In addition to leaders, Command Managed Equal Opportunity officers have for many years been advisers to commanding officers and a resource for Sailors. This group is trained for these responsibilities, yet their mission risks being overtaken, or at best duplicated, by untrained volunteer ERG members.
The origin of ERGs is based on the increasingly influential diversity argument. They are a reaction to an imbalance between ethnic and gender ratios in the general population and those in senior military positions. This imbalance has led to an assumption of discrimination or limited opportunities for women and ethnic minorities, and the determination that there is a lack of mentoring for these groups. Creating another program will not necessarily solve the problem. If leaders have not provided the mentoring their subordinates need and deserve, then they have failed as leaders. Holding them accountable and demanding good mentoring, with or without an ERG, is the solution.
Assuming ERGs will have some benefit, they are still needless and have a disturbing aspect: voluntary segregation. Stated more obviously, these groups legitimize segregation, even if voluntary and in small groups. Belonging to a particular affinity group is not required for participation in a related ERG, but individuals tend to flock toward their own. This is seen today in many informal groups; command social events and ships' mess decks are two great examples.
People are naturally drawn to those with whom they share some trait. Sailors do it all the time along many lines large and small; race, warfare community, geographic origin, and many others. ERGs will further divide people by membership in social sub-groups. Simultaneously, each ERG will create a special-interest group. Considering what special interests have done to our society by influencing government, do we really want to create them within our service ?
For those contemplating the types of potential ERGs, a quick Google search reveals many civilian organizations that use them. One of those search results shows a single organization with the following special-interest ERGs: disabled; Christian; African-American; Latin, Muslim; black, Asian; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and sexually questioning; women; and veterans.
The ERGs, like every other Navy program, will become a reportable item, and any good report includes metrics, meaningful or not. According to an October 2007 ERG article by Rebecca Hastings for the Society for Human Resource Management, "[if] you want to know if a group is having an impact, you have to measure something." Participation will become an evaluation bullet, with Sailors seeking even passive membership in search of the elusive perfect equal-opportunity grade. Promotion boards will look for and reward those so-called efforts.
The Navy needs to save billions of dollars. Two things waste the most money: programs that duplicate existing efforts, and programs that only provide the appearance of progress. Employee Resource Groups do both.
Creating a Navy "flag pool . . . that looks like America" by 2030, a goal stated by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia in the Navy News Service article, is a simple task and does not require ERGs. A focus on core missions will attract the best and brightest young Americans, regardless of affinity group. Then train them well, set high expectations, demand excellence, promote true leaders, and treat everyone equally.