From Affinity Group to Employee Resource Group (ERG)

Affinity Groups, Employee Resource Groups (ERG), Business Resource Groups (BRG) - What's the difference and why does it matter?


This blog has the subheading, Lessons Learned at the Out and Equal Conference, in Los Angeles. At the conference, there were many outstanding presentations that highlighted the importance of corporate mentoring programs to employee retention, engagement and talent development. Several dealt with how Affinity Groups mature into Employee Resource Groups (ERG) which play a signficant role in career development.  When the process is well managed, these evolve into Business Resource Groups (BRG) with a focus on improving the company's revenues and profits, through community outreach by the BRG members. 

Business Resource GroupRaytheon’s Director of Employee Inclusion and Cultural Solutions, F. Chase Hawkins, presented a framework for thinking about the evolution of all Business Resource Groups. (These groups can be built around race, gender, LGBTAQ, disabilities, military experience, faith or other cultural issues.) Many of the companies in attendance had over a dozen ERGs/BRGs.

The Raytheon framework focused on the evolution of affinity groups towards becoming business contributors. Most groups go through four phases.

  • Informal Affinity Group At this point, the group is similar to a social club. It is driven by individuals, and is inward looking. Where are the others like me? Its purpose is to create a safe haven and to justify cultural reinforcement in the workplace. From the business perspective, the primary benefit is employees expanding their personal network.
  • Formal Affinity Group As the group seeks sponsors from Human Resources or acknowledgment from the company, it moves to become a recognized group. While still inward looking, the networking opportunities begin to span more levels. The groups become focused on career advancement for its members (professional development) and education (etiquette and awareness) for their coworkers. Most groups begin mentoring programs (formal or informal) at this point, as well as visible Public Service. This is the ideal time for a pilot mentoring program to be introduced.  These programs are usually small, with 25 to 50 pairs.  (The cost for mentoring software for these pilot programs is minimal compared to other training costs.)
  • Employee Resource Group With sponsorship from Human Resources and an executive, Affinity Groups mature into Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Mentoring becomes more formal, in part because the ERG is used by Human Resources in seeking to meet talent acquisition and retention goals. Well run, the ERG becomes a place for the development of emerging leaders who are considered for the High Potential track. ERGs can help Human Resources focus on groups of employees that may be at risk of leaving the firm and become part of the solution to the high turnover.
  • Business Resource Group As an ERG matures, is becomes more valuable to the corporation and its members.  These more mature entities are generally known as Business Resource Groups (BRG).  In a BRG, the goals of the group map directly onto the business objectives. Thus, the BRG will have explicit goals for recruiting and business development. In theory, Human Resources will track retention and new business against activity in the BRG, although we have yet to hear a company that has found a way to do this.


Traveling the path whereby Affinity Groups evolve into BRGs should be the aspiration of every well managed employee group, and the goal of every corporation's Talent Management professional or Mentor Program Administator. 

At each level, all the benefits for the prior stages are encompassed, but the employee group becomes more valuable to the company as its goals and members evolve.  Large organizations actively use these groups to test and groom their high potential employees and those considered for the HiPo track. Thus, mentoring and tracking the advancement and retention of active members of these employee groups is a high priority in all well-run large organizations.

The key to success of BRGs, is group activities that back to visibility among potential clients and talent acquisition. And the leaders of the BRG will have explicit goals and regular reporting to their Executive Sponsor and/or Human Resources.

With respect to mentoring, Affinity Groups tend to think of mentoring within the same context as peer-to-peer mentoring. By the time the group has become an ERG, the mentoring programs reflect the more outward orientation – and the mentoring programs tend to be corporate, cross-pollenization programs with an explicit-goal of broadening the perspective of the Mentor and Mentee.  Some Business Resource Groups use pod or group mentoring to leverage the time of the most senior members of the BRG. 

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