My entire career I’ve always been involved with equity-related work in several forms - working in education, social services, architecture, and coaching and learning and development. At the crux of all my work, I want to reinvent systems to ensure marginalized communities have access to opportunities, resources, and knowledge in the same way that others do. The opportunity to be a DEI advocate and ERG lead is another facet of my personal mission.
My persistence in DEI and ERG work developed from my personal experiences early in my career and how lonely and exhausted I felt because I was the only queer, Latina woman - and it was clear those professional spaces weren’t intended for me. As an ERG lead, I’m excited to create a different reality than I experienced for my colleagues who are from underrepresented backgrounds. Being an ERG leader is about making sure that the people I work with have access to opportunities, that they feel psychologically safe, and that they have an advocate who is ensuring their workplace is a place deserving of their talent and skills.
A common misunderstanding about the role is that you’re supposed to own all of it and do everything yourself. ERG leaders put a lot of pressure on themselves to plan it all, execute it all, and do it all. There shouldn’t be one sole person who is responsible for all ERG or DEI efforts. Everybody within an organization is responsible for DEI success.
As ERG leaders, we often get burned out because we think we have to solve everyone's problems, but I’m a big advocate for asking company leadership about what they're doing to support your ERG member community. As ERG leaders, we can provide feedback to company leadership by identifying moments the company and executive leadership can do better. It’s the company that is responsible for resourcing your ERG and DEI efforts and having the processes and policies in place that help address the issues brought forward by an ERG.
The Women’s ERG had an open call for people interested in joining the leadership team and at the time I was interested in starting a Women of Color ERG because I felt a separate space was needed for women of color. And that feedback led to a great conversation with the former chair of the Women’s ERG who encouraged me to join the ERG and bring that intersectional perspective to the group. Her invitation to join the leadership team and encouragement gave me the confidence to step into the role. I did my best to learn as much as I could from the prior ERG leadership team so we could sustain the impact of the ERG regardless of any changes to our ERG leadership team. Earlier this year, I recruited a completely new leadership team for our ERG and was able to successfully deliver our Women’s History Month programming in a seamless manner due to the legacy of former ERG leaders.
Our prior ERG leadership left a really solid foundation and created an ERG Charter that included a mission statement, vision statement, and business case. The Charter has evolved but it was certainly a helpful roadmap that we could evolve with each new leader who joins our ERG. The former leaders also left a programmatic legacy and we carry those traditions forward because our membership loves them and finds comfort in those rituals.
When I first joined as an ERG lead, there were loose definitions of responsibilities for ERG leaders. We’ve evolved that description and the co-chairs of our ERG developed a more nuanced list of responsibilities to use moving forward. Our goal was to create differentiation between, for example, our Programs Lead, Treasurer, Communications Lead, Chairs, and Executive Sponsor. By creating a clear description of the roles it would make it easier for us to recruit future leaders when necessary.
I recruited an entirely new ERG leadership team in January, so our first goal was to plan and execute a high-impact and meaningful Women’s History Month. It was a dash to the finish line but actually turned out to be excellent timing because it allowed us to be really focused and to figure out all of our working styles and superpowers on the team.
Since wrapping up Women’s History Month, we’re focused on building a strategy and goals for the remainder of the year. We’ll spend time listening to our membership’s needs and feedback to ensure we’re aligned and making an impact on the most important issues to our members.
No, I didn’t have a relationship with our exec sponsor because she had only just joined the organization when she stepped into the executive sponsor role. She led the women’s ERG at her former company so she was able to quickly jump into the work and brought clarity on her role and how she could support the ERG. As the ERG chair, I felt my role was to provide as much historical context to the executive sponsor and to the rest of the new leadership team.
My advice is to provide your successor with transparency into the successes and challenges during your tenure. If time allows, create a written transition plan that covers the logistics of running an ERG, a list of projects or partnerships the ERG is working on, and reference materials like templates of surveys and event materials. Documentation is key!
ERGs occupy a unique position in a company and it’s critical that an incoming ERG leader is set up for success by understanding the key stakeholders throughout the organization; having a strong relationship with the executive sponsor and being equipped with the resources to continue making an impact.