed a lack of recognition and awareness to East and Southeast Asian cultures, especially in leadership roles. Now that I am finally growing in the professional world, I understand the importance that Employee Resource Groups can bring to both the organisation and the individual in terms of development, sense of belonging, job satisfaction, etc. The company that I currently work for does have a diversity and inclusion group, however there is no specific ERG for ESEA employees. I feel a sort of disconnection here as the representation of ESEA employees is very weak. This has (in my opinion) led to a weak Lunar New Year promotional cycle and poor appreciation of our cultural celebration. As a young East Asian, I believe that more organisations and more ESEA people should be getting involved with creating/participating in ESEA ERGs to improve workplace diversity since we are a minority group that is constantly overlooked and undermined due to factors like unconscious bias. After-all, we are the next generation of leaders.”

Winse Chan, Asian Leadership Collective Volunteer

What to consider when joining and/or creating an Employee Resource Groups?

Whilst there are many benefits and opportunities of being part of an ERG, there are a number of things to consider when joining or creating these initiatives:

  • Time commitment
    • Many ERG positions and their responsibilities come on top of completing your day job. Make sure to be realistic with yourself and communicate with your manager on how much time you might be spending on your ERG involvement
    • Strong considerations for tangible compensation should be provided to ERG leads, especially if employees volunteer in their roles; these might range from financial to promotional recognition
  • Aims and objectives of the group
    • An overall structure should be in place to support ERGs which is lead from a company level; ensuring cohesive alignment to the wider vision and missions of the company
    • Be sure on your groups collective aims, objectives and goals. These should be brainstormed and have the input of the wider committee
  • Supporting your local community outside of the workplace
    • As with any workplace initiatives, these can become siloed from the wider community. Be sure to include groups, organisations, and people who align with your ERGs goals as paid for contributors to the events and work you do.
  • Selfcare and protecting the community
    • ERGs are usually cognisant to world wide events and incidents of their communities. It is important that safeguarding processes and support is provided for ERG members and colleagues. This could include trigger/content warnings, employee care and support (such as helplines, workplace paid for therapy sessions), a separate dedicated content and communication department who deal with sensitive incidents from a company wide perspective

Asian Leadership Collective provide consultancy for DEI and planning, as well as keynote speaking talks on Employee Resource Group experiences.

Are your part of an Employee Resource Group at work? What is your experience? Are you interested in starting Employee Resource Group in your workplace?

Get in touch hello@asianleadership.co.uk. We’d love to hear from you!