All Things ERGs
In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Kellie Sauls about establishing ERGs in the workplace. ERGs, or employee resource groups, are employee coalitions assembled to fulfill a common goal or mission they wish to see reflected in the workplace. Equipped with her DE&I and ERG leadership expertise, Kellie walks us through the steps of bringing ERG plans into fruition so we can achieve a workplace that encourages its employees to see the value in their professional contributions. From welcoming inclusive, sometimes crusty support (more on that in the episode) to scouting an executive sponsor qualified to lead us down the road, Kellie helps us realize that the power behind building a successful and productive ERG derives from company-wide collaboration. Whether we have a direct stake in an ERGs' initiative or just want to be an ally to our colleagues, membership into this club is not exclusive. So, come one, come all and enter the world of all things ERGs!
Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Kellie Sauls, MS
Currently as the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), Ms. Sauls leads the direction and oversight of DE&I strategy, program development and management across the organization. Additionally, she has been engaged in impactful volunteer work within her community including board service, co-establishing a TEDx program, DE&I consultation services, and serving on local and national diversity related advisory councils. Ms. Sauls holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.S. in Counseling and Clinical Programs from Columbus State University.
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Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our podcast episode with Cara McCarty “Queen of Leadership”
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Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, a podcast for audacious women. A warm summer welcome to you all, this is HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking to make some career moves. And HERdacious is there to help you do it. My name's Lorelei, the happy host of the show, and today we're gonna be talking all things ERG. To assist us in this amazing conversation, I have the board chairperson for the financial literacy coalition, a founding member of a Black female Investment Group, and the DEI Director for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, Kellie Sauls.
Kellie: It's great to be here. Thank you, Lorelei, for having me.
Lorelei: It is a pleasure to have you here today. We have a really important conversation ahead of us.
Kellie: I agree. ERGs are import.
Lorelei: Well, we're gonna learn why here in a few as we are gonna be talking all things ERG, what they are, why they exist, how to best utilize them, how to start one... Let's start from the beginning. What is an ERG?
Kellie: An ERG, basically ERG stands for employee resource group, and it's a group of folks that come together usually in the workplace, who share some common characteristics, and that could be anything from race and ethnicity, to gender, to sexual orientation, to abilities, physical abilities, disabilities and so on, and it's a group that provides a safe space for those employees to talk about challenges and barriers, but also to problem-solve and even serve as a resource for the organization for which they work. They're just good safe spaces for people to come together to talk about their common challenges or some things that they wanna do to help improve their organization.
Lorelei: Why would a company or a group of folks start a formal ERG in a business?
Kellie: So historically, marginalized groups have higher unemployment rates than majority more privileged groups, so since the pandemic with the remote work environment plus the killing of George Floyd, these phenomenon have shined a light on diverse talent pipelines, so how are we recruiting and attracting diverse talent? How are we helping them progress in our organization, how are we retaining them? And companies are becoming increasingly more aware, not only around the recruitment, but especially about how to retain diverse talent, so ERG help support this retention element. So you've got a group of folks that are interested in creating a more inclusive culture where everyone feels like they belong, they have a stake. They've invested in the success of the company or the organization. It supports an environment where people feel like they belong. If I'm a part of a group and I'm engaged, I feel like I'm doing something to make things better. So there's a belonging element there that's really important, and that definitely supports retention, and then it provides a resource to support Diversity Recruitment. So if you've got all these folks in this particular ERG that are trying to attract more people to the organization because they're happy, they're helping bring about change, they wanna attract more like them to the organization, it helps with recruitment for the individual members themselves. There are leadership opportunities, right. So you think about in these groups, somebody's gotta help organize, set the platform, the mission, implement all of these things, and through these experiences where people have the opportunity to do these things, there's some personal and professional development. It might not otherwise have the opportunity to develop, it impacts this opportunity to impact and generate stakeholder engagement. So as I get involved in an ERG, I reach out to other co-workers and peers in the organization to do the same thing, 'cause I'm enjoying myself, I'm feeling like "Oh, I'm bringing about change. Let me see if Susie, in the cubicle next to me, wants to do the same thing," and then working closely with senior management, that doesn't happen every day. So ERG have an opportunity to share, "Hey, here's what we're learning, here's what we know, here's what we'd like to do about it," and it goes directly to senior management, typically ERGs have executive sponsors or they have the ear of someone in a senior leadership role, so it gives them visibility and opportunity to be in front of those books.
Lorelei: Now, you touched on this previously for just a hot second, but what are the benefits of ERGs to the company or the organization as a whole, as you mentioned retention previously...
Kellie: Yeah, yeah. So if you add up those elements that I highlighted earlier, at the end of the day, you foster a culture that's inclusive, belonging, people are invested in the success of the organization, they've got a stake in it...
Lorelei: Which creates a sense of loyalty to the company.
Kellie: Absolutely, so then you have this institutional history embedded in the organization and successful outcomes, so it's a business case for having these ERG there, happy people, great work, feeling good about it, creates better business outcomes.
Lorelei: And more diverse populations within organizations are better on the bottom line, like the stats show that.
Kellie: Absolutely 100% better decisions, more innovative solutions. And suggestions, creativity. All of the things that you would love to see in an organization.
Lorelei: Give us some of the basics for starting an ERG, if your company does kinda need one and it doesn't have one of this moment.
Kellie: Wow. So I always think about the basics first, if I'm the person thinking about starting an ERG, I wanna start with myself. Right. Do I think I can take this on? What might be the time commitment, what does my workload look like right now. So I start with the self, is this something that I wanna do? Am I ready to invest the time, energy and effort into it. If I walk away with a yes, then I think, "Okay, is the organization ready for that," right? Is there a way that I can figure out, "Hey, are there other folks who might be interested in an ERG and who have the time, energy to invest as well, and would it be something that would be receptive to senior leadership," so you kinda have to do an assessment of all those things. Self-assessment, other assessment, organizational assessment, and if they all kind of match to a certain degree, a certain level, then you're probably ready to start recruit those members to help you formalize the group, people who are energized about it, people who have ideas, people who are ready to engage. And that's where you begin.
Lorelei: Okay, say we're gonna start an ERG, how do we generate that membership that you talked about? You're gonna kind of have a canvas and see who wants to join, but you're still gonna get broader membership, like you actually have to have a membership for this ERG. And how do you get larger employee support, like organizational support with the regular staff, not just leadership.
Kellie: So I can tell you my experience, I think it's gonna vary from group to group, honestly, but I can tell you my experience, and then we'll kind of categorize.
Kellie: So typically there's someone in the organization, perhaps a chief diversity officer, perhaps an HR leader, we have someone who can help tap people, find people who might be interested in being a part, most of it's gonna be word of mouth, honestly. You may wanna start from where you are and just say, "Hey, I know that person, I know this person. Let me just start with them," and then maybe they knew people, right. So you gotta start with a small group. And then after you've kind of gotten people together the first thing you wanna do is like, "Why are we here? What is it that we hope to achieve," so it's kind of like developing a mission, identifying some goals.
Kellie: Two or three, you don't have to start with very many. And then that way when you go out to the broader employee base, you can say, "Here's what we're about... This is our mission, these are our goals. Are you down for something like this, would you be interested in something like this?" Maybe send out a survey and say, "Hey, sign up, if this interests you, if you wanna be a part of this group, sign up," so you need some way to share with the broader group. So if that's some sort of display email newsletter, whatever the case may be, communicating with the broader employee base to say, "Hey, we're starting something," and then you need to be able to share, "this is how we're gonna collect information," so we know who's interested. Whether that's a sign up sheet or a survey or something like that.
Lorelei: I guess to kind of circle back on what I said earlier, do you actually need that broader employee support specifically for the folks who might not be interested in joining the ERG? Say it's an ERG for women, and we're talking to our male colleagues.
Kellie: Absolutely, 'cause it's in those spaces where they're gonna learn something too, or maybe they're interested in being an ally, there's opportunity there. So we're always trying to reach across the aisle to folks who don't necessarily identify with the particular characteristic that this group is coming together around.
Lorelei: Yes, let's make that a more common action. So going back to getting started, we got the word out, people are interested, we got the broad base of support and we got that cache of membership. What's next?
Kellie: Well, so then you have to figure out, "Okay, we wanna launch this thing, we've got our members, we've told them what our missions are, what our goals are. Now we need to figure out, 'Okay, what do we wanna do with this group?'" Right, so looking at the goals, what are some activities, programs, events that you wanna develop around those goals, a lot of times the goals are really easy. They're one opportunity to come together and socialize, a networking opportunity to professional development, and they may be around recruitment retention, something like that to help the business. And so figuring out what are some activities around those particular goals makes sense, and then getting those members to help execute it, give them something to do. They came together for a reason. Give them something to do. It's always important to have a launch day, to bring the group together in that first event, that first meeting and say, we're here. Get them excited, right? Tell them, "Hey, here's the leadership group that's been holding this thing together, launching this thing, but let's figure out if we wanna formalize and structure ourselves differently, and then let's move forward, let's identify some things we wanna accomplish."
Lorelei: Okay, now that the ERG has been launched, you got your membership, you got your leadership team, let's say, and you have some goals, you have your mission, you have some idea of the types of events that you wanna host, and the general vibe of your ERG is there. Is there another step, or are we done? That's it? We just go?
Lorelei: Okay, we can't just launch this ship. Okay.
Kellie: So part of my role as a DEI director is I advise these ERGs, I partner with them and I collaborate with them to kind of smooth the road to get them to their goals. Some of the things we talk about is once you've identified your activities around your goals and your mission that you want to do this year, let's set a calendar of events and activities based on those goals, and I will help them look to see when might be the best time to schedule those. 'Cause there are lots of other ERGs typically, at least in my organization. And there are other things happening in the organization that they need to be aware of, right? So I don't want them to set a time and experience a bump in the road and get discouraged. Let's deal with that and smooth that out in the front. And the next thing is I ask them to promote the ERG internally through available channels.
Kellie: So once they've established their calendar, their activities, then let's get the word out, right, and even though they're a group that comes together around a particular affinity or characteristic... I always say, leave it open. Invite everyone. There's opportunities for engagement.
Kellie: Relationship building, educating, seeing where it goes. So let's invite everybody. And promote us. I ask them to kind of set up a communication plan for this event, what do you wanna communicate when? The next thing is, I ask them to track their membership and the engagement, here's why it's a very strategic reason. One, it helps them feel good about who's coming to their events, who's participating, but the other thing is, I ask them to think about how they might wanna leverage that for other things. If you can demonstrate...
Kellie: Exactly. If you could demonstrate, "Hey, here's the percentage of our membership who participated, but here are the non-members who participated," this is what this tells me, we want to do X, Y, Z, because obviously there's an interest level or a demand for it.
Lorelei: We have the data to support that.
Kellie: Exactly. The other thing I think about too is I'm gonna use that as a DEI director to support some of my job in the future as well. Also looking at if there are members of the group who have emerged as leaders, so they have annual reviews, they have stretch assignments, if I can connect that back to them being either a leader or a participant in the ERG, it's a good thing.
Lorelei: Improvement on their current trajectory.
Lorelei: Before we take a quick break, I wanted to ask you something that you brought up, you mentioned your work is being a DEI director and how you partner with these ERGs, is that common? Do ERGs often have access to that sort of executive level leadership, like a DEI director.
Kellie: Hopefully, if the organization has a DEI director, but a standard best practice for ERG is to have an executive sponsor, so that brings me to that last step, right. Making sure that the group has an executive sponsor, an executive sponsor can kind of act as a voice in the room where decisions are being made, they can also help smooth the way at higher levels within the organization, they can also promote what's happening at higher levels in the organization, so having the executive sponsor is really important.
Lorelei: Excellent. Thank you for that. Now we're gonna take a quick break here from our sponsors and we'll be right back.
Sponsor: Hi, Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie pop duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms.
Lorelei: We're back talking with Kellie Sauls about ERGs, all things ERGs. I wanna know more about executive sponsorship. How do you get one? How do you find one... Is there like a pool that you go fishing in, are there just executive sponsor, like bus stops at the organization... Where do you go to find these people?
Kellie: [laughter] A book of executive sponsors.
Lorelei: Right, where is the list?
Kellie: So a good place to start is to think about who are the executives in the organization and who do you think might be willing to serve as an executive sponsor? A lot of times you don't know until you ask.
Lorelei: What if they're all crusty old white dudes...
Kellie: That's okay, too!
Kellie: Absolutely. The one crusty old white dude might have access to other crusty old white dudes who may be able to support your effort and energy around what you're doing. Right, so it's all good. One of the things that I advise our ERGs on is to think outside your particular affinity.
Kellie: And that's okay, you want those folks because it signals to other folks like them... "This is okay."
Lorelei: There's inclusive development.
Lorelei: Right. Okay, sorry, crusty old white dudes.
Kellie: We love you, crusty old white dudes.
Lorelei: Couldn't be here today without you. Alright, money. Do ERGs need money, 'cause I kinda get the feeling that they do. And where does that money come from?
Kellie: It's gonna be different for each organization, but I would say if the ERG is really doing their stuff, there's probably gonna be a need for money, there may be need for money around events, activities, if they want engagement and recruitment and things like that. Yeah, there's gonna be a little need for money and the organization, if an organization is really ready, they've already identified where that money is gonna come from. So for example, in my organization, it is very clear, we can support ERGs around events that are open to the entire organization and events that promote professional development, right. And that money comes from the D and I budget.
Lorelei: Alright, so me and my brand new ERG just showed up and we don't have a DEI chair, we don't have a diversity officer, do I talk to my executive sponsor and be like, "How do we get a budget?"
Kellie: Yes, that is so appropriate. And that's why that planning on the front end is so important, you can sit down with them and say, "Hey, we've identified our goals, here are the activities around our goals, here's where we're gonna need some money, we've established a budget, here's a proposal."
Lorelei: The whole executive sponsor thing just kind of makes me wanna just tie everything up back in a nice little bow on company buy-in, organizational buy-in, as a whole. How do you get that? Like we talked about getting your own members, we talked about putting out the word to try to make sure that the message is as inclusive as possible. What else?
Kellie: So here's something that I've made a part of how I talk about this organization-wide, we have a mission statement for our organization, we have core values for our organization, everything that I'm doing to support ERGs, I point back to those things. I say, here is how this ERG is supporting the mission of this entire organization, here is how this ERG activity is supporting our core values. You cannot argue with that. You can't argue with that because every employee, when they accept the employment offer, they basically buy into the mission of the organization and the core values of the organization, and so if they buy into those things, and I point back to those things for ERGs, they can't argue with it.
Lorelei: I mean, they could...
Kellie: They could, but it would be a little bad.
Lorelei: That's right. Lastly, share some red flags with us on ERGs possibly being misused within an organization, what can we as members of an ERG look out for, and how can we course correct our ERG when we kinda go the wrong direction, maybe not intentionally, or maybe there's some ill use there.
Kellie: I always say, be careful, especially to the leaders, those who emerge as leaders of the ERG, be careful. You're gonna be visible, you're gonna get noticed and you're gonna get tapped a lot, spread the wealth, spread the wealth, protect yourself. Once the ERG starts generating results, right. So those things that we kind of expect to see, the outcomes we'd like to see, especially from a company organization standpoint, meeting the goals that you have for your state, the demands will increase 'cause it's working.
Lorelei: The demands on the time...
Kellie: Yes. The demands on the time, the demands on the energy and output, the demands on the ideas and activities. One of the things that started happening over the past couple of years is employees starting to demand from their leaders copay for work and involvement in ERGs because it's on top of their own responsibility.
Lorelei: Yeah, yeah. It's an extra job. You got a second job.
Kellie: Absolutely, absolutely. So I think that's a trend in the right direction.
Lorelei: Give us some red flags on ERGs being misused.
Kellie: Yes. So increasing demand on the leaders, right, so time, time, time asking for more time, more time for them to do things outside of their core responsibilities. Okay, so they gotta manage, they gotta manage.
Lorelei: Set boundaries.
Kellie: Absolutely, it's smart to include ERGs in recruitment strategies, but they have to come with financial support, right. So if I'm saying, "Hey, can you come to this recruitment event on Friday evening, and it requires parking, it requires gas or maybe even a flight that needs to come with financial support." Absolutely, 100%.
Lorelei: Okay, excellent. Well, for those of us who are hearing this talk about ERGs and maybe we don't have one within our organization, and we wanna continue on this learning journey, give us some resources to follow up on this and to keep moving this idea forward.
Kellie: Absolutely, so one of my favorite resources is through an organization called PepTalkHer, and spelled Talk Her with an "H."
Lorelei: Ah I see you. You're talking my language.
Kellie: [laughter] Me likey, me likey. It's an organization that's a great resource for women in professional spaces, and they did a great job publishing, generating and publishing an ERG startup guide, and I use it heavily in supporting the ERG that wanted to start at my organization, a great tool, great resource, so PepTalkHer.
Lorelei: We'll be sure to link it in the show notes. Anymore?
Kellie: Yep. So the Center for Global Inclusion has produced a benchmarks guide, and I use that to help start the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts where I work, and it really kind of helps set what should be happening at each day, it's like an assessment and then a stage of development for an organization, and there's a section of those benchmarks dedicated to ERGs and other committees and things like that, that develop an organization up. And how the organization can get support. And then finally, there's a wonderful consultant, her name is Jennifer Brown, and she has written several books, but one of my favorite books of hers is How to Be an Inclusive Leader.
Lorelei: Yeah, I like that.
Kellie: And so I always recommend that book for executive sponsors, ERG leaders, even leaders who have nothing to do with D and I, but they wanna support D and I, everyone can contribute to the culture of an organization by being more inclusive, so as a leader, how do you message that? How do you help generate that. How do you help support that amongst your team.
Lorelei: Alright, well, to wrap our show, we will do as we normally do and talk our femme fact. Alright, this is a weird question, but do you have any sort of morbid curiosity for famous last words?
Kellie: Actually, yes, kind of love to know what people think and what they wanna say as they're making their transition out.
Lorelei: Alright. Well, I got some for you. And I mean, last words. So Marie Antoinette, when she lost her head, her famous last words were obviously in French, but translated to English, they said, "Pardon me, I didn't do it on purpose." And she was actually addressing the fact that she stepped on the feet of her executioner, as she was walking by, prior to the chop chop. Actress Joan Crawford went out with an entirely different vibe saying, "Dammit, don't you dare ask God to help me," which was directed towards her very kind housekeeper who had been praying at her bedside. And of course, the courageous American abolitionist Harriet Tubman said, "I go to prepare a place for you," a gracious and reflective conclusion to her lifetime of leadership, caretaking and activism. Recently, however, I've learned the last words of another historical female activist, although not as well known in the United States.
Sophie Scholl's activism against Germany's 20th century Nazi regime. Her participation in the White Rose movement are worth hearing. "Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, what does my death matter if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred into action." And stirred into action they were, but I won't spoil that for you just yet. Sophie Magdalene Scholl was born in 1921 in Forchtenberg, Germany. She was one of six children. At the beginning of their school years, Sophie and her siblings were participants of the Nazi group, the National Socialist Cult, and cult is really creepy there, but it was really in the name, Sophie herself belonged to an additional political use group called the League of German girls, but that was in German, right. Her siblings were attracted to the ideals of communion promoted by these groups, however, their father was not a fan of their participation and avidly resisted the political agenda pushed by the Nazis at the time. Sophie's father, Robert Scholl, rejected the narrative of Christianity that Nazi Germany had concucted to justify their white supremacist messages. As a result, Robert held dinner table talks with his kids and invited open and honest conversation around the fallacies within the Nazi regime. This type of open dialogue was definitely prohibited in Germany at the time. Sophie slowly turned against the Nazi regime through a series of events which included the arrest of her brother and some friends for anti-Nazi rhetoric, her mandatory service in the war, and witnessing first-hand some of the horrors that Nazi soldiers inflicted, all of this pissed Sophie off enough to become a vocal revolutionary as one does to cope during times of turmoil.
After her mandatory service, she attended the University of Munich to study science, there she saw the White Rose rebellion in action. The White Eose was distributing educational pamphlets that rejected Nazism and advocated for passive resistance, and when she found out that her older brother Hans was behind it all she definitely wanted in. The White Rose was a very small operation which included the Scholl sibling duo, Sophie and Hans, along with three other students and one professor. The White Rose's oppositional operation relied predominantly on the printing of anti-Nazi messages via pamphlets. Though they only printed and distributed a grand total of six complete pamphlets throughout the organization's lifetime, those six were enough to bear considerable consequences for the Nazi regime. The pamphlets were printed in masses and the White Rose managed to gain support across a widespread geographical area, ranging from Hamburg to Vienna, whose residents furthered the reach by spreading the pamphlets within their own personal networks. Not only did the pamphlets denounce the actions and rhetoric of the Nazi regime, they also incited calls to action via the sabotage of Hitler's war machines and various forms of passive resistance. This specifically was enough to startle authorities into seeing the White Rose as a legitimate threat, all the while encouraging Sophie to believe that their grassroots efforts were perhaps enough to bring about change.
On February 18th, 1943, Sophie and Hans were seen throwing copies of the sixth pamphlet off a railing over a main university building. They were caught by the Gestapo and arrested. The two siblings along with one of her friends, a gentleman by the name of Christoph Probst, attempted to take all the blame for the White Rose's actions and were executed by guillotine four days later, yes guillotine. So her and Marie Antoinette have something in common. Sophie was 21, Hans and Christoph were 24. They received no mention in German newspapers at the time, but were internationally acclaimed for their activism, leaving behind a legacy of bravery, which as Sophie's last words so accurately described, awakened thousands and stireed them into action. By the way, that sixth pamphlet that they had been caught distributing was later smuggled out of Germany to the UK where it was reprinted and dropped by allied planes all over Germany five months later. So amazing.
And Kellie, you have been amazing today, thank you so much for joining us, I really appreciate your time and the expertise you brought to the conversation on ERGs.
Kellie: I love talking about this kind of stuff, so thank you for having me and giving me the opportunity to do so, so fun.
Lorelei: It was an absolute pleasure, you have been an excellent leader on that topic today, thank you.
Kellie: Thank you.
Lorelei: For those of you who'd like to continue the journey with us, I ask you to subscribe or follow or what have you on your given podcast channels and share with a friend. You're welcome to email us at herdacious [dot] herdacity.org and don't worry, all of the amazing resources that Kellie mentioned, as well as my super long email address will be listed in our show notes. Until next time, don't think too much about your last words, they'll come to you in the moment.