Employee resource groups (ERGs) have become increasingly prevalent in recent years—and with good reason. As companies seek ways to foster greater diversity and inclusion, they are empowering employees with shared experiences to support one another and grow, both personally and professionally.
At Sunbelt Rentals, those goals led to the recent launch of a female employee-led ERG called WISE: Women. Inspired. Supported. Empowered. The idea for WISE came about in 2021 and the group officially launched in November 2022 in the U.S. and Canada to excellent reception.
As with other ERGs, WISE aims to provide members with networking and collaboration opportunities. By forming allyships among members, it hopes to create an inclusive workplace and aid in employee retention. There will also be the opportunity to form mentor and mentee relationships.
WISE offers a way to let members be heard, help everyone feel like they belong, and gather with others who have the same interests. While the group focuses on women, men are welcome to join, too. In fact, it was imperative for WISE to be able to connect males and all teammates, with the aim of gaining a clearer perspective of how women can grow and thrive within the industry.
The process of establishing WISE wasn’t always linear, but there was always an eye on prioritizing what would be best for the group.
From the beginning to today, here are a few key learnings can help others looking to start an ERG.
Build the foundation
Members set the groundwork for WISE by engaging high-performing female leaders who were driven to kick off the endeavor but who also recognized the need to expand the group to all levels of employees. One of the goals is to help give women who have not been leaders before the opportunity to lead.
In addition to establishing an advisory board of six women from that outreach, the group sought out executive sponsors to speak on their behalf when executive leadership meet.
Set vision and goals
Through further outreach, WISE grew to 30 inaugural members on the WISE leadership team (including the advisory board), with the additional employees serving as committee members and helping to establish the group’s mission and goals. The group unanimously agreed that their mission “is to advance an inclusive culture that empowers women and provides equitable opportunity throughout the Sunbelt Rentals organization and the communities we serve.” The members also set up goals, which the WISE leadership team focuses on to keep the group on track. These goals are to:
- Strengthen relationships with allies who will support and advocate for the WISE mission.
- Provide resources for leaders and team members.
- Create a forum for mentoring and networking.
- Participate in service projects in the community.
- Transform the future of the rental industry.
Members were excited to establish and support this mission and the goals. The spirit of networking, connecting and developing members is personally and professionally beneficial.
Prior to launching, the inaugural members of WISE formed four committees with two co-chairs each who attend advisory board calls to provide updates. Members also recognized that it is important to look for overlaps in what committees are doing, which was the case early on with WISE. There were originally six committees until redundancies appeared.
The Membership Committee focuses on group recruiting and retention, while the Learning and Development Committee provides strategic resources via a SharePoint site, along with virtual events and speakers, to help members grow personally and professionally. The Communications Committee keeps WISE members informed of the group’s activities, and the Community Committee finds innovative ways to encourage members to contribute to their local communities.
All the WISE committees are scheduled to meet quarterly: twice a year in person and the other two times via video conference. They also have frequent calls. The advisory board has a call every other month.
Find unique ways to engage members
WISE has held three successful events since its launch. First there was a fireside chat on human leadership with Kristen Hadeed, author of ‘Permission to Screw Up’ and Kelye Gwaltney, director, talent and acquisition at Sunbelt Rentals. The second event was hosted by Sunbelt Rentals Territory Trainer Jacqueline Hayman, along with the company’s Crystal Bastedo (district manager), Sydney Sieber and Samantha Anise (both regional financial managers for Sunbelt Rentals). It was focused on financing and budgets. In the first live and virtual WISE event, Debi Hemmeter of Leanin.org provided important messaging about inclusive workplaces. To date, more than 700 Sunbelt Rental team members are connected to WISE in the U.S. and Canada and have access to these and future events.
Making ERGs a success
WISE is still a work in progress, but the future is exciting. In addition to supporting the North America groups, Sunbelt Rentals plans to launch WISE in the U.K. But getting the group to where it is now took work—and there is still room to grow.