The Power of Employee Resource Groups in Driving DEI and Business Outcomes

October 31, 2023



Dawn Garrison
Dawn Garrison

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) continues to be a primary concern not just in the eDiscovery industry, but across all sectors. This was evident at the recent Relativity Fest, where I had the privilege of speaking on an Employee Resource Group (ERG) panel to diverse groups from across the legal and technology industries.

As organizations strive to be create more inclusive and equitable workplaces, it’s clear that ERGs can play a critical role in their efforts with significant benefits. Through my work as co-founder of Lighthouse’s ERG, Military and Allies Standing Together (MAST), and a member of our General ERG Steering Committee I have seen the tremendous power these groups have.

Below are highlights from the conversation, including the benefits of ERGs and advice for launching and sustaining ERGs as part of your inclusion and equity efforts.

The current landscape of ERGs

The recent SCOTUS decision may not directly impact U.S. workplaces, but there’s no question that corporate America needs to consider the effect this—and potential future judicial rulings and state legislation—will have on their DEI practices. The ruling has already been interpreted as an invitation for DEI critics to challenge the validity, legality, and necessity of such efforts. Overall, DEI initiatives are at an inflection point with increased discussion and activity, yet slower progress.

Amid these challenges and changes, the role of ERGs in the DEI landscape is evolving. Driven by employees and united around shared missions and values, ERGs have emerged as a powerful tool for promoting DEI within organizations. In fact, nearly 90% of all Fortune 500 companies have ERGs, and, according to study by McKinsey & Co., about 35% of companies have added or expanded their support for ERGs since the start of 2020. This is a significant shift that underscores the importance of these groups in today’s business environment. As the potential ripple effects of the SCOTUS decision loom, this is a critical moment for organizations to recommit to their ERG programs, understanding the substantial benefits they provide.

The ERG boost

ERGs positively impact organizations and employees in a variety of ways. For one, they contribute to employee engagement by creating communities and spaces for advocacy and allyship. Furthermore, ERGs can help employees build bridges across practice areas and geographic boundaries, fostering a sense of belonging even in remote work environments.

These groups also strengthen acceptance and fairness across an organization by boosting the visibility of underrepresented employees and offering a space to air challenges. In these safe environments, employees can feel freer to express concerns or ideas, which facilitates progress.

Another benefit is that ERGs can provide opportunities for leadership and talent development and educate employees on relevant issues. For instance, MAST organizes an annual event to honor veterans and educate employees on the significance of Veterans Day. Similarly, WLEAD (Lighthouse’s ERG, Women: Leadership Exploration and Development) conducted a session on how to lead strategically in an AI-driven world and enhance women’s leadership skills and technological awareness.

ERGs also drive employee performance by identifying knowledge gaps and offering occasions to learn about skills or issues outside of an employee’s typical business area or focus. P@Ls (Lighthouse’s LGBTQ+ ERG, Pride at Lighthouse) provides its members with opportunities to practice public speaking and leadership skills by rotating the role of the host for their monthly coffee chat sessions.

Moreover, ERGs offer a chance to network and socialize and raise awareness of relevant issues. Having a strong social network at work—and friends with whom they have a shared sense of mission and purpose—can supercharge an employee’s engagement.

Engaged and diverse workplaces are better equipped to serve their clients and customers—and clients know it. Nearly half of the requests for proposal that Lighthouse has responded to in the previous year have asked for specific information about respondents' DEI/ERG programs, indicating that buyers are increasingly factoring these programs into their purchasing and contracting decisions.

Launching and sustaining ERGs  

When forming ERGs, it’s crucial to align them with your organization’s overall DEI mission and strategy. This involves defining clear goals for each group, providing them with the resources they need to succeed, and regularly assessing their impact. For example, MAST aims to recruit military families to join the Lighthouse family. This supports Lighthouse’s broader DEI goals and metrics, especially in hiring. To show our impact, we partnered with the internal recruiting team and tracked our joint success. Identifying an executive sponsor who can act as a true advocate with the company leadership is another crucial step for a successful ERG. This sponsor can help with funding, commitment, and visibility within the organization.

Starting and supporting ERGs is not just about ticking a box for DEI. It’s about creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and included. As we navigate the changing landscape of DEI, let’s continue the work to make our workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

About the Author

Dawn Garrison

Dawn has more than 10 years’ experience in eDiscovery. She is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and West Virginia. She joined Lighthouse in 2021 as a Senior Proposal Marketing Manager, focusing on curating Lighthouse proposals and content for an impactful client experience.

Prior to joining Lighthouse, she practiced at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe focusing on eDiscovery and data privacy. At Orrick, she wore many hats including eDiscovery Vendor Client Consultant, Privacy in a Box Project Manager, Litigation Support Team Manager, Project Assistant Team Manager, and Analytics/Data Team Member. As an eDiscovery Vendor Client Consultant, Dawn regularly advised clients on the best options to meet their eDiscovery needs focusing on white glove service providers and innovative industry disruptors. As part of the Discovery Response Team Manager role, she also helped Orrick to determine the best partner for their internal eDiscovery demands.

Throughout her career, Dawn has had a passion for engaging and improving upon the culture of organizations. At Orrick, she led a local Lean In Circle, chaired the Wheeling office Parent's Forum, and actively participated in the firm's Women's Initiative. Dawn has continued her work in the DEI space at Lighthouse through the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) Relationship and Family Ties as well as Military and Allies Standing Together, of which she is a founding member.

Outside of work, Dawn stays busy focusing on her family Leah (3), Gage (7), Isaac (14), hubby Jeremy, and goldendoodle Teddy. You will often find her driving to or cheering on her kiddos at their many activities – Leah takes dance and swim, Gage plays baseball, football, and hockey and takes gymnastics, and Isaac participates in a school sponsored gaming club. If not focusing on the kids’ events, she is engaged in supporting her husband's Air Force career through USO and local Red, White, and Blue events.