We had the pleasure of hosting an #impact panel on Empowering Your ERG Community. Qaree Dreher, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Bevy, was joined by Lissa Curtin, Sr. CSM and EnableIn Global Co-Lead at LinkedIn; Dr. Brandi Baldwin, Founder, Calling All Allies Project; and Lorelei Voorsanger, Global Leader of DE&I, ERG: Women at VMWare.
At VMWare, members of Lorelei’s ERG have the opportunity to shadow executives and participate in reverse mentoring programs. For them, professional development is at the forefront of popularity and priority within the company.
At LinkedIn, most of EnableIn’s efforts surround raising awareness about disabilities and mental health. In May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, they bring in professionals and also invite employees to join a panel and share their journey; it creates a safe space. In October, National Disability/Employee Awareness Month, they host product tech talks, sign language classes, and share stories through an internal newsletter.
At Calling All Allies, they use employee resources groups and the community to support the businesses and career development of everyone involved. When execs perk up, budgets will also perk up, membership will increase, and so will engagement. Dr. Brandi encourages ERG leaders to first aim for consistent attendance, always honour the D, E, and I, and find the fun in it all.
When it comes to looking at the data around ERGs over the course of the last year and a half, Dr. Brandi believes that we need to be mindful and collect data on an ongoing basis. Consider the question: How does this employee resource group serve our workforce in relation to where they are today?
As a result of the pandemic, more opportunities for cross-collaboration have been identified; this mainly applies to the “I” in diversion, equity, inclusion, and belonging. ERGs can often be siloed, so it’s important to seize these opportunities when possible.
Lorelei has found that Women in WMWare has had more of an opportunity to be taken seriously and drive the business agenda forward; they’re not just seemingly sharing cupcakes at an office meetup. She referred to the pandemic as “the great leveller” since everyone is now at home, and performance is the main thing factored into their “rating” as an employee.
In Lissa’s view, the best thing to come out of the pandemic was increased spotlight on employee mental health. People were staying connected on devices long past the end of the work day, and boundaries were being crossed before they were being set.
The biggest challenge was being asked simultaneously by fellow employees and the executive team what resources were in place around mental health, as well as how to raise questions and start discussions around social injustices.
The ERG that Lorelei leads is huge on tracking data. Internally, she and her team are tracking several metrics:
With the internal data they collect, they’re able to inform decisions around hiring and representation, professional development initiatives, and how women are representing VMWare externally. All of these actions factor in the “B” in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Dr. Brandi offered up a well-developed framework for bringing an ERG to life (or back to life). First things first, think about the structure. Look at the events calendar for the entire year, then look at the capacity of your team, then break everything into 90-day sprints.
By starting large and then zoning in, you have the chance to reverse-engineer task organization; this considers the “E” in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It’s best if people know the commitment ahead of time because many people join groups with passion, but engagement goes down due to things happening in life.
By setting expectations as a member of the leadership team, you empower yourself to check in with team members, and you’re able to avoid dismissing anyone unfairly. If people are falling off, ask them what’s going on; they could be experiencing burnout or be experiencing a tough time outside of work.
Once you set the plan for the year, use it year over year. Be cyclical with your approach and then tweak the schedule by having a one-off program that serves as a new experiment. There’s nothing wrong with doubling down on what’s working well for your employee resource group.
While looking back over the last five years as part of EnableIn, Lissa urged ERG leaders to remember that not all employee resource groups are going to have the same resources at the same time. In hindsight, the key players to start with:
At VMWare, an employee resource group is called a “pod,” which stands for “power of difference.” Over the years, there has been an ERG Playbook developed internally that outlines tips, tricks, and criteria for ERGs at VMware. Lorelei believes that there needs to be consistency in the structure because things are no longer based on geography; ERGs are mostly virtual now.
In her ERG, the leadership uses “How To” documents for training. Lorelei views Women at VMWare as a conduit to the larger organization; a sort of internal PR firm. They allow all members to plan events that they suggest, which goes back to empowerment, and fosters community-led growth.
When it comes to the future of ERGs, all of our panelists agree that virtual events are here to stay. However, Dr. Brandi envisions a shift towards hybrid meetups that are company sponsored. Having these meetups give ERG members more opportunities to step into leadership roles and take the brand outside of the confines of the office, whether it be an in-person or virtual office setting.
With the potential of employee resource groups, both tapped and untapped, how can we make good change happen?