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CREATING A CULTURE OF MENTORSHIP OF SUPPORT – Responsibly Engage Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)…

Research for this toolkit revealed that tech Employee Resource Groups (ERG) members often play a central role in jump-starting and enabling the success of tech apprenticeship programs, and highlighted a need to engage them more responsibly without adding more workload or burden, especially around mentoring apprentices.

There are several reasons why ERG members are often sought out to help with tech apprenticeships:

  • Their members often volunteer to help the company achieve its diversity and inclusion goals around talent development and advancement
  • They’re often comprised of members who sit at various levels of seniority and function across the tech org and can help create buy-in on those multiple levels
  • Their members may be more likely to share affinity and lived experiences with Black, Latinx/e, Indigenous apprentices skilled via alternate routes than bachelor’s degrees, and thus make excellent mentor candidates

Too often, it’s overlooked that ERGs’ are comprised of underrepresented employees who, on top of their full-time roles, are being tasked to help solve systemic issues at the company, often without adequate support, compensation, or recognition. While there are many benefits of working with tech ERGs and their members, there’s a simultaneous need to better understand their historical context, maturity stage, unique goals, and expressed bandwidth. With this in mind, how might we more responsibly engage them in building tech apprenticeships?

Step 1: Understand ERGs’ Purpose at your Tech Organization

This depends on who you ask, given that the interests of employee members are often different from the company’s.

  • The purpose of ERGs for underrepresented members typically centers on having a space for safety, hearing underrepresented voices, sharing common experience and concerns, accessing professional development, gaining visibility, and enabling community impact.
  • The purpose of ERGs for a company is typically to create a space that fosters belonging in the context of employee experience, promote allyship, facilitate product innovation and business insights, enhance employer brand engagement, reduce legal liability, and boost profitability.

Step 2: Understand the History and Context of ERGs over Time

ERGs have origins in the 1960s Civil Rights movement in response to racial tensions in the United States. In 1970, Xerox’s Black employees launched the first US ERG for Black employees to discuss their experiences and advocate for change within the company. They operated at a time when assimilation into company culture was expected and gender diversity prioritized over racial equity. Over the past decades, ERG members have consistently tried to leverage ERGs to build voice and affinity, while companies have skillfully renamed and remarketed their ERG and DEI efforts under the banners of “multiculturalism,” “diversity for profit,” and most recently “diversity for social justice,” — all without meaningfully moving the needle on advancing racially underrepresented groups in tech.

This historical context highlights the importance of not further tokenizing ERG’s and their members. ERG’s are often comprised of talent who identify with populations that are typically underrepresented in their organization. However, this should not mean that ERG’s will automatically support a tech apprenticeship program’s efforts to attract and mentor racially and educationally diverse talent. Below, we guide you through some pointers to help you consider relevant factors to determine if your tech ERG’s are well-positioned to help.

Step 3: Determine what Stage the ERG is In

ERG’s are at different stages of growth and maturity. Early stage ERG’s are typically bootstrapped with resources, while more mature ERG’s may have more capacity to support inclusive tech apprenticeship. They’re focused on getting started and funded, whereas more mature ERG’s have already accomplished this and are more focused on advancing goals and activities that may be in alignment.

  • Early stage: trying to get started and funded

-Gaining operational support & budget to exist

-Establishing a mission, vision, purpose

-Recruiting members, leaders, sponsors

  • Intermediate stage: building their business case, value, ROI

-Continuing to grow its community of members and sponsors

-Delivering on community belonging needs by hosting events

-Starting to prove to the company that the ERG’s activities build value/ROI in alignment with company goals

  • Advanced: activating their business case in alignment with corporate responsibility

-Expansively activating explicit efforts aligned with the company’s corporate social responsibility goals, which often overlap with apprenticeship program goals (see examples in Step 4).

Step 4: Determine the ERG’s Mission and Goals

Ask your ERGs what their goals are and see if they are aligned with your apprenticeship program’s goals. Just as with your apprenticeship program, the mission of successful ERG’s must be aligned with company goals. Either the company has given them pillars to align with, or the ERG has set some of their own that are aligned.

Intermediate and advanced stage ERG’s are more likely to be implementing activities aligned with company corporate responsibility goals, which are often aligned with apprenticeship program goals, and generally fall under three categories:

  • Workforce development: helping to source and recruit underrepresented talent
  • Workplace development: helping to retain and advancing underrepresented talent
  • Marketplace development: helping to target underrepresented groups for product and market development

While these activities may be in scope for People Ops or Product orgs, ERG members are often going above and beyond their job responsibilities to serve as key contributors driving organizational success without typically being compensated.

Step 5: Figure out the ERG’s Employee Bandwidth and Manager Support

Find out how many hours employees are currently spending on ERG volunteer activities on top of their current role. ERG members are susceptible to burn out. A survey of ERG leaders indicated that 44% said compensation and recognition would help sustain their work. For this reason, leading companies are on the forefront of compensating ERG leaders for their work in added salary or equity. If ERG leaders at your organization are not compensated, estimate their monthly hours spent benefiting your apprenticeship program, and use your budget to compensate, if at all possible.

When compensation is not possible, reward via other benefits that go a long way. Some examples are:

  • Give ERG volunteers visibility in internal and external marketing materials
  • Help to advance their career via positive feedback to their manager
  • Give them an award at an annual award ceremony for your apprenticeship program or for your ERGs’ programs

Check if ERG members have their manager’s support. Some members who do indeed have bandwidth become limited when they do not have their manager’s support to engage, which is a limiting factor.

Step 6: Consider these additional items specific to mentorship from ERG members

  • Do not assume that an ERG member has a shared lived experience as an apprentice who looks like them. ERGs are not a monolith.
  • Instead, screen and assess ERG members for mentorship potential in the same way as all other mentor candidates. Keep this process concise and efficient to respect work loads (for example, filling out a brief interest survey)
  • Clearly communicate how many hours are expected per week and month from ERG mentors
  • If you invite ERG members to help recruit for your apprenticeship program at various community events, encourage them to candidly share their experience as a minority at the company
  • Ensure ERG members are trained in responsible, culturally competent & inclusive mentorship just like all other mentors
  • Consider compensating ERG members for their time
  • Ensure ERG mentors, are internally and publicly recognized for work outside of their primary role
  • If ERG members do not serve as mentors for your program, ensure apprentices have full access to ERG groups, which often means granting them full employee status at your organization.

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Tool and best practices co-designed with ERG expert Dominique Hollins, Chief Executive Officer of WĒ360 LLC.

Have questions or comments about the Equitable Tech Apprenticeship Toolkit? Send us a note.