The Future of Work: The Value of Employee Resource Groups

UC Berkeley Extension
39 min readApr 1, 2023

Jill Finlayson: Welcome to The Future of Work podcast with UC Berkeley Extension and the EDGE in Tech Initiative at the University of California, focused on expanding diversity and gender equity in tech. EDGE in Tech is part of CITRIS, the Center for IT Research in the Interest of Society, and the Banatao Institute. UC Berkeley Extension is the continuing education arm of UC Berkeley. Today, we’re taking a look inside at employee resource groups, better known as ERGs.

ERGs provide a safe space for employees to meet with others like themselves and develop community around those shared traits and needs. Normally, employee-led ERGs also provide inherent value to the organizations, both small and large, from increasing employee retention to providing opportunity for professional development or boosting recruitment efforts. They are a win-win for both the employee and the employer. So let’s find out why every organization should cultivate and encourage ERGs in their own workplaces.

We’re going to turn now to Anisha Nandi. Anisha Nandi is the CEO and co-founder of Verbate, a startup focused on helping companies build the best-in-class employee communities. Verbate helps communities like employee resource groups, which have skyrocketed in popularity, manage the basics while also giving people leaders the tools they need to understand their impact on the company. Prior to founding Verbate, Anisha was a tech journalist at CBS and NBC, where she was a founding member of their digital newsrooms.

During her time there, she was deeply passionate about building great employee experience, which ultimately led her to founding Verbate. She is passionate about creating healthier workplaces via transparency, employee happiness, and inclusion. Welcome, Anisha.

Anisha Nandi: Thanks, Jill. I appreciate it.

Jill Finlayson: So today, we hear a lot about employee communities. We hear about employee resource groups, affinity groups, employee networks. And increasingly, they seem like they’re a critical part of the future of work. Community has been a topic of conversation for a long time. And we also talk about company culture. So how would you define community? How does that relate to company culture? And why does the company culture matter?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a question that so many people are thinking about so much right now, right? I think the thing that we think about a lot here at Verbate is how much change has happened over the past few years, right? Our workforces are now global. They’re distributed. There’s so many different types of people in your workforce. And they’re bringing their personal identities to work with them, a lot of the time because that’s the world we live in, right? They might be remote. And being a parent means that their kid might just be in the next room over, right?

So when we think about the definition of community, we think about all of the different communities we have both in our personal lives, in our work lives, and how they’re increasingly intersecting. And so for us, I think the exciting thing is that can make our workplaces stronger, right? I think that if you’re able to bring your whole self, as we like to hear and say, to work, it’s actually really beneficial both for that individual, for their team, and for the company at large.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. And who is the person who’s participating in an ERG? Why are they doing this?

Anisha Nandi: Again, with all the change we’re seeing, these employee communities, as we call them, often called ERGs as you said, they cover a wide range in terms of scope and size increasingly, right? So traditionally, we saw ERGs or affinity groups really start all the way back in the ’70s. I think the very first ERG is often credited to be Xerox’s Black Employee Resource Group. And so as for the Black employees. And it was a space for those folks to meet each other and convene and discuss the shared experiences and identity that they had.

Fast forward to 2023, and we are seeing all kinds of employee communities and ERGs. We’re seeing parents and mental health communities, which increasingly include all of your employees, right? Everybody has mental health. We’re seeing geographic-based communities. Now, there are communities based around, hey, we have this New York office. And we have maybe a Berlin office. That’s a community as well. And so I think the interesting thing is we’re seeing communities now encompass pretty much every employee in your company.

And they’re self-selecting into multiple communities. They’re a parent and a woman. They’re in your New York office. And they are thinking deeply about their mental health. It’s all sorts of communities, all sorts of people.

Jill Finlayson: I think that’s a really interesting point to bring up is this multiple identities that people have, multiple affinities that they connect with. And so when we think about this shift that you’ve talked about, when it first began, what was the purpose of the ERG? And how has that changed?

Anisha Nandi: I think when ERGs first began, it really was out of just a need for, perhaps, a safe space to discuss your identity or maybe some of your shared needs as a group, and especially as minorities, right? I think minorities in the workplace were the heavy focus of a lot of affinity group programs for many years. And what’s really shifted is now as they’ve grown in that scope and size, and now it encompasses so much of your employee base, what companies have realized is they’re actually a phenomenal resource for the company itself, not just for the individual.

So these groups are increasingly informing the company’s recruiting decisions. Hey, if we want a diverse pipeline, we should tap into these different ERGs. Maybe less obviously, they’re informing things like corporate social responsibility strategies. Hey, if we want to donate to this specific community, and we have an employee community that actually maps really closely to it, they should be involved in determining what that strategy looks like.

And then even down to product — we see some of these ERGs informing key product decisions, whether it’s, hey, we’re building this feature. And we know that it’s going to impact this specific public community. Let’s ask our employee community what they think. And so companies, to say it in summary, are realizing that these communities can be really, really helpful in informing strategy at a broad level.

Jill Finlayson: Does that conflict with the origin story? So if it’s really beneficial to the company, is that self-defeating for the purpose of really trying to benefit the employee?

Anisha Nandi: It’s a good question and one that we hear. And I think the biggest thing that we realized is when — especially when we went out and we started to build Verbate, we asked hundreds of ERG leads, of people leaders, of company leaders, what do you want from these communities, right? And like we said from company leaders and people leaders, we heard resoundingly, we want them to be more involved in company strategy. We think they’re amazing. And what we heard from ERG leads is the same thing. They wanted a seat at the table, is a phrase that we heard a lot, right?

They wanted to be taken seriously enough to be involved in those different strategies. They wanted their identity to be part of that story — whether it was as a part of these communities or part of multiple communities. Now, I think what we’re seeing across the space is if you’re going to expect these employees to then weigh in, if you’re going to expect these employee communities to have that kind of influence in your organization, you need more structure around them, right?

You can’t expect them to be operating out of a bunch of Google Docs and some spreadsheets because you’re just simply not going to be able to deliver on these bigger expectations that companies have for them. So that’s some of the, quote, unquote, “tension” we’re seeing with that. But the ERG leads themselves, the community leads themselves, they’re loving the opportunity to be involved at a strategic level.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I like that, the idea of getting a seat at the table. Can you say a little bit more about what does that mean to have a seat at the table and how are the ERGs able to contribute?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. I think it manifests itself in a couple of different ways. Firstly, there’s the obvious example of personal development. A lot of the time, we see ERG leads — they can be a variety of different levels within a company. But a lot of the time, ERG leads might be an employee that has never managed other people before, right? They haven’t had that opportunity yet. They might not be directly tied to a P&L or manage a P&L. And so to have the opportunity to lead an internal community is an amazing internal development opportunity.

You’re going to be managing a budget. You’re going to be managing people. You’re going to be managing company-wide events. You’re going to be managing some of that strategy that we’re talking about, whether it’s informing product or CSR or even something as interesting as benefits utilization. So, A, it’s a phenomenal development for the individual. And then in terms of how they get to that next step of, how are you actually informing some of that company strategy, I mean, frankly, it’s something still a lot of companies are figuring out. It’s something we’re very excited about. And it’s really one of those biggest areas of opportunity, I think, for the space in general.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think it is both personally this opportunity to step forward, have a leadership role, even learn what are the best leadership traits in public speaking communication. It also, I think, gives people a chance for those more visible development opportunities to be seen and advance. I think that that is a really great benefit beyond, as you said, the ability to connect with others with shared experience. When you say that they need structure, do they also need a budget? How does that work out? Because these used to be all-volunteer activities, right?

Anisha Nandi: For a long time, they were. And I think more and more, we’re seeing that budgets are more table stakes. I think a lot more companies, if they’re going to have any ERG program and double down on it realize that having a budget is pretty standard. That being said, for example, one of the big conversations in the ERG space is, do we compensate these leaders for their time, right? And that’s a little bit of a trickier conversation often. And what we often see is it’s dependent on how the organization wants to, and how the individual wants to be recognized for their work.

It might actually be more beneficial for them to get, say, an L&D acknowledgment for their work, maybe a stipend or an ability to go to a conference or participate in a course that helps them further develop some of those skills that we talked about. That might actually be more useful than a cash bonus for them. And so I think it’s more so just important to start the conversation in general of, what does it mean to provide resourcing? Is it just squared away, cordoned away time for that person to work on these efforts every week, a couple of hours a week, whatever it may be?

Is it a budget line item formerly put into the company’s P&L? Is it leadership and development opportunities? It might be different for every company. But in some way, shape, or form, what we’re seeing is that companies are realizing that this work, like we said, is so valuable that it is going to be recognized in some way. What’s best for your company is still a conversation I think a lot of folks are having.

Jill Finlayson: Really interesting when you get into this conversation about compensation because the work does provide value to the company. It is something that takes time away from other things that somebody could be doing. And yet if it’s valuable to the company, it should aid their advancement. It should be part of what allows them to get promoted. So I like what you said about authorizing officially time to work on the activity, but then taking the next step further and saying success in this area counts toward your key performance indicators or your evaluation for advancement.

Anisha Nandi: Absolutely. I think that one of the things that we think is so important in the space is that alignment, which is what you were getting at, right? So something as simple as goal-setting is something we talk about endlessly to the folks that we work with. At the start of the year, being able to set goals for yourself as an ERG lead and for your ERG that are specifically tied to a company goal. Maybe it’s a CSR initiative that your company has. Maybe it’s a product feature they want to roll out. Maybe it’s a more diverse recruiting pipeline, whatever it may be, tying each ERG goal to a company goal is so, so powerful. Because you start to see some of that alignment become baked into their processes.

And one of the things that we actually encourage beyond that is then tying each ERG effort, even the dollar spent, to one of your goals. And so what you start to see is that alignment across the board becomes a lot more natural within an organization instead of a retrospective look back at like, hmm, why did we do this again? Was it this ERG leads passion project, which is great, but was it actually something tied to the organization as a whole that we all agreed was great and important and benefited the individual, the team, and the company? And so I think getting ahead up funnel of that alignment early is making a lot of organizations see the value right off the bat of these groups.

Jill Finlayson: That makes a lot of sense. And harkening back to something you said earlier, the origin story for ERGs for employee resource groups around identity and minorities and inclusion. Do you still see it as a really critical role, table stakes just to address diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah, I’d even take it a step further. I think it’s absolutely critical to DE&I. And what we see in this space is a lot of DEI practitioners, a lot of folks that have been doing this work prior to 2020 or since 2020 are realizing that there is this shift in a lens through which we look at these programs, where these practitioners don’t necessarily want to be cordoned off corner of the company. They want their work to be able to help as many employees as possible. And so we’re seeing the shift to employee experience be a big term people talk about.

Because as these communities affect more people, it’s not just the minorities in your company that are benefiting from them. It’s, frankly, everybody. And so I think not only are these efforts so important to keep moving the ball on those DEI goals, but also just, again, to be making sure that the employees you have, especially in these tough economic times, feel seen and heard, every single one of them. And it is such a powerful thing to be able to tap into a community, be able to tap into your company community to have that sense of belonging, to have that sense of connection especially in tough times.

Jill Finlayson: Well, you mentioned 2020. Was COVID a driver for some of these changes or the demand was already growing?

Anisha Nandi: It was absolutely a driver. I think that the trend lines were already moving in this direction. ERGs were already an up and to the right type of initiative that we were seeing companies start more. They were starting earlier. Usually, you were seeing them at companies that were 250 to 300 employees or more. Now we even see companies that are 100 employees starting them. So the trend lines were always moving up and to the right. I think what COVID did is in a very condensed timeline just completely skyrocket their popularity.

Because when you don’t have maybe a central office to go and commune and meet other folks in, these communities became the natural place that people were meeting other people and connecting and staying connected and in a really chaotic world. And so it accelerated the timeline that we were already seeing in a really dramatic way.

Jill Finlayson: We are now seeing, of course, people being called back to the office. And we’re also seeing a lot of cost-cutting and layoffs. How is that affecting the employee resource groups?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. I mean, we touched on it earlier, but I think it’s made them even more critical. Especially coming into this year, we were cautiously optimistic but realistic about the fact that, hmm, I wonder if companies are going to pull back on their efforts? And quite frankly, we haven’t seen that — at least not in our population of folks that we work with. What we’ve seen is companies are actually doubling down on this idea of employee community. And I think it’s twofold. I think from an optimistic lens, like all of the things that we’ve talked about today, people have realized that they’re fantastic for company culture, for company strategy. That they’re really critical to those two components.

But if you want to even take the less optimistic view, I think companies are realizing they’re incredibly cost-efficient, right? If you want to keep people happy and retained and developed, employee communities are not incredibly expensive. They are already there. They’re built into your systems. They’re not going anywhere. So even just giving them a little bit more support in any way, shape, or form at a time like this can go a long, long way for your retention and engagement.

Jill Finlayson: It occurs to me that some of the people listening may never have been part of an employee resource group. What is it like? What’s the experience like? What happens in an employee resource group?

Anisha Nandi: Sure. I think it’s different for everybody. But in broad strokes, there’s a couple of things that I think that always come to mind. And, again, this has even changed even since we’ve started Verbate. But I think there’s a couple threads that every ERG has. To get very tactical about it, there’s a couple of different ways that I think ERGs function across the board. One is just asynchronous communication. There’s almost always like a Slack channel or a Teams channel that this group has that is constantly alive and abuzz with, hey, here’s a cool article I saw that is particularly relevant for this group.

Here’s an interesting stat. Here’s something going on in the world that relates to us. That’s a pretty universal experience for all ERGs is you have this asynchronous communication going on. They always are throwing some sort of event strategy. So that’s been something that’s kind of in the DEI DNA is the way I’ll put it. For Women’s History Month, there are so many amazing events being thrown by ERGs, so many amazing campaigns being started by ERGs.

Look up pretty much any company, and I’m positive that any of their Women’s History Month efforts are strongly highlighting their women’s ERG. And then I think the last part, the last component I’ll talk about, which is still developing, is — and we’ve talked about it so much today, but these ERGs are starting to influence more of the less obvious things that they used to do. So benefits utilization is a great example. We were talking right before we hopped on this podcast about PTO and the changes that are going on in that world and how companies are reanalyzing leave management.

More and more, we hear that caregiving ERGs and parents ERGs are in that conversation full force, right? They’re saying, hey, well, I’m the lead of the parents group. Let me tell you what the parents think about this. Here’s what would make us really happy. So those three kind of pillars are what we see. The asynchronous communication, a lot of the ongoing event strategy has always been a big part of them, and then now this kind of burgeoning company strategy, business strategy part that they’re still figuring out but is very exciting.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think that is exciting. And having input into policies, benefits, practices, processes is something that they haven’t had a say in. So that’s very exciting. So if they’re so great, what did you see as a gap? And why did you start your company?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah, it’s a good question. For us, I was a tech journalist for a long time. And I think the thing that I always like to say is being a journalist teaches you to ask really good questions and tell good stories, right? And so that was always kind of at my heart of the discovery process of if I want to start a company, I’m going to ask a lot of good questions. And I’m going to think about the story to be told here. And my co-founder comes from the tech world. And so he always thought about it from the angle of, what truly is a technology solution that would be a need to have?

And so us coupled with those two perspectives when we went into this process and we asked all of those good questions to the hundreds of people in the space, what we just kept hearing again and again is that the problem wasn’t that there wasn’t the intent. There was so much intent to do more with these groups. The problem is that because of that really condensed timeline that COVID put on companies, the systems were just breaking down left and right. People were like, I can’t keep track of the Google Doc we started two months ago. And that’s where all of the ideas were. And now the person left, and we can’t get their Google Drive.

It is just system breaking down after system breaking down. We measure all of our budgets in these spreadsheets, and we keep losing them. And now we don’t know how to go to our FP&A meeting and reconcile these. It was just really becoming hard to keep making a case for these groups if the systems weren’t in place to be able to capture the data and organize the information in a way that was sustainable and repeatable. And that got us really excited because there’s a lot of human problems in this space that we might not necessarily be able to solve, but that felt like a really meaty technology problem that software could be very helpful in.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, that is interesting because people are changing jobs more frequently. So if the person who was running it left — and we saw a lot of people change jobs recently. There was the great resignation or the great changeover. I don’t know, just a lot of movement happening. So that’s really interesting. There were not easy ways to do that handoff or there was no handoff full stop.

Anisha Nandi: And on that point, it was so important that changed drastically is that a lot of the time before 2020, these programs were being run primarily by the ERG leads and maybe off the side of someone’s desk at a program management level. We saw that really change in 2022. The second fastest growing role being hired for in America was a program manager in charge of these employee communities. So now you had a full-time hire that really did actually need to show that these programs were working and that they were doing what they were intended to do.

And that role continues to be the third fastest growing role in 2023. Employee experience manager is now the fifth. And so seeing a full-time hire actually in charge of this program also is what changed the dynamic of like, OK, we need better systems if we’re going to double down.

Jill Finlayson: Say a little bit more about what are the careers that are coming up in this space.

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. I mean, this is something really exciting to us. I think that employee experience manager one is we think about all the time. The Wall Street Journal had some great reporting on it. There’s more and more articles coming out. And, again, LinkedIn found that it was a fifth fastest growing role being hired for in America in 2023. I think it’s such a testament to a lot of what we’ve talked about today in terms of people trying to figure out what employee experience means so much so that they’re willing, even in today’s conditions, to put a full-time head against it and say, OK, you are now in charge of whatever employee experience means for the future of work.

And what we’ve noticed is employee communities is a huge part of that story. But I think there’s going to be a lot else too that’s going to be continuously figured out about what does it mean to be an employee at a company and have a good experience.

Jill Finlayson: So one of the challenging things that’s always been an issue for DEI is how do you prove that it is working, that it is adding value? And so when you think about metrics for successful ERGs, what do you think of?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. I think that there’s what I’ll call kind of the obvious metrics and then the nonobvious metrics. And so the obvious metrics are the ones like retention, recruitment, engagement, right? We see great ERGs always, always being tied to higher retention, better recruiting, more efficient recruiting, and higher engagement, right? Higher NPS scores. There have been tons of studies on this. And some of the best ERG program, especially from Fortune 500 companies, 90% of who have ERG programs, are constantly showing off the numbers around these things and saying, look how amazing our retention is. This is because of our ERGs.

So those ones are obvious. And more and more, especially not fortune 500 companies, are working to capture that data and be able to draw those lines between their investment into employee communities and retention. That’s something we’re really passionate about helping companies do. That’s a big part of our platform. It’s like, we want to help you capture this data and help you draw those lines. And then I think the nonobvious ones, which nobody quite has the answers on yet, but we know that this is going to be a big part of the story into the future are things like ESG scores, right?

ESG is constantly kind of a moving target, I think, for a lot of companies. How do we make sure that we have good corporate social responsibility tactics? How do we make sure that we have great ESG scores so we can land in some of these portfolios? And ERGs are a big part of that. They’re driving your donation and giving strategy a lot of the time. They are part of a lot of your different efforts that come both in DEI but also just generally in employee experience. And so I think CSR and ESG scores are going to be a big part of that story.

And then even things like we talked about benefits utilization. Benefits utilization is one of those scores that’s always historically low for a lot of companies. And what we’re seeing is that these groups are going to plug into that space and be able to say, hey, we’re going to not only share these benefits more widely so they get used more. But we’re going to actually help you optimize them. So those kinds of metrics, I think, are going to be a little bit harder to get in the near term. But I think that’s where we’re heading.

Jill Finlayson: And we’ve seen news today. Microsoft laid off a responsible AI development teams. Twitter has laid off a huge amount of employees in these areas around community. Why do you think that’s happening? How do we prevent that?

Anisha Nandi: I think the layoffs are one of the things that we’re very interested to see how it’s going to be played out. I don’t think anybody particularly knows where we’re going to land in all this. I will say two interesting things we’re seeing from our vantage point because I think, depending on where you sit in the ecosystem, you’re going to see a different side of this. For us, one, that program manager who we work really closely with that manages these employee communities at a high level, we have an amazing community of hundreds of those folks that meet with us monthly that we talk to.

And largely, we haven’t seen them get disproportionately affected by these layoffs. That’s at least just our own internal observation. But what we are hearing is that their company certainly isn’t expanding headcount for them, right? They’re kind of feeling more alone than ever because they were probably one of one or one or two or maybe one of three at most at the types of companies we talked to, which is between 500 and 10,000 employees. And so that person feels really lonely. They need help. They need connection they need community.

And so I think these layoffs are going to emphasize the fact that if you don’t give these folks a place to talk to each other and commune, they can find it externally, which can either be great for your company brand or pretty poor for your company brand. That’s one thing we’re seeing. And then I think the second thing we’re seeing is, again, companies in these tough times, the smart ones are doubling down on a lot of these community efforts because what they’re seeing is it’s keeping their best there. It’s keeping their top performers, which we see often correlated with your ERG leads often.

These are folks that are willing to take on, quote, unquote, “extra work.” They’re usually pretty awesome at their other job too. You want to keep those folks around. And so by doubling down on these efforts, it’s probably going to help you in the long term. But it’s all to see in the future, hopefully, that these will bear out and be positive outcomes for us all.

Jill Finlayson: I like that point that a lot of the people involved in these programs are, in fact, the self-starters, the people with initiative, how do you retain those folks. But you also hinted at another, perhaps, challenge for people who are in ERGs or running ERGs, which is that they’re doing this in addition to their full-time job. Can you talk about that situation?

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. A lot of the time, we hear bandwidth constraints being a concern for these folks, right? I mean, you’re doing a lot. It’s already a time where work is, like we said, blending with your personal lives, which generally, I think, can be a great thing but can also be really exhausting at times. And the thing that I often remind people who aren’t doing this work day in day out is it can often be emotional work, right? It’s tied to your identity. And so you’re fighting for something or thinking about something that you really, really personally are tied to.

As a company, we think about two things a lot. One is that sense of community, connecting these folks to each other, helping them feel less alone. And then two, from just a pure business standpoint, a lot of this work shouldn’t be not automated, right? Like, simple things that we do on platform like automating comms that remind you that something is happening today that has to do with that group, that shouldn’t be something that that person just has to remember to do. We’ve created so much technology around the customer experience that automates away a lot of that work. I think we can do that in the employee experience as well.

So I think the alchemy of companies valuing this work more in cordoning off time because they realize it’s actually going to help their bottom line. And then just creating better tooling in the space, so that we can take off some of the just logistics administration work of being an ERG lead or a program manager I think we’ll ease a lot of that tension that comes with bandwidth constraints.

Jill Finlayson: I love that — automating the tedious admin work, which nobody should have to do. I think that’s a really good find. You did mention that this can be emotional labor. That this can be, I think, challenging in some cases for people or draining in many ways. So how do you address that concern for the people running ERGs? And as a sidebar to that, we know that women disproportionately end up doing a lot more community building, emotional labor. Do you have data and stats that say who are leading these programs and is it disproportionately women?

Anisha Nandi: Off the top of my head, I don’t have a stat that says it’s disproportionately women. I would venture that it’s probably a lot of folks, especially historically, in some of those groups. That being said, one of the things that we have seen a lot, and this is maybe a counterintuitive point and maybe ever so controversial, but we’ve seen people understanding these employee communities at a deeper level that historically were never involved in them, right? White cis male leaders are suddenly understanding, oh wait, this is a community that I can actually be a part of? I can be an ally?

Or maybe I’m a veteran. And that actually in and of itself is a community that a lot of folks don’t know about. I’m going to find a way to bring that to work with me. And so I think this combination of people that typically weren’t involved in these communities before realizing that there is a place for them as well has helped lift the tides a little bit. It’s helped the people that have been historically probably doing this work for a very long time. I can speak as a Trinidadian Indian woman who was born in England and raised in New York and has all these identities that I’ve been fighting to bring to work with me for decades.

I’m noticing now that a lot of people that usually weren’t interested in that at work are saying, actually, this is good for everybody. Let me help either as an ally or let me bring up this identity you never knew I carried with me that now I’m going to bring to work. And I’m going to do work at work about it.

Jill Finlayson: I love the inclusion of allies. That’s something that we haven’t discussed. I’m curious more, how are allies participating? And also, how are ERGs interacting with each other?

Anisha Nandi: Oh yeah, I love that question. I think I’ll tackle the Allies piece first and then the intersectionality piece. And they are kind of inherently related. One of the things we encourage a lot partners that we work with is just make it clear how you can participate as an ally, right? Even as simple as when you first join an ERG, maybe be able to vocalize some or maybe on the membership form, I’m joining as an ally, or I’m joining as a participant. Because one of the things that we hear a lot is sometimes allies just don’t know how to support. And they, of course, just don’t want to do it the wrong way.

And what ends up happening sadly is then a lot of people just count themselves out because they’re more scared of stepping on someone’s toes or doing something that might offend them. And so by creating, and actually a twist of fate, this distributed work world that we were in, it forced people to be more explicit about, hey, this is how you can support our group often as an ally and do this, right? You don’t have to just be in the office. You can do this very simple thing virtually, and it would really show support for us. And so we’re seeing that happen more as these clear guidelines.

And even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable, but these really explicit ways of saying, this is how you can help our group. This is how to be a good ally. And so that’s number one. And then intersectionality is a huge superpower. We tell everybody we can about this. Being able to work across group is so, so helpful not only for resources, right? If you’re the women’s group that’s working with the parents group, and you can share budget, you can do a combined event that shares your reach across the company, right? So it helps with resourcing both time, money, effort. And it also helps you reach a wider range of audiences, right?

You might catch a couple of people that didn’t even know that you had a parents group that might now join your new group. So especially like we were talking about in these tight times, I think intersectionality is such a huge unlock for a lot of companies maybe trying to stretch their efforts in this last quarter or so.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I also it from the perspective of pure attendance. Because since people are so distributed and because it’s harder to get people to show up for events, there’s just a lot of challenges in getting an audience. So bringing together multiple organizations to be like, let’s all celebrate Women’s History Month. Let’s all celebrate Black History Month. How can we all come together to really drive a really engaging event together, is really a cool upside that I hadn’t thought about.

Anisha Nandi: Totally. Totally. And it goes back to what we were saying earlier of the more groups you can create at a company, the more you’re going to see that kind of spin the flywheel itself. Because now suddenly, you have more and more communities that people can join and see themselves in. And that’s one thing we’re seeing is people are now part of multiple. Maybe they lead one, and they’re part of two. Maybe they’re part of three, and they’re looking at a fourth. They want to start another one. And so we’re seeing this just expansion in scope and size as people realize that there’s so many different types to be started.

Jill Finlayson: Is this really more of a United States phenomenon? Or are you seeing this globally?

Anisha Nandi: Great question. It’s definitely — especially for us, we’re based in the US so we see a lot of US-based companies. But one thing we hear all the time, one of the both logistical challenges but opportunities is as folks are hiring more outside of the US, those people want to be involved in the ERGs and employee communities as well. And so it’s a really exciting opportunity. It’s one that comes with its own challenges because being a woman in America or even a specific state in America is a partly different experience than being a woman in Singapore or a woman in India or a woman in Trinidad or England.

It comes with its own, perhaps, different considerations. And so that goes for every single type of group and every single type of community is your personal tie to this experience or identity might be different somewhere else. And so we see it as something that we have a lot of conversations around. And it’s definitely one of those challenges that I think is very solvable, and it’s worth the opportunity that comes on the other side of being able to represent more people. But that’s the way that we typically see the global component happening a lot today is just a lot of US-based companies are hiring outside of the US and thinking about, how do we integrate them into it?

But I’d imagine, honestly, that as well, global companies are thinking deeply about ERGs in their own countries. Maybe a deeper cut, but specifically because a lot of especially European-based companies are thinking deeply about their ESG scores. And, again, these kind of groups are really quite involved in how you reach that scoring.

Jill Finlayson: So sort of a sustainability club, if you will, within a company.

Anisha Nandi: There’s definitely part of that. There’s a sustainability aspect, but also part of that social pillar of ESG is, how representative are your people? How do they feel about their employee experience? And ERGs are a huge component of that, not to mention they also — more and more companies have a sustainability group, which is touching the E in ESG and obviously governance. And so, again, I think that’s a more — I think a lot of companies are still figuring out how that ties together, but it’s undeniably something that comes up more and more.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. So I’m thinking about the fact that we talked a little bit about the benefits to these programs to companies. We’ve talked about the benefits to the individual. And we talked a little bit about the benefits to the people running the ERGs. What are the downsides? What are the barriers? What are their frustrations? And how can we fix those?

Anisha Nandi: I would say two things that we already covered earlier but just right off the bat always come to mind. One is that loneliness. That’s the one that really kind of keeps me up at night sometimes is these folks are literally dedicating their time and effort to starting communities and running them. And time and time again we hear like, it’s a lonely job. I don’t really know other folks doing it. I don’t know the best practices. I want to make sure I’m doing this right. And so I think that sense of connection between these ERGs, between the different ERG leads even cross company is something that’s so, so important. And it’s only going to become more important.

And there’s a rising tides element to that, right? You learn best practices from other people. You feel less alone. You feel more energized. You feel like you want to give more to the effort. So that sense of loneliness, I think, comes from a couple of different places, whether it’s remote work, whether it’s just the sheer volume of this work sometimes. That’s one that comes up a lot. And then 2 is just, again, those bandwidth constraints. Let’s try and get some of that grunt work out of there and make this more delightful. We want to help these people up level to thinking about these efforts strategically, right?

We want to take the maybe hours they’re working on reformatting an Excel sheet and port that over to helping on CSR strategy. And so we think it’s kind of a net neutral game on like they already have the time allotted a lot of the time. Let’s make sure that that time is being spent in a way that the company can see that ROI, and they get the most out of it.

Jill Finlayson: So how are you connecting ERG leads across companies? Because that’s not something I’ve heard before.

Anisha Nandi: Yeah. I got to say, we’re on the precipice of being able to announce something a little bit more publicly about this. But we have been thinking about this for what feels like ages. Because it’s something that we got asked about urgently right off the bat even when we were doing that initial discovery, right? It kept coming up with like, can you connect me with other leads that are doing this job at other companies? And I will say it, it’s such a need that it already happens pretty organically. I think that if you look up especially the tech ecosystem, startups that have similar missions or in the same areas, they typically do events together. Or they will start an initiative or a campaign together.

And so it really does take being tapped into the ecosystem today to be able to pull that off. What we’re excited to do and what we’re working on right now and are almost ready to launch is more and more sustainable ways to do that, right? If there’s a third party like us that can create the systems and the structures and the guidelines on how to connect and again, take out that barrier to entry that you have to figure out how to do it 0 to 1, and you already have to have the network to do it — if we can kind of supercharge the ecosystem and say, hey, we have this bird’s eye view of all these amazing people, let’s get them in one room, or let’s get them talking to each other, that’s something that we’re really passionate about, we’re working on. And we already do for program managers pretty often. And so how to do that with the ERG leads is going to be really exciting.

Jill Finlayson: Sort of a cross-industry or a cross-company community of practice, where they can share knowledge, best practices, how they make things done, how to get people to attend.

Anisha Nandi: Totally. Totally. You’re absolutely nailing it, Jill. And we are we’re so excited to do that. I think it’s such a need in the industry. And I think it’ll actually help solve some of the problems we’ve talked about, right? It’s like, hey, how do we share best practices? How do we combat that loneliness? How do we make sure companies see the value in it? Because that’s the other thing too, right? Not to, again, look at it from a bit of a pessimistic view. But if you’re a company that’s wondering, is this worth it?

And you see that a competitor is benefiting from having these groups, oftentimes that’s one thing we see a lot too is like we’ll see a company being like, oh, I don’t know. We should double down on this. And then suddenly they see their competitor is doing an amazing job showing off their employee communities and recruiting this amazing talent and doing all this great stuff. It does start to lead to more and more people realizing this is table stakes.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, there is a lot more employee empowerment. Do you think about Glassdoor where people are giving feedback on companies, sharing salaries, doing all of that sort of thing? So do you have a vision in the future, where you might have ERGs that transcend companies?

Anisha Nandi: What we get really excited about and the need for the ecosystem today is being able to create that cross-collaboration for groups that already existed. That being said, I think one of the things that we’re going to be keeping a keen eye out for is, what is the critical mass of communities, right? I think you have to have a baseline to understand, OK, what would those groups look like if they were agnostic of company? And how do we create them? There’s still such an explosion in new ones being launched every day that I think we’re going to have to see how they bear out, right?

I think there’s still 20, 30, 40 if I were to really think about it at the end of the day. And so is that where it ends? Or are we going to see more types of communities being launched? I think that’s the crux of the question before we can launch anything on that front.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, it’s really exciting, and thinking about, how do we address networking gaps? And if you can connect people with shared interests, shared traits, shared experience, this gives them an opportunity also for career advancement, professional development. And so I’m always thinking about those opportunities, where we might connect people. Because within sectors, sectors are very small. There’s the semiconductor sector or people working in cybersecurity. And you’ll bump into the same people at conferences. So why not create a space where if you’re the only Black LGTBQ cybersecurity person in your company, could you connect with folks elsewhere?

Anisha Nandi: Totally. Totally. And I think it’s something people do kind of naturally already. And there’s always the inclination to think like, oh, can we make that accessible to everybody, right? I think we see a lot of ERG leads, you’ll see on their LinkedIn profile that that’s a separate title that they have right under their main title, right? And so it’s something that people want to carry around with them, is the way my co-founder always thinks about it, right? I want to carry around that I did this. I want to be able to talk about it in my next job interview. I want to be able to meet other people that did this job, et cetera.

And so again that is really exciting because it is something that just needs a little bit of infrastructure. It needs some systems around it because everyone’s kind of doing it their own way right now. So definitely a future where that could be something that people really find value in.

Jill Finlayson: So looking for your advice now, let’s go through a couple of different people who might be thinking about this. If you’re the CEO of a company, what are the two things you should know about ERGs and be thinking about going forward?

Anisha Nandi: Great question. I would say the two things that you need to know. One is they truly are table stakes right now. So especially if you’re a company over 300 people, and you don’t have ERGs, this is something that is going to happen either organically, because a bunch of folks are going to talk to, like we said, people at other companies and be like, oh, well we should start that here. Or your people team is probably going to, at some point, bring it up from a top-down perspective. So one, they’re table stakes.

And then off that point number 2 is — and this is a point I always used to make from my old journalism career, it’s always better to be proactive than reactive. If you’re starting to hear the inklings as a CEO that this is something that your people want, and it’s not something you have yet, better to get ahead of it. Better to just say, OK, well, how hard is it to send out a survey and ask, what groups do you all want? And let’s see what infrastructure we can put in a lightweight way to have that be something that we can offer at this company. Because it’s something that is only going to become more important. So as a CEO, those are the two things — table stakes and be proactive about it.

Jill Finlayson: All right. And if you’re an individual contributor at a company, what are two reasons you should go look for and join an ERG?

Anisha Nandi: If you’re an individual looking to join an ERG, I would say, one, honestly, it is for the development point. And 2 would be for the belonging point. And I order them that way because if you are somebody at a company who’s looking for ways to really find meaning in your work and develop some skills that maybe you’re not developing at the rate that you want to yet, these groups are really phenomenal place to do that. And then the reason I say belonging off of that is it’s just human nature for us to want to connect to folks that are similar to us and learn from folks that are different from us.

And as you’re developing skills, it seems like such a natural place to do it in a community that feels like home to you. I think that’s one of the things I love the most about this business is it’s such a human problem. And it’s rare to be able to build technology around something that feels so human. So that sense of development and belonging coupled I think is the path forward for any individual at a company.

Jill Finlayson: Got to throw this out there. What if you’re an introvert?

Anisha Nandi: I think some of the best ERG leads we’ve met are introverts. As an extrovert speaking, I’ll tell you that you’re always ready to talk first as an extrovert sometimes. And introverts are often better listeners, right? And that, at the end of the day, is what makes a really good ERG lead is a deep understanding. Because you have to be managing up as we’ve talked about and managing, quote, unquote, “down.” But it’s not it’s not necessarily down in that sense. But it’s just you’re managing a whole bunch of people. And you’re also trying to tell leadership why this is so important to keep doubling down on. And so so many of the ERG leads we’ve met are very thoughtful introverts that have done a phenomenal job building the case for the community and doing amazing initiatives along the way.

Jill Finlayson: So what if you’re a new student graduate, and you’ve just joined a company, they don’t have an ERG for the identity that you would like to see? What’s your advice about starting one?

Anisha Nandi: Oh, that’s a great question. And the other thing that I would tell the CEO too is the reason it’s table stakes is Gen Z is about to really just change some of the paradigms that a lot of us that have been in the workforce for a while have gotten used to. And one of the big things — I think there was a study that like 87% of Gen Z expects to see ERGs at your company. And so for them, it’s like they might not even work at your company if they don’t see any ERG they identify with. And that’s a big problem for you.

But if you are entering a company, and you are a fresh out of college student, I would say absolutely start an ERG if you think that’s something that you’re passionate about. I think that it’s such a great development opportunity like we’ve talked about. But then especially if you’re at a company that’s receptive to them, which is increasingly almost every company, it’s a ton of fun. And I think that’s one of the things that we talk about all the time with folks that are working in really great ERG programs is it’s a joyful thing at the end of the day.

You are getting to bring so much of yourself to work with you. And you are connecting to people that get you. And we were saying earlier, you’re talking in Slack channels. You are building really meaningful meaty programs and initiatives and things to do. And so I would say tactically, make sure that you have — and we have a ton of content around this. But make sure you have a really clear line of sight into what the mission of your group is. And start with that clear line of sight into alignment with the company. But have fun with it. It’s going to be something that really develops your career and your connection with your colleagues.

Jill Finlayson: You hit the nail on the head. I think that generation not only has an expectation, but they have the need for it. With COVID, there’s been a lot of isolation, a lot of mental health challenges. And having real human contact is critical. And also as a new employee at a company, being able to learn about the power dynamics and to learn the routes to getting those shoulder tap for the influential opportunities, those are things that aren’t going to come to you. And so you have to make more of an effort to go where those opportunities can be discovered.

Anisha Nandi: I think it would be a great thing for somebody to take that mantle and try to create one. And you said mission alignment, having goals. Are there any other things that they need to be aware of to start one?

I would say under the goals category — and this is something we’re really big on — is have a framework for what those goals look like, whether it’s aligning to company OKRs, right? Learning about what a company looks like and what metrics you have to drive to really help your company see the value in your efforts, that in and of itself is a fantastic learning opportunity, right? You’ll get probably some great visibility with some executive sponsors or even a C-suite leader that can sit down with you and say, oh, actually, this would be really important to us, right?

And what we’re seeing is it’s a two-way learning opportunity like you just said because a lot of these exact leaders will learn a ton about what a young workforce really cares about, right? Neurodivergent ERGs are some of the ERGs we see popping up all the time, mental health ERGs, right? It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, and so that one was top of mind for me. But I think people forget for a long time you wouldn’t mention that you are a neurodivergent thinker. That would not be something you would bring to work with you. Because it would be a detriment to your career a decade ago, a couple of decades ago, even a few years ago.

And so having that two-way conversation of like, here who I am, here’s how the community functions, here’s the ERG I want to start, what are the goals for the company, and how can I align to them, win, win, win all around.

Jill Finlayson: Excellent. And any final thoughts or remarks for our audience on this topic of community, future of work, and what we see as the direction we should be going?

Anisha Nandi: The last thing I’ll say is just, obviously, if there’s ever more folks that want to talk about this stuff, think about it. Over at Verbate, we are open books. You can find us very easily. You can find our website, our emails. Come chat with us. I think it’s one of the things that, like we said earlier in this space right now, can feel lonely. And it shouldn’t be. There’s so many people doing this good work. And there’s so many companies doubling down on it. And so we’re always here to help.

Jill Finlayson: Well, thank you Anisha. I think it’s amazing to think about how community can make work more delightful, more strategic, more aligned with the values of the employees. So thank you for kind of exploring the role of community in companies today.

Anisha Nandi: Of course. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And again, you can find us at just verbate.io.

Jill Finlayson: And with that, I hope you enjoyed this latest in a long series of podcasts that we’ll be sending your way every month. Please share with friends and colleagues who may be interested in taking this future of work journey with us. And make sure to check out extension.berkeley.edu to find a variety of courses to help you thrive in this new working landscape. And to see what’s coming up at EDGE in Tech, go ahead and visit edge.berkeley.edu. Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll be back next month to continue our future of work journey. Until next time.

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