How Ola Idowu Empowers Black Employees at Twitter as the Black BRG Lead

Bio

Oladotun “Ola” Idowu is the Entertainment Content Partner Manager on Twitter’s Global Content Partnerships team. Since joining Twitter, she has become a leader for Blackbirds, Twitter’s Black business resource group and has curated several events on the Real Estate and Workplace team. Before starting her career, Oladotun studied Public Relations at S.I Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. There she picked up publicity and marketing skills which she applies to her work today.

Additionally Ola has been committed to the idea that minority women should be offered the same opportunities as everyone else and has even been named the “fairy godmother of mentorship for Black women” by Popsugar. Ola is the Founder of Sisters In Media (SIM), an organization dedicated to uplifting women of color in media. The purpose of this organization is to increase the presence of women of color in media while making a valuable contribution to communities and society at large. Since starting the organization, Ola has partnered with several top media and tech companies including Black@ Facebook, A&E Networks, R29 Unbothered, NBA Dream In Color, NBCUniversal Black Employee Network, LinkedIn Black Inclusion Group, Pinterest, Dow Jones and more. Her priority in this work is to build professional and network events for diverse women so that they can advance their careers and she has so eloquently done the work.

Case Study

1. Can you tell us what being an BRG Lead entails?

We call them BRGs at Twitter which stands for business resource group as opposed to ERGs for employee resource group. We have chairs who have more responsibilities and roles, and then we have leads who are responsible for our regional offices, and then we have ambassadors who are basically supporters to the leads.

I’m an events chair and what it entails is a lot of programming and managing partnerships. We get tons of emails every week from businesses and organizations who want to partner with us. It requires us to be very abreast of what’s happening in the culture and making sure that any partnerships or events are relevant to our audience.

We realize that being a BRG lead at Twitter goes beyond just our group, because we have a big community on Twitter that is outside of just company employees. We have to pay attention to how we can serve that community as well.

It’s really about staying up to date with what’s happening in the culture, working on programming, working on branding. We have a lot of swag and new brand ideas that we create. Last year, our hashtag was #LoveToSeeIt, the year before that it was #LoveToHearIt, and a few years before that, it was #StayWoke. This year it’s #TakeUpSpace and that really is about us coming up with content that aligns with Blackbird’s brand but also with what’s going on in the community.

2. Why did you want to be a Blackbird Lead?

I knew about Blackbirds before I even came to Twitter, that's how much of a reach we have. I joined as soon as I started at the company and I was like “wow, this is great!’ They have such a presence at Twitter but also outside of Twitter. Everybody knows about our community and it’s really a testament to the people that came before me and really made it what it is today. I saw that and I knew I had to be involved.

I am the type of person that recognizes when something is dope and has longevity and I immediately know that I want to be a part of that. I wanted to be among creators who have really dope ideas and are open to experimenting and reaching an audience that I relate to and identify with.

3. What are your Blackbird’s goals and priorities for this year?

Our goal this year is to launch our brand with a specific priority of having programming that touches on our key pillars - belonging, empowerment, and opportunity. This year, we really want to talk to our members to know what they like and what they need in order to ensure that the content and programming that we create is relevant to them and the community.

If there’s a Black business that needs some light and attention, we want to listen to our members and bring that to the forefront. If there is a VIT that will connect with our audience, we want to bring them in to speak on their projects or new releases. Our mission is to serve our community, within Twitter and outside of the organization. We want to uplift, build, and amplify Black voices.

It can be a lot of pressure. When 2020 happened, we had so many people looking to us to direct them on what to say or do. There’s a weight of responsibility, and we understand that that comes with being leaders at the company, but our goal is to make sure that we’re listening to our members and addressing issues that are pertinent to the Black community.

4. What has been your most successful moment as a Blackbird Lead?

I love that question, we’ve done so much!

I became a chair in February 2020, right before the pandemic. With work from home, we had to revert to virtual events and I was concerned because our in-person events always did really well and I wasn’t sure how engagement would be through a screen.

We saw Verzuz unfolding during quarantine and we had the idea to recreate with Twitter. The idea came from the whole team, but I had the opportunity to manage the entire event. We came up with the hashtag #LoveToHearIt and it was such a success.

We started off having them internally and that was great, they were really well-attended and we received a lot of positive feedback. Then we had the idea to make it an external thing where we invited companies like Facebook, Spotify, Square, and Netflix and we would battle the different companies. It was like a tech company Black face-off of Verzuz and it was so fun! I remember the event happened in December of 2020 and we had over 700 people logged in, it was incredible

5. What do Blackbirds have planned for Black History Month?

We have a ton of events going on this month! We have a few meditation and wellness events, we’re doing a virtual Trap Wars event with a Black vendor called FamFoolery, we have a lot of events with our food team talking about Carnival and High on the Hog, we have events with influencers hosted on Twitter’s Spaces platform where they’ll talk about cancel culture and natural hair. We have an event with the filmmaker of Eggs Over Easy to talk about Black women and fertility. We have another really big event in the works, so you’ll have to stay tuned!

There’s so much planned and all of it will be virtual. I will say that a lot of our events are centered around wellness, community, and Black empowerment. There’s a lot happening, but I’m really excited about it.

6. How do Blackbirds work with leadership to collaborate on business priorities?

We have executive sponsors at Twitter, and the executive sponsor is someone who is on the Staff Level (our version of execs) at the company. When Jack Dorsey was still our CEO, it would be Jack and like 7 other people who made up our Staff Level. Each executive is given a BRG to be responsible for and they will have monthly meetings with the BRGs and take those notes back to the CEO. We have face time with our execs which is really nice.

We definitely work with our executive sponsors and they are highly invested in our success. They’ll come to our meetings and be like “you all aren’t doing enough,” and not in a way to insult us, but they really believe that we have limitless potential and want to push our priorities forward.

Being an ERG Lead is so much work because you have all of these ideas for your group but you also have your day job. It’s a lot of pressure for Blackbird specifically because people expect dopeness every time. People look at Blackbirds, and even the greater Black community, to set the scene on what is cool or relevant, and it’s a lot to live up to. I’m always suggesting these grand ideas, but the good news is that we have executive sponsors who help us get funding and support us in everything. They are the connector between the execs and the regular Black employees at Twitter

7. What advice can you give to other ERG Leads who are looking to create and sustain successful groups?

My advice is to be consistent. I understand that it’s a lot of *unpaid* work on top of your day job, but the more you’re consistent with the work you’re doing the more you’re going to see a reward. If you’re going to do an event, do it, and make sure you run it back the next month. If you’re trying to build a name for your group, make sure there’s a consistent story behind it. Invest in your organization and invest in it and there’s no way it will fail.

Key Takeaways

1. Always listen to the community

The trick to making sure that your programming, events, and broader Initiatives are Impactful Is to make sure they're coming directly form the community that you are trying to serve. One of the key reasons that Blackbirds has had so much success is because they are really Intentional about listening to the needs of not only Black employees, but also the greater Black community. It doesn't make sense to plan happy hours and parties when your members/community are pushing for career development and extra training.

2. Build a brand

A strong brand Image not only Influences employees to want to join your group, but It also gives you more credibility when you approach company leaders about Initiatives that you want to do. Blackbirds have built a brand around fostering Inclusion and belonging within Twitter and are known for their commitment to producing dope content and programming that Is relevant to the Black community. Figure out what your groups mission and vision are and then create a brand that supports those!

3. Go hard or go home

Blackbirds have committed to serving "dopeness" with every event, piece of swag, or programming they produce. While we know that being an ERG lead Is a heavy lift (oftentimes with little to no reward), we're here to remind to stay the course! Execute every Idea that your group has to the best of your ability and employees and company leadership are bound to take notice. It's also Important to ensure that your content aligns to the brad of your group.

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