Employee Resource Groups
Advancing Inclusion

Employee Resource Groups

Diversity expert Deborah L. Plummer guides you in developing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for advancing inclusion – and its attendant innovation and profit – at your firm.

Psychologist and diversity expert Deborah L. Plummer, PhD, writes that respect for differences amid the multiculturalism of the modern workplace creates an encouraging, positive environment while increasing innovation and productivity.

She created this guide for members of organizational diversity councils – or employee resource groups (ERGs) – to use in reviewing their efforts to build diversity and insure inclusion. Her exercises and suggestions can guide your firm’s efforts to establish and maintain diversity practices. Writing clearly and without dogma, Plummer offers a brief, handy overview that executives, managers and HR officers will find enlightening and easy to apply.

Similarities and Differences

The term “diversity” refers to differences among people in ethnicity, gender, race, culture, education and job status, among other characteristics. The demographics of the United States bespeak its diversity: In 2019, 77% of the population was white, 13% was Black and 17% was Hispanic. Some 14% of Americans were older than 65, and 3.5% identified as LGBTQ. Within that mix, she stresses, individuals are both alike and unique.

The key to diversity…is valuing and managing differences in such a way that the results lead to inclusion.Deborah L. Plummer

Workplace diversity policies, Plummer explains, should promote inclusion, fairness and respect for other people’s cultures. She advises managers that they need to understand the cultural structures in their organization to determine how to fulfill their diversity values while also achieving their company’s business objectives.


When you are a young adult, both gender and race loom large in your identity, but their impact diminishes as you grow and change. When you’re older, your age and physical abilities come to play a larger role in your personal identity.

Because of the human socialization process, we are all ethnocentric and culturally myopic to some extent.Deborah L. Plummer

Every person has “multiple identities” that express themselves differently in different contexts. For example, if you’re a female African-American living in Japan, being American likely identifies you more strongly than your race or gender. A female leader enacting a corporate policy change will experience her identity more as the boss than as a woman.

Unconscious Bias

People pick up unconscious biases because the brain makes fast generalizations that become integral to human thinking. These generalizations lead people to unconsciously prefer those who look, speak and believe as they do.

Your inability to understand another person’s worldview doesn’t mean it is not real.Deborah L. Plummer

Sensitive questions about cultural differences arise in workplace interactions. Diversity councils and employee resource groups (ERGs) fill a need to bridge differences by designing events to explore and disrupt natural biases. They encourage people to practice seeing situations from alternative cultural viewpoints.


Culture is a perspective and a pattern for living derived from a group’s socially transmitted values. Those who lead a multicultural workforce should examine or re-examine their companies’ culture and inclusivity policies. Firms should have an organization-wide goal of building cultural competence and affirming diversity. Your employees and your customers – who also are increasingly diverse – will appreciate that effort.

However, Plummer cautions, diversity dynamics can be complicated. Having common definitions of the terms used in diversity practices helps people communicate with sensitivity across their differences. 

Enabling individuals to fully express who they are maximizes creativity and productivity.Deborah L. Plummer

Race classifies people by physical characteristics. Ethnicity refers to group members’ commonalities, such as racial, tribal, national, religious or other beliefs. Nationality refers to where people were born or naturalized and where they live. But, within the vast topic of diversity, race and sexual orientation are usually the most emotionally charged areas.


Corporate diversity efforts began during the Civil Rights Movement, when assimilation was the prevalent framework. In the 1970s, America fostered inclusion through laws and quotas. In the 1980s and 1990s, companies developed values-based inclusion missions.

Many companies today form ERGs to develop support for diversity policies or for underrepresented groups. An ERG should enable two or three of an organization’s long-term diversity goals. For example, your ERG could sponsor a company-wide initiative to read and hold discussions about a selected book with a diversity theme.

Your diversity council should not exceed 20 people who represent the company’s demographic makeup. The council should receive guidance from senior management and coordinate with managers to engage employees around managing diversity and educate them about the business benefits of inclusion.

Having an executive sponsor brings visibility to your ERG’s efforts. Plummer proposes that ERG sponsors should attend at least two meetings or events annually. They also help shape the group’s efforts to complement the company’s diversity goals. 

Your ERG can publish an annual report outlining its diversity efforts, or you can include this information on your company’s website. Diversity team members should identify primary issues, become ambassadors for inclusion and facilitate feedback to upper management. Members need to stay informed and current on diversity information and to remember that what worked in the past may no longer be effective.

Workable Inclusivity

Plummer applies her considerable training, insight and expertise to show you how to create and support ERGs. She offers a manual full of straightforward, clear, easy-to-implement instructions in service of that goal.

The author assumes that the corporate reader already embraces diversity goals, so she spends minimal space lauding diversity’s virtues – and that itself proves a virtue to readers who already recognize and support them. Plummer spends her time on the nuts and bolts of forming and running ERGs and making sure they function effectively. She writes clearly and simply, with humor and lightness.

Remarkably, Plummer is never preachy, academic, dry or inaccessible. Anyone wrestling with improving, developing or maintaining workplace diversity will benefit from her guidance. As she makes clear, the human brain tends to break things into simplistic categories, leading to stereotypes that feed destructive beliefs. But, in truth, there’s only one race: the human race.

Deborah L. Plummer also wrote Handbook of Diversity Management and Racing Across the Lines. Other worthwhile works on ERGs include The ERG Handbook by Aimee K. Broadhurst and Employee Resource Group Excellence by Robert Rodriguez.

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