Hey y’all! My name is Bryan Strongoli and I’ll be your Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) field guide today as we delve into the exciting and relatively new world of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)! I’ve been working in the industry for six years doing a variety of jobs from customer support to project management and production. I currently work at a mobile game company in Austin, Texas.
Last year, my peers and I started the long journey of establishing an ERG structure at my company from the ground up. So get ready because in this article, I’ll be talking about exactly what an ERG is, what they do, and how they may fit in and enhance diversity at your studio.
In college, I was studying to complete a video game art program. I was ecstatic. The program started with about 60 students and it was extremely difficult because they mimicked the production environment so I had class eight hours a day (sometimes in the middle of the night!). It was a challenge, for sure, but what was on my mind the whole time was something else:
Of those 60 students, I was the only gay Latinx individual represented.
“Why is this so important” I hear you ask yourself in an empty room while your cat watches? While this may seem like a relatively benign fact at first glance, this fact would color how I viewed my belonging in the game industry at large for years to come. This isn’t something unique to my experience, and is often echoed in many studios and working environments around the world.
Representation matters now in the world more than ever. As game developers, we have the power to tell meaningful narratives filled with colorful characters and heroes, but more often than not, the studios in which those stories are made may not contain that kind of diversity within its own four walls.
Not being represented in games or in a working environment can have adverse effects on employees including low performance, engagement, or even resulting in parting with a studio. As Marian Wright Edelmen (Founder & President of the Children’s Defense Fund) said in the documentary Miss Representation (2011) on more women being involved in tech,
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Enter: the Employee Resource Group (ERG).
What is an Employee Resource Group?
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-driven organizations at your studio that explicitly work to highlight and support community members from a variety of identities. They may also be called affinity groups, networks, or inclusivity groups. In the USA, these groups are created based on federally protected classes.
These organizations run regular meetings, events, and other educational initiatives. ERGs vary in structure, but they almost always have an employee lead or leads that are not part of the leadership structure of the company. They focus on creating safe spaces where employees can be authentically themselves, ultimately enriching the culture of your organization.
Some examples of ERGs are as follows:
- Race/Color Groups: Focused on serving individuals of specific races and their allies.
- LGBTQIA+ Groups: Focused on serving LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies
- Women’s Groups: Focused on serving female-presenting individuals and their allies
- Veteran’s Groups: Focused on serving those who have served in the military.
- Millennial Groups: Focused on serving individuals in a certain age group.
- & the list goes on!
Education & Culture Sharing
One of the most valuable benefits of a successfully operating ERG is the opportunity to educate, inform, and culture share with their studios.
Have you ever been in a conversation where you and your peers were talking about their favorite childhood video games? That’s a form of culture sharing. You are sharing a unique experience that you may or may not share with your peers, effectively allowing them to learn a little more about you.
ERGs give underrepresented groups the opportunity to share aspects of their culture or experience with allies that may be unique. In doing so, these individuals enrich their environment in two ways:
- They signal to others that have a shared experience or identity that they are welcome.
- They provide new perspectives to those who don’t have those shared experiences or identities.
From my experience, this keeps employees engaged on a different level with their peers outside of the daily to-do lists.
When we celebrated Black History Month this year, our Black employees had the opportunity to host a panel on the Black experience through their lens. These are conversations that you may think would raise a bunch of HR concerns, but having the dedicated space of an ERG for such learnings allows employees to come with safe, open, and curious minds!
Community Members & Allyship
It’s important that an ERG reserve some space specifically for community members to be fully themselves with others that share their identity. These groups are first and foremost created to make a safe space for the shared identity of their members, but they may also have regular public spaces or events for allies.
Community members are individuals that share the identity that is being served by the ERG. Allies on the other hand may or not share the identity, but they have an interest in supporting those that do. This is what we call allyship.
For example, an LGBTQIA+ group may have community meetings to talk about each other’s experience as their shared identity, and then host an ally inclusive event to celebrate Pride month.
A successful and inclusive ERG will have spaces for all groups to engage at many levels and will improve the overall wellbeing of your team, as employees feel empowered and supported.
These groups provide an excellent opportunity for studio leadership to acknowledge and support underrepresented identities.
While the main function for these groups is to create these safe spaces, they may also be utilized to improve how the company functions at large. ERGs may be relied upon to provide feedback on your line-up of characters for your new game, suggestions on how to make your studio even more diverse, or even to review company policies that may not be inclusive to their respective groups.
Some company functions that ERGs have been known to assist with are:
- Providing education & programming on protected classes
- Reviewing and updating recruiting practices or job requirements
- Helping publish public or internal statements on behalf of the company in relation to the shared identity of the group
- Community outreach and visibility
As developers, we are used to iteration and feedback. When you are able to expose your studio to a variety of perspectives, world views, and lived experiences, you have an invaluable opportunity to iterate and improve your studio at large–and everyone benefits!
Some studies have even found that inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, with half of the meetings it would take normally.
Creating an ERG
Depending on the size of your studio, they may already have an ERG structure in place. If it does not, then you can take an active role in advocating for one.
Next time, I will be covering best practices and specifics on how you can go about creating this structure for your studio to empower, enrich, and help represent diversity in our industry!