GALVANIZE 2018, a summit hosted by Fairygodboss on Oct. 15-16 in New York City, convened hundreds of executives and leaders of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with the goal of making women’s resource groups powerful.
It can be difficult to turn a general mission like “empowerment” into actionable steps, but two of the GALVANIZE panels — ”What I Wish My ERG Knew” and “How to Deploy Your ERG to Make Lasting Impact” — tackled on the question of how, exactly, to make ERGs effective and inclusive.
1. The main takeaway? Efforts need to be flexible and take into account the many experiences of “being a woman.”
Throughout the summit, several panelists echoed this sentiment, sharing how their companies have gathered women’s unique stories to implement real, personal change.
“One mistake we made early on [was thinking] one size fits all,” said Belinda Harris, President of Women’s Association of Verizon Employees. “Even though we were putting out all this content and opportunities, people weren’t engaged. Before you even begin to start a program, you have to consider, how do you put out a successful product? You understand the users. Put a prototype out, iterate on it, test it, implement it. Understand your target audience.”
“Trying to put women all in the same box frustrates me,” said Janeen Uzzell, a Global Technology Executive. “[At my company], we created a board of advisors of women from all levels at the company to share their stories and went from there to find solutions.”
Bethany Poole, Director of Ads Marketing at Google, said that she and her colleagues realized that silos existed within their women’s organizations by listening to individual stories. Black and Latina women were not succeeding because they lacked mentors and sponsors. By talking to these women about the root of the issue, they realized they needed to break the ERGs’ silos.
“At an offsite, [one of my supervisors] asked people who mentored people of color or women to stand up, and not many did,” Poole recalled. “She said, ‘next year, I want everyone to stand up.’ [This exercise was powerful because] it was public and it gave clear direction.”
2. Liji Thomas, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Southern California Edison, agreed that an effective ERG requires “courageous leadership and radical transparency.”
She said the company is looking holistically at the experience of underrepresented talent to understand what strategies to implement for their success.They have a women’s roundtable that “continues to be a great partner” in this effort by supplying women’s stories and opinions on diversity initiatives.
3. Marcie White, AMS Relationship Director at HP Inc., backed up the idea that effective and inclusive ERGs are personal and practical.
She said many companies focus on one-size-fits-all resources for employees or “fun” perks like food trucks. But one of the most meaningful benefits she received was an executive coach, which she said is more practical than something like tuition reimbursements for women who don’t want to return to school, whether because they’re further along in their career or have children.
“You have to make it personal,” she said. “We really invested in ERGs [at HPE]… but you have to invest in practical ways to help people as they’re on the ground.”
Hayley Tabor, Vice President of Global Industries at Dell EMC Corporation, also recognized how important it is to consider the changing needs of women throughout their career. “Taking input from women about what the issues are is important, especially as they become executives,” she said.
One of the easiest ways to make ERGs personal? Start small.
Kathryn Montbriand, Director of Card Acquisition Operations at Capital One Financial Corporation, said local leaders should “challenge yourself to make a change at a local level… from buying books on the topic to give to men to inviting people from your branch to discuss equality.”
On a company-wide scale, Rick Gomez, Vice President of Human Resources at Xandr, also advocated for small ERG branches; at AT&T, for instance, ERGs are separate, registered non-profits. Gomez said this allows chapters to all have their own boards and bylaws, while also empowering members to donate to the cause.