Accelerating DEI with ERGs, Affinity Groups, & Diversity Committees

Orion Talent provides best practices of diversity committees, ERG (employer resource groups), and affinity groups.

The big ideas and goals of DEI work are inspiring, but what about the critical day-to-day tasks it takes to achieve those important workplace outcomes? Lots of businesses and leaders discuss the value of creating diversity committees and employee resources groups, but do they know how to structure and build these initiatives so that they are effective and have the power to affect change?

Watch five industry leaders share their experience building DEI-focused internal teams, determining their purpose, makeup, and responsibilities while also ensuring they are capable of driving the changes needed to advance DEI.

Read our blog post: Employee Resource Groups & Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging - Your Questions Answered

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ERGs, Affinity Groups, & Diversity Committees FAQs

What is an ERG? An Affinity group? A Diversity Committee?

ERGs are employee-led volunteer groups that are formed based on shared traits or defining characteristics that group members possess. They present the opportunity to network, foster mentoring and career development, and attract diverse talent.

An affinity group is another term for an ERG. Again, the shared characteristic in an affinity group is usually a traditionally underrepresented trait.

A diversity committee is a task force that functions in an advisory rols on DEI initiatives with the goal of aligning those efforts with overall business strategy.

How are they different? How can they be used for DEI initiatives?

This is an important question and should be examined as part of of any DEI initiative. View the full webinar recording to learn more.

Why are ERGs important for diversity inclusion?

ERGs are important for diversity initiatives, because they provide your team with a safe space to share knowledge and experience, as well as improve your organizations links to various communities. Members of ERGs can serve as diversity champions and inclusion allies as you work to provide an inclusive environment.

What are some best practices for improving DEI initiatives with an ERG/Affinity Group/ Diversity Committee?

When leveraging your ERGs, Affinity Groups, or Diversity Committee to improve DEI at your company, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Ensure executive buy-in and provide executive sponsors
  • Promote cross-collaboration between ERGs
  • Create clear mission statements
  • Measure the effectiveness
  • Grow the group
  • Get members' feedback

How do you structure a diversity committee?

Diversity committees should include employees from all levels and teams. These committees usually consist of a Chair and up to 15 members. Company leaders often serve in ex- officio roles. Other possible roles include a bookkeeper, Event Chair, and Advisor.

Read the Full Transcript

Shanté Williams

Hello and thank you everyone for joining us today. Today’s webinar “Back to the Basics: The Building Blocks of an Authentic DEI Strategy” offers us a way to look back at what has been working in DEI over the last few years and bring that to life. Now we have a few people who are still streaming in so we are going to start the Webinar in 5 minutes. Thanks for your patience and we will get started shortly.

Let me explain how you can participate as part of the audience. First, if you have a question, you do not have to wait for our Q&A time at the end of the panel discussion. You can add your questions to the chat any time. Our team will monitor and let me know when we have questions from the audience to dig into. If we don’t get to it right away, we will add it to our Q&A section. So ask away when your questions come to mind.

In addition, we have added a couple of poll questions for you out there in the audience so you can share your thoughts and insights and this panel can react. Participating in those is simple. You just use the tools right on your Zoom screen when the poll questions pop up. And with that, we are ready to start. I am going to set the stage with a few DEI data points that I think are important to consider. Here’s the first

Cheri Brumbaugh is the Manager of Workforce Planning & Staffing Analytics for Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. Now I know most of us here on the panel and out in the audience of extensive HR and workforce expertise but how many of us know or get to work with a Workforce Planning and Staffing Analytics expert? Cheri, I am so excited to have you hear to share your DEI experience and passion and also to help us all learn more about the emerging and incredible work around staffing analytics. Could you share with our audience a bit about yourself and why and how DEI work became important to you and central in your career?

Cheri Brumbaugh: Cheri to provide her bio - 45-60 seconds


Thank you, Cheri! Our second panest is Chris Moreland who is the the Chief Diversity Officer and Managing Partner for Diversity Crew as well as an Adjunct Professor of DEI at SMU’s Cox School of Business Career Management Center. Chris I am going to guess that some people on this call may have already had the pleasure hearing you deliver a keynote address on one of the DEI or storytelling subjects you often cover for businesses and organizations nationwide. Can you also take a moment and share a bit about yourself and also why and how DEI work became important to you and central in your career?

Chris Moreland: Chris to provide a brief bio -45-60 seconds


Thank you, Chris, for that. We have so much to talk about, but before we dive in….

Are businesses delivering on DEI?


Over the last two years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I collectively) have never had more focus or coverage from the corporate world. Has the spotlight on the need made a big impact?

I would agree that the impact, especially in 2020 when the world was raw with sadness and rage for George Floyd, was vocal and public and loud.

But the big question for workers and workers when it comes to is this one: Has all the focus businesses have placed on DEI made a difference? I would say it’s a mixed bag and I think you hear that in the marketplace at well.

For example, this 2022 study from Catalyst on the risks of performative DEI found that a large majority of workers, 75%, say that their organizations’ racial equity policies are not genuine. That’s a heavy amount of people who see the work their organizations or doing as performative, check the box DEI work rather than genuine work designed to drive change.

I would love to look at where our audience here today is at when it comes to DEI authenticity and effectiveness with two very quick polls.

POLL QUESTION: Do you feel like your organization's DEI policies are genuine?

  • Yes
  • No


So, audience, here is the first poll question for you and it’s an easy yes or no. The question is…. Do you feel like your organization's DEI policies are genuine?

Ok so that’s what we think about the policies being genuine. I also want to ask a second poll about effectiveness.

POLL QUESTION: Are your organization's DEI initiatives making an impact?

  • Yes, a strong impact
  • Yes, some impact
  • No, no impact at all

What is the state of DEI in Corporate America today?


Based on your experience, that first data point we looked at ( 75% of employees in countries worldwide not feeling like racial diversity efforts are genuine) and the poll responses of our audience to their own DEI programs, what are your thoughts on the state of DEI today? Where are we right now? Chris let’s start with you.


Thank you Shanté and I have to say that the data feels pretty on point right now. Here’s how I will explain what I have seen.

From my perspective, a year and a half ago anyone could hang up a shingle advertising their DEI capabilities and they would get calls because there was so much demand and so little supply. It was a time of incredible imbalance as organizations looked for solutions amid chaos and despair. What I think many are realizing now that the energy is less frantic is this: a one-shot pony doesn’t change anything in terms of diversity and workforce culture. DEI can’t be quickly addressed and then pushed past.

When I think about the major DEI pushes businesses embraced early on after the George Floyd killing, it reminds me of going to a restaurant and filling up on so many appetizers that you lose your appetite and cannot eat the main meal. You are missing the most nutritious part of the meal. The food that was so thoughtfully prepared and made to nourish and delight.

That is what was missed early on for a lot of businesses pursuing quick DEI fixes. Organizations that thought that maybe they could address DEI quickly with some policies and messages are realizing it is not nourishing their workforces. One-shot efforts do not change perspectives or culture. I feel like now is when we are going back to fix that work.

What I see right now is businesses who want to do the deeper, harder work of DEI and are realizing the kind of work and change that will take.


Yes, absolutely. What a fascinating way to think about rushing a critical process like building the key foundations of DEI strategy and programs. That’s exactly why we are here, getting back to those basics so we can build a foundation that does nourish people and workforces for the long term. Thank you, Chris. Cheri, what are your thoughts on the state of DEI?


Well, I definitely relate to what Chris shared. What I have learned, and I think a lot of people have is that DEI work is tough and not for the faint of heart. Most businesses made commitments and had aspirations due to the events we saw in 2020 and the widespread recognition of how far we need to go to ensure all people experience their workplace as a safe space.

As more and more people began to recognize how much work goes behind DEI and that it can’t be a short-term gain, some momentum slowed. Add to that challenge the market labor and economic pressure businesses have faced and DEI strategies and efforts have lost some steam.

I think you see that in some burnout among DEI professionals right now and that is, like I said, because it is an uphill battle without a lot of instant gratification and oftentimes some pushback. So I would say the state of DEI is that we are deep in the grind right now where businesses that are willing to do the hard work are doing it with a keen awareness that it’s not for the faint of heart.


Agree! It’s definitely important and grueling work and I would love to start there because it’s exactly what we promised our audience here today. We are going to tell you what the essential building blocks of an authentic DEI strategy so our peers on the Webinar now whether or not they have the right elements and tools in place to ensure their DEI work is not all appetizer and no nutrition.

What are the building blocks of authentic DEI strategies?


So, with that said, this is also a question for all three of us to consider and answer hear for our audience. If the work a lot of businesses did was not deep enough to last and build and inclusive, welcome diverse workplace, where is that critical start point. Cheri, you get to answer first this time.


Well, it’s interesting because I am a mathematician by trade and, as you saw in my title, an analyst. Most people would assume I would be focusing on the metrics and the data that measure diversity progress. That big D in diversity. Are we seeing that number rise? How much are we seeing are diversity numbers grow?

However, I think we have to start somewhere else and by building a culture of inclusion and workplace practices that increase inclusion. The fact is you cannot increase and sustain any kind of diversity if you don’t build an authentic culture that wants you to show up as who you are, that will treat you fairly in terms of pay, resources and opportunities and that will not exclude you from the rooms where big decisions are made. Those cultures are the ones that can build diverse workplaces.

An inclusive culture to me is the keystone--the essential first building block of an authentic DEI strategy.


I always make it a policy to trust the mathematicians and you definitely made it easy for me here. I love great metrics to as the head of People and Culture at Orion. I love to be able to show leadership how we are moving the needle. But I wholeheartedly agree that any progress achieved without an inclusive culture will be lost when diverse candidates discover the diversity messages communicated are not the diversity reality inside the business. Chris, what are the core building blocks you think of when it comes to DEI strategy?


I always tell my clients that you know you are succeeding in your DEI efforts when you are not looking for diverse talent, but diverse talent is looking for and finding you. So, I agree with Cheri that you can’t just focus on numbers and representation and assume it’s a winning strategy. You have to look at the processes and practices inside the organization that have not allowed diversity to thrive. A lot of times a roadblock in the process is decision making around DEI. Who is making the decisions? As Cheri put it, who is in the room? Who is deciding which religious holidays are vacation days and why? Who is determining parental leave or caretaker accommodations and why?

Why isn’t your business attracting more diverse talent? You have to ask the question, but you also have to think about who is answering and who are you listening to? Are you getting all the voices you need to hear?

I like to remind businesses to consider whose perspective is missing when you are asking that question? That’s what businesses need to find out.

Here’s an all-too-common example. If a business is not getting enough women into their engineering division, are the asking the right questions of the right people to solve that challenge? Are they asking women engineers and other staff members or are they asking the question in a vacuum?

For me, a key to building better DEI solutions is removing the vacuums and inviting more perspectives into solution conversations and development.


What a great point and I have to say it’s something that we talk a lot at Orion Talent because we know that strong DEI requires leadership sponsorship and engagement, but we also have to listen to many voices. We need the employees who live the experience of the workplace and the culture to have a strong voice. Who should be answering the question? Whose perspective should have greater weight? Those are such great questions to remember, and I think it lends itself to another poll question for our audience and that is….

POLL QUESTION: Is your business missing any key voices in its DEI conversations?

  • Employees
  • Leaders
  • Employees of color
  • LGBTQ+ employees
  • People with disabilities
  • Neurodiverse employees
  • Women


Do you think your business is missing any key voices in its DEI conversations? Thanks to the panel for weighing in because it’s such a tricky challenge to make sure all voices are heard and still make progress and programs that support everyone. Like Cheri said, DEI is not for the faint of heart!

Now we have time for one more question for each of you and I would love to focus them on your areas of expertise. Let’s start with the math of it and you Cheri….

How do you apply your data and mathematics skills to DEI?


So, let’s go back to math Cheri. I think we can all agree that tracking and measuring DEI progress is still important to DEI success. It’s even a building block but how do you effectively apply your data skills to DEI work and how would you suggest other businesses do the same?

Cheri As a data-driven person, I have to say that you cannot lead the way on DEI if you are not doing employee engagement surveys and candidate surveys and pulse surveys. Surveys are such a powerful way to get a pulse on how your workforce is doing and to gather metrics on progress. Are we doing better? How are employees feeling? What’s changing? What’s not?

One important thing I will note is that when you conduct employee surveys there is an expectation from employees that you are doing surveys with the intention of taking action. They expert reciprocity, and that’s okay. If you are asking employees to share and they are trusting you with their DEI inputs and ideas, make sure you do something with the information they have trusted you with. Even if that means simply sharing survey data for discussion and updates.

And I have to say my philosophy around DEI is that of reciprocity. You should give as much as you take. If you are recruiting and pulling talent from HBCUs, how are you also giving back to those communities? If you are focused on veteran recruitment, how are you giving back to that talent pool. That give and take is really important because we need those talent pools to grow and thrive for all of us.


Thank you Cheri and I could not agree with you more on engagement surveys and building those connections. There is so much to learn from, but it’s also a great reminder that when we ask for insights, employees will expect that those insights will likely lead to something.

How can businesses ensure they are authentic in their DEI efforts?


Part of your job as a DEI expect and strategist is to help leaders path better paths forward. What is some of the best advice you can give to today’s leaders when it comes to being authentic around DEI?


I love that question and I think most of us are going to relate to this answer. The CEOs and presidents and leaders who I think are really getting it right right now are the ones who are willing to say this: “We are not there yet.”

Everyone likes to put on a good show as a leader, but I am telling you some of the greatest authenticity is seen in organizations with leaders who say, we are not there yet and, in all honesty are not even aware yet of what we are missing.”

These leaders have stopped trying to check a box with diversity statements or ERG counts and are willing to listen to their employees and face the challenges with imperfect answers. They aren’t putting a start or a stop on DEI programs. They aren’t willing to claim victory. They are embracing the marathon nature of this journey and are talking about it. That authenticity and imperfection is something employees and all of us can relate to. It’s not simple work. It’s not easy work and transparency matters.


Yes, it does. Transparency is another key. Wonderful input Chris. Well, I am sad to say that I need to wrap our talk up so I can open the floor to questions but before I do I want to leave our audience with some takeaways that we as your Webinar team today think can be useful in establishing those essential DEI building blocks. They are….

Before we jump into questions from the audience, I want to summarize a few key points we made today. Here they are.

Embrace the marathon as Chris advised us. Don’t expect quick fixes or one-shot wonders to deliver on diversity. Invest the time and be okay with not having all the answers.

Build an inclusive culture by doing the work it take to create workplace where diverse employees want to work, stay, advance and succeed.

Survey the right people and ask the right questions. Use surveys and town halls and other insight collection methods to measure effort and ensure you are not making DEI decisions in a vacuum.

And finally Give as you take. Give back to the communities you are relying on to improve your DEI strategies and results.

Now it’s your turn to pose some questions audience. What would you like to know from our panel?

Well, that is all the time we have. Thank you to everyone who joined us today and especially this incredible panel Cheri and Chris. We will be sure to keep you informed of the next event in our Orion Talent webinar series. Thanks everyone and have a great afternoon.