In this special bonus episode of The Forum Podcast, Farzana Nayani (Farzana Nayani, Consulting and Training) answers questions from listeners that attended our July 15, 2021 webinar Connecting ERGs During Distanced and Polarized Times.

Definition of acronyms:

  • ERG = Employee Resource Group
  • DEI = Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • BRG = Business Resource Group

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Farzana Nayani answers questions from our listening audience around these talking points:

  • The difference between ERGs from affinity groups
  • Practical tips to introduce ERGs
  • How ERG leaders are better aligning ERG talent movement and advancement across the organization and in partnership with HR
  • How can DEI professionals help ERG leaders to pivot and take their ERGs to the next level
  • How to hold ERG leaders accountable if given paid and/or protected time
  • How to track and substantiate ERG productivity and value
  • Ways to gathered feedback
  • How to engage allies in ERGs without compromising the “safe space”
  • How to take care of the DEI leaders who may be struggling with their own emotions while having to hold space for the organization
  • How to reach people outside of our main communication tool like Yammer
  • Different ways to manage Global Business Resource Groups (BRG) in a way that allows for a global structure with regional and local relevance


For additional context and insight into this topic and conversation, watch the replay of Connecting ERGs During Distanced and Polarized Times.


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

The Forum on Workplace Inclusion 00:00
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Ben Rue 01:35
Hello, and thank you for tuning into today’s special Forum on Workplace Inclusion podcast. Connecting ERGs During Distanced and Polarized Times Continued with Farzana Nayani, Farzana Nayani, Consulting and Training. I’m Ben Rue, Program Manager here at The Forum. This is a continuation of our July webinar, onnecting ERGs During Distanced and Polarized Times. If you haven’t watched that yet, I would highly recommend that you do. There was so many great questions that we weren’t able to get to. So Farzana was gracious enough to come back and answer a few of them for us. So let’s get started.

Ben Rue 02:11
Thank you so much for coming back Farzana. It’s always such a pleasure to have you and so great to work with you. And it was such a great webinar. And just with so many great questions that we weren’t able to get to. So I’m really excited to have you back to get to some of these great questions.

Farzana Nayani 02:28
Thank you so much, Ben. Great to be here. And what great engagement from everyone who attended the webinar. I really enjoyed it.

Ben Rue 02:34
Yeah. And like I said, there were quite a few questions, great questions that we weren’t able to get to. So we’re gonna go ahead and hop on in. So we like I said, we chose a handful of them to answer. And I think the first one is a really great one to start with, which is, What differentiates ERG’s from affinity groups?

Farzana Nayani 02:55
This is a great question, because depending on the organization, there may be an interest in starting an affinity group versus an employee resource group. And it’s good to know the difference. So an affinity group is a gathering and an organization around the demographic grouping. So it could be around ethnic identity, or it could be around, you know, age, or gender or any of the above. And what it does is it gives a chance for people to build community and come together as a collective, and rally around that identity and have a chance to really focus in on that employee research groups within organizations serve a purpose to in addition to connecting with those identities at hand, they they actually serve a purpose of supporting employees, supporting the workplace culture, looking at how to retain, you know, the workforce or or support career advancement, and can be tied to the business as well. But the focus really is on assisting and, and being there for the employees, in addition to aligning with the business. So it really can serve different purposes. You may see in educational institutions, that the term affinity groups just makes more sense because of course, students aren’t employees. So you’ll see that in schools and higher education institutions, etc. But it both of them do come together around the identity.

Ben Rue 04:31
Great, thank you so much for clarifying that. And there’s in the corporate world, there are quite a few different ones. There’s ERG’s, BRGs, BENs. Could you just explain a little bit of like the differentiates or just what those different group names mean?

Farzana Nayani 04:50
Yes, each company may have their own experience of what it means to have a collective group. And so the Focus can be on employees and so it’s an employee resource group, a company may favor the alignment on business and then therefore call it a Business Resource Group. There are some models that actually show an evolution of this. But it really does come down to the goals and purpose. And as for the other names, some of them can be ohana grouping, Salesforce used to call their groups ohana grouping, or could be employee networks. Nike calls them employee networks. So it just depends on the organization and what they want to call the group.

Ben Rue 05:34
Thanks for clarifying that. Yeah, it’s so funny like us in this world. It just seems so natural to us. But like I have my partner’s a therapist, and just just when I start saying things like ERG’s and BRG’s, just like, just goes blank, and just like what is what is what do any of those mean?

Farzana Nayani 05:52
Right? jargon sounds good to clarify, I actually did one of our conference sessions at The Forum. And I started using the word ERG. And someone stopped me and said, what does that mean? And it was a good reminder that we need to level set around these terms on everyone has the same understanding. So it’s, it’s great to take take a look at the meaning of all of them.

Ben Rue 06:13
Yeah, definitely. And that kind of flows really well on to the next question, which is, if you’re attempting to introduce ERG’s, what is the best practice to educate on why and purpose to employees and members of DEIB committee of your organization?

Farzana Nayani 06:30
This is a great question. Because what we may want to do is start an ERG but not everyone actually knows what they are or the purpose. Or they may, there may be some fear around what it entails the time commitment, and maybe a lack of understanding as the purpose of them. So as you’re attempting to introduce ERG’s, the first thing is to communicate, who can belong to them, and also what they’re for. And actually, all ERG’s should be open to everyone. I’m sure we’ll talk more about how to kind of preserve space for the people of the identity group at hand. But but in particular, it’s important to note and say that it is open to everyone, including allies and friends of the identity group, in terms of what best practices are in terms of educating why and the purpose of them. What’s interesting is that the issue may be that this might not be clarified. So the first thing to actually do is plan that is to go internally within the group and make sure that some of the vision is clarified. And that’s why we recommend actually doing a charter, I always suggest that every employee resource group should have a charter, it should be clear what the vision The purpose of the the organizing group is, who the leaders and officers are, where the budget comes from, what the term limits are on each of the roles, and just have those nuts and bolts worked out. So when people do ask, that’s clear, and then in terms of engaging with the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging committee, just making sure those roles are delineated. So you know, the company might have an, you know, particular DEI strategy that’s tied to the business. And then in addition to that, there could be the committee, the DEI committee, or and there’s HR and then there are ERGs. So you really need a roadmap and some sort of org chart to show lines of communication and reporting and governance.

Ben Rue 08:29
Yeah, definitely. Cuz even I got a little lost. Listing everything at the end there. It’s so great to I like to thinking about a couple years ago, on a couple years ago, maybe like 10 years ago, when it was just HR.

Farzana Nayani 08:44
Oh yeah.

Ben Rue 08:46
And now the things that we’ve evolved to, you know, that now they’re, they’re ERG’s and, you know, the diversity, equity and belonging committees and offices is just really amazing.

Farzana Nayani 08:58
It is great. And at the same time, that challenges, communicating across those lines and making sure the roles are clear. So in my consulting work that I do with DEI with different companies and organizations, this is you know, one of the top questions is how to have lines of communication and reporting and sharing across these different groups and then also with the General Staff.

Ben Rue 09:22
Yeah, and I mean, it’s also takes really great leadership which also leads into the next question, which is what are you seeing ERG leaders do better to align the ERG talent movement/advancement across the enterprise, in partnership with HR?

Farzana Nayani 09:41
This is a great question. One of the key pillars of ERG’s that they can both contribute to and gain from is around career advancement. And making clear that there is a pipeline being built through the leadership development of ERG leaders. Through the exposure to different parts of the business, to mentorship or through the events that host, you know, conversations around career and leadership, these are all really excellent ways to support HR initiatives around promotion, advancement, retention, and so on. And so there there there can be and should be a coming together around the purpose and and the initiatives that both can either co host or can be sponsored. In order to achieve that. And you know, ERGs just naturally tie in with HR really well. So they are a great branch of how to outreach to the General Staff and the public who maybe are looking to join the company. And if the ERG, for example, does an event in the public, that is exciting to the community members, then it builds that that brand affinity for the company and makes them be an employer of choice for the general public to.

Ben Rue 11:01
Yeah, I remember General Mills always had a huge pride event on their campus here in Minnesota, that was all organized by their, you know, their LGBTQ committee, and it was always, you know, it’s, you know, not open to the public, per se, but open to outside of General Mills, and it brought in a lot of people who I’m sure were just blown away by the event, but also gave them an opportunity to check out General Mills campus and learn more about General Mills, organized by this one ERG which was led by a friend of mine, which is I know, like what an undertaking it was to pull together.

Farzana Nayani 11:44
Yeah, great example, I sat in one of those sessions around their Latin x group. And it grew, it grew over time from someone’s house all the way through to being a formalized group. And it really helped with attracting and retaining talent community,

Ben Rue 12:02
Which is just again, that’s such an amazing development from just a decade or so ago when I was just HR. But as DNI professionals, how can we help the ERG leaders to pivot and take their ERG’s to the next level,

Farzana Nayani 12:18
This really comes down to goal setting and planning. I think a lot of the time ERG leaders are very enthused and excited and motivated to run events, and fill up the calendar and serve the community and serve the public and and, you know, engage with the staff. However, there can be some purposeful strategic planning around the different buckets that ERG’s can help achieve. And some of them have to do with, for example, the marketplace like products, or you know, how things reach the public or they could also have to do with engaging around supplier diversity and making sure that we have a pipeline of diverse vendors. In addition to all the things I mentioned around career advancement, and helping the organization also be more inclusive. So there’s a lot of strategic and tactical things that ERGS can help with, with this kind of overarching banner of DEI and DEI professionals can really help with that with guiding that with supporting with being advisors or guest speakers. And that’s a lot of what I do around serving ERGS is that client consulting to help boost ERGS to the next level.

Ben Rue 13:37
Yeah, definitely. And this next question that also ties really well into the previous one about how, like you mentioned, it’s all about goal setting for the ERG leaders. But how do you hold ERG leaders accountable? If you know if you’re given them paid or protected time? Or how do you, you know, track substantiate productivity and value?

Farzana Nayani 14:01
This is an age old dynamic around supervisors and managers who want to make sure that ERG leaders are on track, not only with their work, but also to support them with their ERG work. And then there’s ERG leaders who are doing so much on and off the clock to support ERGs and it can also lead to burnout. So this question around paid and protected time, and substantiating productivity and value, it does lead to a couple things. One is that priority setting around where the time is being spent. And then secondly, it’s around any type of measurement and metrics, and actually talk about this dynamic among managers and energy leaders in my upcoming book, which I’d love to share with folks here about it’s called The Power of Employee Resource Groups, How People Create Authentic Change. And the big key here is people and making sure that the communication and and the level setting across the board is in alignment. Because you don’t want to have that conflict and that friction. And I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen that happen within companies where the ERG leaders are seem to be just doing too much. And it’s supposed to be a, quote, sign of this job to be like a big part of their day, and then maybe their work is suffering. But then from the ERG leaders perspective, if they don’t do it, then the company is lacking in DEI initiatives. So they feel the responsibility and somewhat maybe the burden of that. So it’s this age old interplay of that and and i think that the key is, again, prioritizing and then setting goals that have metrics attached to them. So you can measure progress.

Ben Rue 15:52
Yes, yeah, definitely. And thank you for that. And congratulations on your book. That’s exciting!

Farzana Nayani 15:58
Yes, it’s coming out next spring in 2022. So just in time for all of The Forum activities, and can’t wait to share with everyone.

Ben Rue 16:06
Yes, I was gonna say just in time for our annual conference, our 34th annual conference, April fifth through seventh. So which I feel is very Kismet. Great minds think alike. But yeah, and you mentioned like metrics and like tracking things. But how like, this next person asked like, we like how to track them. On the lines of tracking things like is that we send it an online survey to our members for needs assessment, but don’t hear from from many. What are other ways teams have gathered feedback?

Farzana Nayani 16:50
Well, firstly, I wouldn’t give up on the online survey, I think there are ways to incentivize it to make it fun to put a goal to it. Like if 75 or 80% of people respond to their survey, then they get a gift card, or they’ll get, you know, a special recognition from a senior leader or something like that. Or there could be a message from the executive team, we we actually ran a survey for a quite well known organization in the nonprofit environmental field. And same issue that we had low response rates, but we were tracking it. And then when they hit the 80% mark, they were all given a gift card. And the CEO chimed in with some emojis. And it was just a lot of fun to see the joy around that when it was reached. And it really was engaging, it was kind of a fun competition. So I wouldn’t give up on the online survey. But the second part of the question here was, what are other ways teams have garnered get gathered feedback? You know, sometimes just at the events that you run already, taking a moment to ask for that in the chat or before or after the event. I’ve seen some ERG’s actually open up the room 20 minutes before and another 30 minutes after to catch some of that feedback to run polls. You can also talk to people I know it seems old school,

Ben Rue 18:18
I was gonna say what, talk to people?

Farzana Nayani 18:20
No, exactly. It’s exactly archaic to pick up the phone that remember that the phone? And or, you know, in maybe in various other meetings, where you see your colleagues just pull them aside and say, Hey, you know, do you have a couple minutes? So that’s actually really helpful. And a lot of people will gladly share offline, it’s just the survey might might be a bit of a barrier, because we’re just inundated with electronic everything right now.

Ben Rue 18:50
Yeah, I was gonna say like, yeah, that is great advice. And I do you remember from the webinar that you do love gift cards. I mean, who doesn’t though? And I would say that phones are having a little bit of a comeback, because people are just tired of emails and virtual and zooming and I found myself calling friends and calling colleagues which I never did before, because I was just like, just text me. But now I’m just tired of looking at screens. So it’s just like, yeah, that’s just call and talk to each other, hear each other’s voices without having to see each other’s faces. Now this, this next one ties back into something you mentioned in the beginning and then your answer to the first question, which is, which is actually a very, very important topic important question, which is, how do we engage allies in your ERG without members feeling like they’re safe space, where they can be their authentic selves as being interrupted?

Farzana Nayani 19:51
The way to engage allies with ERGs to have both the space preserved for individuals of that identity group and Then a separate time where the identity group members and allies come together. So that’s just the the key there could the magic formulas, it’s a both and, and a lot of the time, people feel like it’s either or like, everything’s open to everybody all the time or nothing is open to everybody, right. And we can do both. So there’s the opportunity to do that, I think another way to do it is to be active in cross collaboration amongst ERGs, so then you do have allies built in. So you actually have the ability for that person to be present naturally, so they don’t feel left out. Because it’s a cross collaborative event with different faces and different identities. You know, I’ve seen ERG leaders who are allies of a group become officers, because let’s say, the ERG team lost their treasurer, and now someone else can step in. And it’s the friend of somebody, I’ve seen that more often than not to believe, believe it or not, where, because if you think about it, ERG groups are often people who are of marginalized identities, they already are carrying a lot. You know, in their day and in, you know, the world and also at work. And so not everyone can commit to leadership roles they want to come, they can’t often have like the bandwidth to do it. So that’s where allies come in. And I’ve just seen a lot of really great support from allies. It’s just been such a beautiful collaboration, I’m really for allies being involved, but at the same time, having space preserved for individuals of the identity demographic?

Ben Rue 21:48
Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, I love the idea of allies, you know,in various leadership roles. But wouldn’t that make the, I feel like that wouldn’t make the, the group like they didn’t get the intended demographic or feel even I turned off by the ERG if, like, if it was, I don’t know, like a Asian American ERG, Asian Pacific Islander. And I don’t want to say not all the officers, but like a majority of the officers weren’t?

Farzana Nayani 22:26
Well, you know, I don’t think it would get to that point where it’d be the majority. And it’s not like we have a quota or a limit. But I think, you know, as long as the ally knows that, they’re there to support and generally, the board or the leadership team, or the committee should be the majority of a certain group, most of the time people work it out. Now, if people feel turned off, because even if one person is there, there’s just dynamics that we have to overcome. And understand that there’s working together that that can and needs to happen, but also just, again, the dynamics of the bandwidth of people. And quite frankly, a lot of regions don’t have enough people of a certain demographic to fill the roles. So that’s how we can be creative to help it actually continue.

Ben Rue 23:18
That’s a really great point. And the bandwidth is so important. And people I guess, or Yeah, don’t take into account a lot of times at the ERG leaders are volunteers, and have jobs have, you know, jobs outside of the ERG that they need to still do? And so we really need to, you know, help you out, help them and take care of them, which is the next question along the lines of how do we take care of DEI leaders who may be struggling with their own emotions and having to hold space for the organization?

Farzana Nayani 23:52
Such a perfect question for the current times with all that is going on? And ERG leaders to me are carrying a lot with not only being the people who are of a marginalized group, oftentimes, but then because of their lived experience, they’re tapped even more to speak on things like Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQIA plus identity or, you know, the anti Asian racism, which I referenced earlier, and so on and these issues. And so naturally, people go to them for their expertise. Now, that is, that’s great. And the issue is that people are also going through those elements of those identities in general, so they may feel the burden or the emotional tug, or, you know, difficulty and challenge of the current times given all of that, and I actually created a video series about this where I talked about how to connect with people during night. Remote times, but polarized times. And my main focus was this around how to support people and not overburden them. So how how we do it is really to relieve folks of that responsibility to make sure processes in place at the organization support a structure where everyone is involved, not just the certain groups, and then really, I can’t say enough about mental health and advocacy for that within the organizations and making sure that that’s available to people.

Ben Rue 25:33
Yes, definitely. And, and, again, thank you for all the all you do to support and educate. Where can people where can people find this video series that you just mentioned,

Farzana Nayani 25:45
You can actually access it from my website, which is www.farzananayani.com. And then it’s back slash ERG. And there’s a lot of ERG resources there, I have a tip sheet on how to maximize your ERG during these times, there’s a two part video series that’s for free, you can just download it by putting in your email. And then I do have information about my book there. So I’ve created an entire section on the website to make sure that all those resources are in one place, because I get asked these questions a lot. And I wanted to create something for people to be able to access themselves.

Ben Rue 26:28
That’s all that’s awesome. And again, thank you for doing that. And doing all this work. making it easy, a little bit easier for the rest of us. And this next one is we’re getting towards the end here. But this next one is how how to reach people outside of our main communication tool looks like they use Yammer, which I’m not super familiar with.

Farzana Nayani 26:56
Right? So there are these, your tools and platforms that are used internally, Yammer is one. And some of them have range of communication, or they could be dashboards where they track ERG activity, or they could they can actually help with event planning. Some of them can be tied to HR and performance. I’ve seen the back end of some of these. So you know, the key is what’s your What is your goal, and in terms of how to reach people, outside of the main tool, it comes back to some strategic ways to engage people. So again, I mentioned, you know, just social contact and making sure people are engaged individually and directly. I just heard from a DEI leader at a company that what he does is he incorporates a plus one initiative, which is if you are going to event try to get someone who isn’t involved to come. And I know Harley Davidson does this with their employee resource groups, too. And so some of that is built in, and that makes it fun, where you can start to reach people who you normally wouldn’t have. So there are ways that you can build it into the initiatives, you already have to try to reach people. The other way also is to make sure that leaders within the organization who aren’t involved with the ERG’s know about the initiatives and can spread the word. And so that’s what your executive sponsor can help with as well as other advisors and your DEI committee.

Ben Rue 28:37
Yes, like executive sponsors, and getting leadership involved is so like, leadership outside of the ERG is so important for getting the word out there and also just encouraging the ERG’s and their members, yeah, just so important. I’m so sorry, to have to say this is our last question. But I think it’s been so fun talking to you, as always. And I think this is the perfect last question to end on, which is what is the best way to manage global global? Oh, they said BRGs in a way that allows for a global structure with regional/local relevance.

Farzana Nayani 29:24
This is an excellent question around how to manage global employee resource groups in a way that really takes into account not only the headquarters and the company culture and the functioning of the organization, but regional differences and this is key because the cultural differences regionally can even come down to laws like what is allowed legally or not, in terms of gathering information or terms of certain identities existing, which is, you know, quite a range and it It’s a real conversation we need to have, right. And so some sometimes the advocacy and the the normalcy we have around certain identities in certain countries is not the same. So the first thing I would recommend with establishing and expanding global ERGs is to do listening sessions, to actually start to hear from different company leaders and staff, employees in the regions from the identity groups and ask them, you know, what is happening, what their needs are, and what’s going on on the ground, and do that surveying of, you know, kind of a pulse check for people. And then from there, you can establish if there’s enough traction to have the employee resource group, or if there’s even a need, and it may look different, right. And so there may not be a need for a women’s group in some places, or, you know, if you’re, if you’re Asian American, the experience here is different than if you’re an Asian person in Asia. Right? And so what does that employee research group look like? It may not be that API, Asian Pacific Islander ERG, because everyone is in the majority culture, right? So that those nuances are interesting. And some big companies have it mapped out where they have a global board. And then they have regional teams. So like regional groups of ERGs, and then they kind of all report in and then they do summits. So there, it can be an entire matrix, depending on how larger organization is. But another another key opportunity is around mergers and acquisitions. And a lot of companies actually do a lot of work around integrating culture and ERGs can help with that. So this is an entire longer conversation. And now that I’m thinking about it, it might be worth another hour. Just work through that. And and, you know, I just love getting these questions that you know, really tap into what is in on the minds of people around the world?

Ben Rue 32:13
Yeah, definitely. I was gonna say as you’re answering that question as thinking about that one about that the educating on the why and purpose of members to the DEIB committee. And there’s all the different ways, all the different links and connections. And taking that to a global company, or global scale for company is just definitely more than we could cover in these last couple minutes. So I thank you so much for coming back Farzana. It’s always such a pleasure to talk to you and to learn more. I know I’ve learned a lot from this, from both the webinar and from this from this podcast. Definitely check out the webinar, because there’s also a lot of great information here. are on sorry, there. And but yes, thank you again for coming back. And thank you to our listeners.

Farzana Nayani 33:06
Thank you, Ben. It’s been such a pleasure and great to be back again and just enjoying the conversation around ERGs and keep it up everyone. I encourage it and I’m so excited to see the progress and growth.

Ben Rue 33:17
Great. Thanks, everyone. Thank you so much Farzana for coming back for this wonderful podcast and answering these important questions. And thank you to our listeners for joining. If you’d like to learn more about connecting ERGs you can email Farzana directly at Farzana@Farzananayani.com or you can visit her website www.farzananayani.com/ERG. New episodes of The Forum podcast are available at ForumWorkplaceinclusion.org/podcast episodes can also be found on Apple podcasts, Spotify, anchor and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.

The Forum on Workplace Inclusion 33:58
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