How to create inclusive employee resources groups at workFeatured

Hi! We are Carol Regalbuto, Sr. Battery Engineer at Sila Nanotechnologies (previously a Battery Safety Engineer at Tesla), and Rosie Mottsmith @rm, Staff Engineer at Tesla. Both of us were very involved in Women in Tesla (WIT), our company’s women’s employee resource group (ERG), while it transitioned from informal social gatherings to a group that facilitated company-wide events and initiatives in partnership with Tesla HR and executives.Carol started out as the Community & Diversity Chair and later became President, and Rosie was the Community Service Chair at Tesla’s headquarter office. Carol is now active in the Latinx ERG at Sila (cleverly called SiLatines) as well as the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and Rosie is President of an ERG called Intersectionality at Tesla. Today we are going to share some of our experiences with creating inclusive ERGs. (Heads up, we’re going to be jumping between 1st and 3rd person here as we’re writing this post together -- yay for women and femmes collaborating with each other!) Both of us are white-passing, mixed Mexican/white cis women born and raised in the US. Our outward appearances have meant that we don’t experience a lot of racial discrimination, but our mixed heritage has connected us to racially and ethnically diverse communities that do. We know that just because some forms of discrimination don’t happen to us, doesn’t mean they don’t happen. For both of us, working for diversity, equity, and inclusion intersectionally is a choice we get to make, and both of us feel a responsibility to use our privilege to advance social equity in tech for those who don’t have the luxury of this choice. For us, working for gender equality in the workplace is great, but it’s not enough, so we took steps to ensure that our work with Women in Tesla didn’t advance just white women. Here’s some of what we did. #1: Craft an Inclusive Mission Statement The original mission statement of WIT was “to welcome and empower women in the workforce. WIT events aim to build a supportive community of women and promote their professional and personal growth.” This is a fine sentiment, and we stand behind it. But mission statements are critical to guiding the direction of the group -- if it’s not in your stated mission or values, it’s going to get pushed aside. When you work with an external partner, put on an event, advocate for an internal policy, select members for the leadership board, etc., you always have to ask, “does this choice align with our mission?” So we thought that while the original mission was a good start, it didn’t include any guarantees that we’d work intersectionally with other underrepresented groups to make tech a more holistically inclusive culture. Carol therefore proposed that we add one more sentence to our mission statement: “Furthermore, WIT seeks to partner with other employee resource groups to drive intersectional diversity & inclusion initiatives at Tesla.” That one extra sentence justified all of the subsequent efforts we’ll talk about. One additional point: naming matters for inclusion. When Carol went to Sila, she helped advocate for their women’s ERG to be called Sila Women and Gender Minorities and for their Latinx ERG to be called SiLatines rather than SiLatinos. Might be time for WIT, and other women’s ERGs, to let go of the gender binary. #2: Expand the Conversation So often when we talk about women’s issues, we’re ignoring women of color. Let’s take the pay gap as an example. When we say women make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, we may be intending to advocate for equal pay, but by including women of all races/ethnicities in one number, we’re failing to acknowledge that, according to the US Census Bureau, the number for black women is actually 66 cents for every white man’s dollar, and for Hispanic women, it’s 58 cents. We’re also neglecting that black men are earning less than white and Asian men. Our goal for WIT was to expand the conversation beyond traditional talking points for women’s groups and include other identities (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability…) in our efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive environment. Within the community service world, Rosie did this by not just focusing on STEM education for girls, but also for all students of color. We partnered with organizations that were focused on girls’ education, but we wanted to show students of color that there was a place for them in tech, too. More on that in point #3 below. Within our internal WIT events, we did this through actual conversation. Carol started holding biweekly “Lean In” circles, a la Sheryl Sandberg, but from the beginning, we used the name Lean In only for the name recognition and didn’t stick to official Lean In topics. We definitely talked about working motherhood, engaging male allies, and other traditional women’s issues, but we also talked about empathy, turning frustration into action, stereotype threat, intersectional feminism, the racial wealth gap, correcting for our own unconscious biases, getting your point across while not alienating your audience, tokenism, tone policing, and so much more. The idea was to broaden the discussions to include the experiences of non cis-straight-white-women. #3: Collaborate with Other ERGs One of the other ways to broaden the scope of activity is to work with other ERGs, if your company has them. In addition to a women’s ERG, we were fortunate to have groups for Black, LGBTQ, Latinx, and veteran employees, as well as an intersectionality groups for those at the intersection of these identities. We partnered with our fellow ERGs in a few ways. WIT was one of the first ERGs, and we had gone through a lot of the growing pains most new groups go through. As more ERGs started forming, we offered ourselves as a resource. We had a charter in place, had figured out the best people to talk to for different kinds of approvals, had a system for booking factory tours for community groups we worked with, had established a convention for mailing lists and communication… The idea wasn’t to force other groups to conform to the standards we’d set, but share our knowledge so that they didn’t have to figure everything out from scratch. We shared all of our learnings, and the other groups could take what was relevant to them and leave the rest. As the other ERGs became more established, we started doing joint events. When we found community service opportunities with groups that served racial, ethnic, and gender minorities, we collaborated with Black at Tesla and Intersectionality at Tesla to recruit volunteers and host events. Similarly, social events are a great opportunity to collaborate. In June of this year, Tesla’s LGBTQ, women’s, and Intersectionality ERGs collaborated to do a film screening of Paris is Burning in honor of the trans women of color who are foundational to Pride celebrations. Bringing the ERGs together for events shows solidarity and promotes understanding of multiple experiences. It also creates the opportunity for conversations among members of the different ERGs, creating deeper connections and a broader sense of community. We also collaborated with other ERGs in advocating for policy changes. Carol initiated conversation among the WIT leadership group at our headquarter office that led to us creating a list of requested policy changes, our highest priorities for what we wanted to see change at the company to make a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. But instead of creating our list and calling it a day, we worked with the leadership of the other ERGs to create a consolidated list of proposed initiatives, and we prioritized across ERGs to form one list that would advocate for us all. By working with the other ERGs, we created a united front. When someone in HR (or really, anyone at the company) asked about what they could do to make our workplace more diverse and inclusive, they’d get the same answer regardless of if they asked someone from our women’s, LGBTQ, Black, Intersectionality, or Latinx ERGs. We created a consistent message that would get repeated from multiple angles. This has helped streamline our work with HR and has fostered solidarity among the ERGs. Our ERG wasn’t perfectly inclusive, but the efforts above helped us move in the right direction. We believe that none of us moves forward unless we all move forward, and we’re still working towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment both in our own companies and in tech as a whole. We hope the steps we took can be useful to some of you who might be creating your own ERGs or informal communities, and we look forward to hearing about how others have worked towards intersectional environments.
Thanks, Carol! Would love to hear what others have been doing with their ERGs too, and what others’ experiences have been with women’s groups.
Awesome! You ladies have hit all the salient points. Only thing I would add is look for opportunities to align your ERG with strategic enterprise level initiatives. For example if there is a multicultural marketing campaign kicking off, ERG’s can be very valuable resources in those efforts. If your organization has a university talent initiative to find and recruit undergraduate and graduate level talent, ERG’s can ensure that you’re looking in the right places. You can leverage their contacts and network which may not always be represented at some of the colleges and universities most companies look to for talent. Great job ladies!
This is a really good point and helps to show the business impact that ERGs can have on an organization's bottom line.