When daycares first shut down in compliance with stay-at-home orders last spring, Workiva Senior Product Manager Catherine Gee looked at her meeting schedule. Then to her 6-month-old. Then to her 3-year-old.
Finally, she turned to the company’s Women in Tech Employee Resource Group (ERG)’s #womenintech-moms Slack channel.
“The most important community to me during that time was with a group of women in the same situation,” said Gee. “It was made up of a lot of product managers and designers who also just happened to be at a life stage where we had young children who would have otherwise been in daycare.”
Such an experience is music to Jeana Gingery’s ears. As director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program (DEI) at Workiva, Gingery supports all company ERGs. “In her time of need, Gee turned to existing infrastructure meant to support her and her colleagues,” said Gingery. “That support and sense of community is exactly what groups like these were created to foster.”
Take, for example, the company’s “Connected Nomads” and “It Takes a Village” ERGs, which allow remote employees and working parents to connect with peers and support each other in their careers, share feedback on products as well as the occasional home office renovation or pet intrusion. Before the pandemic, no one had thought that these channels would also serve as a lifeline to their fellow Workivains.
“Connected Nomads had just started in August of 2019, and then COVID-19 hit in March of 2020,” Gingery said. “Everyone at Workiva became connected nomads right away. Both groups really leaned into the opportunity that they were given and helped each other out.”
Below, Gingery, Gee and Lead Customer Success Manager Jared Hayes break down the challenges associated with forming and sustaining new ERGs — including increasing participation among “busy” coworkers and hosting timely discussions with in-person lunches.
What prompted Workiva to dedicate time and resources to the many ERGs that currently exist? How did they come to be?
Director of DEI Jeana Gingery: Our ERGs exist to support our culture of belonging. They provide spaces for employees with common backgrounds and experiences to come together and support each other. Inclusion is one of our core values and it’s important to our company that all of our employees are comfortable bringing their best, authentic self to work. It’s also important to our customers who benefit from the innovation that comes from diverse teams and experiences collaborating to develop our technology.
Supporting the creation of and success of multiple ERGs shows current and prospective employees, customers and our communities that Workiva is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.
We’ve come a long way since our first DEI committee met in 2015. With our eighth ERG in the works, we are excited for what our future looks like.
Can you speak to an ERG event that stands out to you? What made it successful and why?
Lead Customer Success Manager Jared Hayes: The Rainbow group, our LGBTQ ERG, just held a movie discussion on the film “The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson” during LGBT history month. We had everyone watch that movie ahead of time. We came to that meeting with some questions, which led to a really good conversation.
We made a point to identify why the film was important, and why Marsha’s story was still relevant today, highlighting the ongoing battle for equal rights and violence against Black, trans women. Bringing attention to this problem led to uncomfortable but necessary conversations and shed light on ways that we can all support the LGBTQ community, especially those in need and most at risk.
Hey Mr. DJ
How do these ERGs further Workiva’s goal to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace?
Gingery: ERGs provide a safe space for employees to have discussions regarding what they’re thinking about or concerns they have. We can’t just turn our outside life off — it affects everything that we do. And we know that work-life balance isn’t just turning off your “life” part to come to work. Having a safe space to talk about different aspects of who you are gives you the ability to make connections across the company with people who you don’t always work with. So there’s that connection piece.
During COVID-19, we created a lot of resources to share. Our Connected Nomads group, which is made up of remote workers, was really important during this time. It Takes a Village was really important. During the Black Lives Matter movement and following the George Floyd protests, our Ethnic Diversity in Tech group had a special meeting where they shared some of their experiences. Work and life are one, especially now when we’re all working from home.
Work and life are one, especially now when we’re all working from home.’’
Senior Product Manager Catherine Gee: When COVID-19 started really hitting the U.S. and daycares shut down, the most important community to me during that time was with a group of women in the same situation on Slack. It was made up of a lot of product managers and designers — people with very heavy meeting schedules — who also just happened to be at a life stage where we had young children who would have otherwise been in daycare.
I had a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, and I had to present in meetings all day long. That channel was a place I could get advice that was relevant to what I was experiencing. And the infrastructure was already in place. I think I joined that group the first day I joined the company. So when this all started to happen, I was connected very quickly.
Where do you all see ERGs headed in 2021?
Hayes: We have offices all around the world and we’re working to expand the presence of these groups across all of our locations. Rainbow has been a pioneer for the Europe, Middle East and Africa expansion. We held our recent meeting at a new time, as decided on by the group, and attendance significantly improved. I was very excited about that.
Another goal would be to continue that growth by having cross-group intersectionality, where, for example, our Veterans group, Rainbow group and It Takes a Village group all meet together.
Destigmatizing mental health
Gee: Within an ERG, you have your leads. And then above that, you have sponsors, who are senior people in the company. At our annual leadership retreat this year, our COO announced that someone from the executive management team is going to add an additional level. She herself will be taking an ERG to truly back that commitment. How do you make something successful? Give it your best people. And so it was pretty exciting for all of us at the leads level to find out that we’re going to have someone from the executive management team listening to our goals and making sure we don’t have roadblocks.
Gingery: Our executive management team really values diversity, inclusion and equity. And this is just another step showing that. It’s already infused into our company values and leadership principles, but this demonstrates how important it is for our company.