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The Pros, Pitfalls, and Process of Establishing Affinity Groups in the Workplace

The terms may change, but whether called Affinity groups, Employee Resource Groups, Special Interest Groups, or Cultural Equity Groups, more and more companies today are creating intentional spaces for historically marginalized groups to raise their voices, support one another, and produce meaningful recommendations and change in their organizations. These groups are typically voluntary, employee-led groups that help to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture aligned with the organizations they serve. They help to create clearer channels of feedback, more engaged employees, and greater appeal to new hires. However, these groups also come with added challenges to navigate. When businesses are trying to establish these spaces, they must consider:

  • What is the purpose of these groups?

  • How will the organization support these groups?

  • What is the process that employees will go through to create a group?

A Group By Any Other Name

Many of these terms are used synonymously, but they do have slightly different intentions in their design. Organizations should ask themselves what their purpose is in creating space for employees to meet and why.

Affinity Groups are employee groups with shared social identities or life experiences. These in many ways were the first model of interest groups. They are generally initiated by employees and often involve protected classes, such as sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin, disability, and veteran status. Examples include female, LGBTQIA+, or BIPOC groups. Affinity groups tend to be less regulated and primarily include mentoring, solidarity, and socialization.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are designed more around shared goals, causes, or concerns, but can also include passions and broader more generalized interests. Though identity groups would be covered in this term, it is harder to narrow down what constitutes an interest group so they may also include topics like environmental action, working parents, or community service.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) exist to provide support and help in personal or career development for specific groups and to create a safe space where employees can bring their whole selves to the table. Allies may also be invited to join the ERG to to support their colleagues. They often have explicit goals tied to company priorities and values that exist across all groups.

Cultural Equity Groups (CEGs) are the newest groups emerging, and the main distinction is that these have a specific calling to identify and address equity issues in the company and create action plans to propose to leadership. These are also more likely to be funded and have direct ties to decision-making.


Why They Matter

These types of groups can provide numerous benefits to employees and employers. When you are preparing a statement (or trying to convince senior leadership of the need), these can be helpful points to bring out.

  • In one study, 90% of companies interviewed said their Employee Resource Groups helped new employees to get comfortable during the onboarding process.

  • In the same study they found 70% used these groups to improve their diversity hiring goals. Millenials and Gen Zers in particular (soon to be the majority of the workforce) are more likely to seek opportunities to engage with groups like these in the workplace.