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Leading the Charge with Charlie Alfarah, Associate Director of DEI at Mediaocean

September 19, 2023
6 min. read

We had the chance to chat with Charlie Alfarah, the Associate Director of DEI at Mediaocean.

Charlie sheds light on the many successful ERGs within his company, and how they got to where they are. Charlie provides valuable insights on sustaining and revamping ERGs, balancing ally involvement, navigating budget constraints, and gaining leadership buy-in. As both an ERG leader and overseer of the ERG program, Charlie offers insights from both sides of the game.

Company: Mediaocean

Company Size: 1500+

Number of ERGs: 10 ERGs (with several chapters) - Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), Mental Health and Wellness, Women at MO, Pride at MO, Black Employees at Mediaocean (BEMO), Mi Gente, DE&I in Engineering, Language Lovers, Professional Parents, and Books & Beyond

Chezie: How long have the ERGs been around at Mediaocean:

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): Since 2019

Chezie: What is your biggest goal or priority for the ERGs at Mediaocean?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): To help develop personal and professional relationships within the organization. They work towards being a voice for our DEI initiatives. They also function to elevate their positive and negative experiences to the DEI team in order to hold our department accountable.

Chezie: So you are an ERG leader as well as an ERG program manager. How has your experience been balancing both? I would love to hear about what key takeaways you have as an ERG leader that you can apply to the overall ERG program, and also if you ever find that there's difficulty separating the two.

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): That's a tough one. It is hard to balance because being an ERG leader is more of an optional role, whereas being the program manager is part of my full-time job and my responsibility. The priorities can overlap in terms of what to focus on and what I have time to focus on. It is very challenging to maintain consistency since things just keep happening in the world and we don't get to put our work on a fixed schedule.

Chezie: Knowing that you started your ERGs in 2019, I feel like there's a lot going on at that time. How have you sustained your ERG efforts over the last couple of years?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): Most of our ERGs lost momentum at the height of the pandemic as the world realized the need to adapt to a new normal. When I came into this role, there was a huge push to revamp the program. All the ERGs that we have now we consider them to be new because their leadership has changed. People’s priorities have changed as well. In terms of sustainability, our current ERGs have been up for about a year and a half. The economy, especially in the tech industry, has been unpredictable.  We've had to adapt to changes. Some of the ERGs lost too much structure to keep going. So, we’ve been actively working to rebuild structures using the resources from Chezie to create an ERG handbook including suggestions, templates, and structures that people could use instead of trying to build from ground zero.

Chezie: What best practices could you offer for revamping? I think a lot of people have gone through the waning engagement or even ERG leaders being as engaged.

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): I believe ERG leadership needs to be intentional. The purpose and the mission of the group need to be that same way, but also it needs to be guided by members. Allies are always welcome in all of our ERGs, however, members of the identity-based groups should have a greater say in terms of what the overall goals are.

Chezie: So if we just kind of do some reflection, what has been the most successful ERG event or initiative and why?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): Our women's circle in Chicago has really capitalized on the fact that they have power in numbers. So, we've seen volunteer work in the community. For example, in a couple of weeks, the circle has organized a Chicago Women’s ERG event where we're going to a local conservatory to volunteer and raised a solid amount of donations to provide. It's few and far between in terms of the frequency of what happens. But when these people put their minds to something it's definitely encouraging to give back to the community. It's rewarding for the members but it’s also great for brand perception. Philanthropic efforts have been infused with DE&I, so it has been an excellent way to ease the punch to the people who are still trying to grasp diversity and its work.

Chezie: Okay. You touched a little bit earlier on like the unpredictable nature of the tech industry or even in the economy generally. What advice do you have for ERGs operating on limited budgets?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): Making a strong business case for why this would be beneficial for all sides is the most important part. From a program leader's perspective, encourage ERG leads to not only act as if there are no budget constraints in terms of deciding what they want to do but, also provide them with the knowledge that they need to be the most impactful that they can be. Those two things usually can lead to an exception being made.

Chezie: How do you get company leadership to buy into what you're doing? You've mentioned DEI is politicized, you know, waning budgets. How do you get company leadership to still care about the ERG program?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): Well, it really comes down to relationship building because once you can understand the identities of your senior leadership team you can use that information strategically to address what's important to them. Then, use that as a framework to apply to things that may not appear personal to them. If you connect it back to what’s important to them, it usually leads to buy-in. A lot of the identities that we work with are not like you can just look at someone and assume. It's having that trust and vulnerability within that relationship to be able to get to the point of genuine buy-in.

Chezie: How do you recognize and incentivize your ERG leaders even if it's not monetarily?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): We do have a monetary points system that we do offer. By starting an ERG, there's a certain number of points one gets by leading it for a year. Our CEO sends a companywide e-mail biweekly and if there's a win from ERGs, they are included in that email. If there is a press release relating to the work of any of our ERGs, we work with Marketing to make sure recognition is given. We are also working with some of our corporate partners to highlight the work of our ERG leads. We also show them how to get on LinkedIn and input that they're an ERG leader and use those skills to give them leadership recognition in a career aspect.

Chezie: And then last question. What is next for the ERGs at Mediaocean? How are you thinking about moving into that next stage of maturity?

Charlie Alfarah (he/they): We've got ERGs formatted. They're structured. People know about them. They're available and easy to join. I would like to see them move towards more of a strategic business approach as well. They're really good at supporting each other. Supporting the community has been the next step for some of our ERGs, whereas some of them have already jumped in there. Being more impactful beyond the members of the group would be the next step, whatever that looks like.

[End of interview]

Mediaocean's ERGs have truly leveled up, after losing momentum through the events of 2020, t he revamped ERGs have made significant progress and a lasting impact on their workplace and community. As both an ERG leader and ERG program manager, Charlie walks a thin line between professional obligation and volunteering as a leader. As someone on both sides of the program, Charlie offers stellar advice on incentivizing ERG leaders, building intentionally, making relationships with C-suite, and revamping ERGs after economic downturns. Ready to make a difference in your own ERG? Take a page from Charlie's playbook and watch your ERGs become a force for good in your organization.

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