In the ever-evolving business world, it is important for women to ask themselves, “How can my skills today be leveraged in a completely different business vertical?”
Martha Underwood is no stranger to adapting to new verticals. She was recruited to work for IBM as an EDI Analyst out of college. There Underwood was able to explore different roles and learn about her strengths and interests. She learned first-hand the importance of learning how technology can be used in various industries and how to adapt to different business verticals successfully. In 2016, Underwood founded the organization ExecutivEstrogen, which coaches women on utilizing their unique perspectives into practical leadership tools.
These skills became beneficial when the world adapted to the Coronavirus-19 pandemic. Martha Underwood successfully transitioned her coaching services to online, but she did see a decline in bookings as women grew overwhelmed with work, children, and regular stress during the pandemic. Now that businesses are opening back up and individuals are returning to the office, more women see the need for coaching and are actively seeking help to gain clarity on how they fit and thrive in their careers.
That is why Martha Underwood is thrilled to be hosting the breakout session, “The Future of Work and Women,” at Momentum Leadership Conference this March. Women who attend will walk away with actionable insights on how to position themselves for the jobs of the future. Underwood will walk through examples of how they can leverage their existing talents and map them to the job market of tomorrow.
One of the greatest things about Momentum is the powerful alumnae network. Periodically we interview these amazing women about their experience in our program.
Brittney graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a degree in Communications Management/Business Management in 2010.
Brittney began her career as a program and compliance specialist for the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity and later joined Virginia College as a Student Career Development Coach. She joined Birmingham Business Alliance in 2015 as a Program Manager, Workforce Development. And in 2019, Brittney began at Protective Life as a Corporate Recruiter and transitioned into her role as a Diversity & Inclusion specialist in January of 2021.
As a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at Protective Life, Brittney Smith partners with HR & business leaders to develop and implement D&I strategy and programming designed to promote inclusion and increase diverse representation across the organization. She also leads Protective Life’s D&I outreach efforts, including establishing recruitment partnerships with colleges, universities, and professional organizations and leading Protective Life’s Summer Internship Program team.
Brittney is a board member of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation Board of Directors, as well as a member of the Rotaract Club of Birmingham. She is a former board member of Better Basics Inc. as well as an inaugural member of Momentum’s first Upward cohort.
What did you gain from your Momentum experience?
Relationships. I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible women who are making an impact in Birmingham. Some of them even went on to become friends, which is something I count as my greatest gain. Another thing that contributed to my Momentum experience was the specific professional season I was in. There’s a point in every career where you have achieved quite a bit, but there’s still much more to go in terms of navigating the journey and taking ownership of your career, and Momentum helped me take more control over my career journey.
What is one piece of leadership advice you have been given that has helped you in your career?
Early on in my career, someone shared with me a piece of advice that still applies no matter what stage of your career you’re in, and that’s the need to trust that your God-given ability will always make room for you. If you give your best in whatever position you’re in, do right by people, and be authentic, the right opportunity will always come to you. When I think about people that have given me advice I think it’s especially important, that when the door of opportunity is opened you’re ready to walk through it, and also leave the door open for other people to follow.
If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?
The first thing I would say to my younger self is that success is a journey, and never compare that journey to others. The other thing I would add would be to learn at every stage and step of your career. No matter how difficult the job or the season may be, there is always something to learn.
What challenges do you think the next generation of women leaders faces?
The first thing that came to mind would be balance. In the new normal of work, more and more companies are allowing people to work remotely, though that’s a huge plus, it increases the difficulty of drawing an important line between work and home. Both men and women have different home priorities, but it is especially true for women.
The second thing that came to mind is connectivity. Relationships are incredibly important and it’s much harder to fully connect in a gratifying way in a virtual world. Women need to find ways to be intentional and overcome that obstacle to build and maintain relationships as we move away from traditional work experiences.
What do you think organizations need to do differently for more women to rise into executive roles?
Mckinsey & Co. produced a report in partnership with the Lean In organization back in 2019. According to the report, for every 100 men hired or promoted into a first-time manager role, only 72 women are hired into that same position. These numbers are even lower for women of color. That’s a gap. When I think about potential solutions, I immediately think of sponsorship. Companies have the opportunity to consider putting more thought into building out a framework for sponsorship specifically for women and underrepresented minorities. Most people are willing to mentor, and I think that mentoring is an incredible opportunity, but women need sponsors, advocates, people willing to invite us to the table and have our voices heard to truly experience growth.
What three words do you think should characterize every leader?
The first one is integrity. Good leaders should do what they say they’re going to do. People should be able to trust their words. A good leader will do the right thing, even when no one is looking. The second word that comes to mind is vision. I think the ability to cast a vision as well as bring others into that vision and help them see how they fit into the vision is a sign of a good leader. The last thing I associate with a good leader is empathy. Good leaders can connect with people and share the feelings of others.
How do you manage your career, home, and community life?
This is something I am in the process of restructuring how I balance all of those. One of the things I have been doing is making sure I know my priorities. For me, my priority is my family. I always want to be the person that thinks of my family and uses them as the drive for my success, not the other way around. One of the things that helps me balance my priorities, which I learned through one of the Momentum courses is taking a survey of all of my activities and responsibilities and ranking them based on what I can control. It’s also important to take the time during the day to accomplish the things that I need to accomplish so that it doesn’t carry over into my personal life.
What advice do you have for aspiring leaders?
My advice would be, talent is a start but it’s not enough. Sometimes we focus so much on the base talent of intellect or creativity and that’s great. What’s equally as important is development. Invest in your development. Develop your environment, and that includes your network, your skillset, and your character.
Finding a good time to interview 98 year old Harriet Cloud, grandmother of Upward 2020 alumna Chelsea Brewton , was challenging because her schedule was completely packed. Once we talked, you could tell that despite a busy week, she was calm and collected. She has been dedicated to healthcare since she graduated in 1944, and she is a “lifetime learner,” according to her granddaughter. Just the other day, Harriet was looking to take classes on web design to develop a site for her business, Nutrition Matters. Harriet’s tenacity and curiosity are unique attributes that have allowed her to stay up to date as the field of dietetics has changed over the past seven decades.
Harriet had her eyes on the goal from the start. She majored in dietetics at Kansas State, interned at John Hopkins, taught at a nursing school, got married, and then moved to Birmingham, where she had eight children. She took time off to be at home with her babies but started working again as they got older.
Harriet was employed by the Jefferson County Health Department as their only nutritionist in 1958. She developed a heart for underserved populations as she assisted clients with food stamps and frequently traveled to housing projects in the city. She also began her foray into extracurricular leadership as chairman of the nutrition council at United Way.
“If you want to be a leader, you can be a leader.”
However, it helps to have support. Even though many women were facing discrimination in the workplace at the time, she only received support from her male colleagues. Harriet partially attributes this anomaly to the fact that the field of dietetics is made up of many women.
When asked if it was challenging to manage eight children and a position at the health department and UAB, she responded, “not really.”
Her grit and determination carried her through twenty-seven years in dietetics at the Sparks Center at UAB where she developed leadership grants and taught graduate students. According to Harriet, she would tell her classes, “I got up at 5 am, and I hope you did too,” when explaining the importance of hard work. Shortly before she accepted the position at the Sparks Center, she completed a master’s in nutrition at the University of Alabama. This degree gave her more access to opportunities there and eventually led to her becoming interim director. She encourages students to continue to learn and gain degrees as they lead to more career opportunities.
Looking back on her career, Harriet attributes her strength to self-esteem, a spiritual base, optimism, and persistence. She has been successful in her pursuit of leadership, but she acknowledges that many women face a variety of challenges in that pursuit. For example, the field of dietetics has a low percentage of Black women, and workplaces have to acknowledge why this gap exists and how to promote diversity in the short-term.
Working mothers still face the dilemma of balancing childcare and their careers. Harriet is a proponent of daycare coordinated by employers, but she recognizes that this mission has a long way to go.
Harriet’s main takeaway from 76 years of working is that you need to like what you do. When you take a job, always look for other opportunities or projects you can pursue. We’re excited to see what Harriet will accomplish in year 77 of her career!
Momentum would like to congratulate LaKisha on her recent promotion to Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration in the School of Medicine.
LaKisha joined the School of Medicine (SOM) Dean’s office in 2014 as the Associate Dean for Finance and Administration to ensure organizational alignment in the areas of Finance, Human Resources and Facilities. Since then, she has worked with countless faculty and staff across the SOM, allocating and approving budgets, conducting financial forecasting, interpreting policies, and managing federal regulations regarding funded research. She collaborates with our health system colleagues and SOM department administrators and plays an integral role in SOM leadership recruitments and retentions.
In her new role as Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration she will ensure policy compliance for the SOM and the university, participate in strategic planning and collaborate with the university and health system on all administrative and financial activities. She will continue to oversee the development of the SOM Dean’s Office budget, and will also lead implementation of the University’s Resource Centered Management (RCM) budget allocation model within the SOM and coordinate the Academic Enrichment Fund (AEF) funding and approval process
LaKisha’s UAB career began more than 20 years ago, in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she was a financial assistant in the Center’s clinical studies unit. Following that, she spent more than 10 years working in various roles across Central Administration, the School of Health Professions, and the Department of Medicine, both in the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology and the Chair’s office.
In the Department of Medicine, LaKisha was the Division Administrator and Director of Operations, building an infrastructure to support faculty growth and operational leadership across all three-mission areas – clinical, research and education.
A native of Long Beach, California, LaKisha attended Samford University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business. She and her husband Donald have one daughter, Morgan.
What made you move to Birmingham?
I grew up and spent all of my time in California. I never really had the opportunity to travel much so when it was time for me to select a college I wanted to go out of state. At the time my grandparents lived in Birmingham, so I decided to migrate there for college. I always had the intent of going back home to California after I finished my degree, but then I met my husband and have been in Birmingham since.
Why did you want to go through Momentum?
I actually did not know that I wanted to go through Momentum — it was recommended to me by my immediate supervisor and I really didn’t know what to expect. Therefore, while I did not originally seek out Momentum, I am glad I agreed to the recommendation because it certainly has offered me the opportunity to become much more self-aware of my areas of strengths and development both professionally and personally.
What stood out to you the most about your Momentum experience?
The camaraderie amongst all of the women really stood out to me. We were a group of 30 women who started the program without knowing each other at all. Throughout the process, we really got close as a cohort. It was very profound for me to be in a room with women who were all going through similar situations as me both personally and professionally.
How do you think your experience with Momentum prepared you for your new role?
First and foremost, it helped me build the self-confidence needed to know my self-worth. I now I know that I am just as capable, qualified, experienced and knowledgeable to seek opportunities for which I would not have gone after before. I am just as competitive as anyone else with the same level of experience. Going through the Momentum experience has put me in the position to know my self-worth and that I have the ability to be able to speak and toot my own horn which I would not have done before.
What advice would you like to give to women aspiring for leadership roles?
Go after what you want and do not let anything hold you back. If you feel like you have the tools for leadership positions, don’t let anything get in the way of accomplishing your goals. If there are areas of development within yourself then work on those and be self-aware, but know that you as a woman are just as capable to go after leadership positions as anyone.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month! Here at Momentum, celebrating women is a priority and what better way to do that than by supporting women owned small businesses. Here are a few small businesses owned by women in the Birmingham area that you can support now.
Magic City Nutrition
Who knew milkshakes could be so healthy? Magic City Nutrition specializes in serving protein shakes and energy teas ranging in flavors from chocolate to birthday cake to monster cookie. Each shake has 24 grams of protein and is a 200 calorie meal replacement. The teas are metabolism boosting and are packed with vitamins all while having flavors like lemon berry or cranberry limeade. To make things even sweeter, Magic City Nutrition was founded by two women entrepreneurs, Faith Hurtado and Britni Liberton. Whichever flavor you choose, you’ll walk out the door feeling happier and healthier!
Founded by Kim Lee, Forge is a coworking space that strives to be more than just your typical office. Forge works to provide a community for like-minded professionals in Birmingham. During COVID-19, they have been able to provide a clean, safe, working space that allows you to get out of the house while your office may be closed. They offer month to month memberships for those wanting to join their coworking space but also have meeting and event spaces as well. You can easily book a room online on their website and join the Forge movement today!
Are you ready to make your party “poppin”? Look no further than Poppy Balloon Company! Susan Gray is a balloon event stylist that is taking party decor to the next level. From birthdays to weddings to Momentum graduations, she can do it all! Her use of colors, different shapes, and designs are sure to impress your guests with a visual appeal they’ve never seen before. All she needs is at least one week in advance to make your vision a reality.
Kassady Gibson is the creative genius behind Focus Creative, a marketing firm that provides professional photography and image consulting services for your business. Her goal is to ultimately help your business share its story through commercial photography. They can also help you strategize with the content you already have to ensure you are reaching your customers in the most effective way. “Great pictures tell great stories. Let us help you tell yours.”
Ann Elizabeth Stabler and Sarah Grace Featherston turned their hobby of antiquing on the weekends into a business of their own. ROSEWOOD offers an eclectic assortment that is sure to add charm to any home. From larger furniture pieces to unique lamps and handcrafted vases, ROSEWOOD caters to all styles and brings a modern twist to your average estate sale finds. Their one of a kind pieces at affordable prices cannot be beat! They offer free porch pick up for Birmingham locals or shipping to those that are outside of the area.
2020 has been nothing short of a surprise to everyone. Who would’ve thought we would be starting a new decade with a global pandemic? It has certainly brought on new challenges for everyone as we try to navigate our new “normal.” While it might be difficult to see the good in times like this, what if we made 2020 an opportunity to reset cultural norms and create a more supportive environment specifically in the workplace? Working moms for example, have had to reduce their work hours in order to juggle the sudden responsibility of not only being a mom, but a teacher for their children while many schools are still virtual. An article fromThe Lily explains how the pandemic could be beneficial, specifically for working moms as they transition back into the office. Here are our top 5 takeaways:
1. “Talking about our personal lives is now less taboo, and we should keep it up.”
Prior to the pandemic, coworkers might have been more private about the challenges going on in their personal lives. However, with the majority of people working from home, they don’t have much of a choice but to welcome their coworkers into their lives. Dogs barking and children playing in the background of Zoom meetings have become the new soundtrack to their lives. The article stressed the importance of employees and managers being empathetic and maintaining open communication going forward. “Managers can respectfully learn those insights by asking open ended questions, such as, ‘Are there any ways in which I’d be helpful to you as you think about staying at this organization for the long-term?’”
2. “We should re-examine our approach to telecommuting.”
When companies began to make the switch to remote work during the pandemic back in March, many were unsure of how productivity would still be maximized without working together in the office. Months later, there is successful evidence that it might be best for some people to continue working from home going into the future. Allowing employees to work from home when they are not needed to be in the office could come with many benefits like, cutting down on traffic and improving diversity. By having more remote positions available within the company, this is an opportunity for diversity to be maximized as different people could be hired from all over the country or potentially the world if necessary.
3. “We should think about all types of flexibility options.”
Flexibility has become an important mindset for companies within the past few months. This not only applies to working remotely, but could also change the typical workweek and hours. When it comes to shifting work hours, “to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours,” working moms would be able to adjust their day based on not only their work priorities but their families as well.
4. “Management training should become more of a priority.”
2020 has been a year that has relied heavily on supporting and loving your neighbor. This can translate into the workplace as the roles of managers have changed from just being a leader within the office, to being a leader and support system in the lives of their employees. Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, co-founder of the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and lead strategist for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Graduate School of Business, said that her and her team “have found that managers are spending more time on employee care, in response to both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.” Moving forward, it might be beneficial for companies to offer more managerial training in how to best support the care of their employees.
5. “We should consider how we support workers outside of the office.”
The pandemic has hit the world hard financially as many people have lost their jobs, have had a cut in their income, or lacked the resources they need to work from home. The article discussed how some companies were able to give their employees a stipend for their “…home office budget–money for a new chair or desktop monitor.” However, if they are able, companies could offer different stipends to their employees in order to help them out more in other aspects of their life. For example, the article suggested “…companies could offer a child-care budget for parents worried about offices opening back up while schools remain closed.”
To read the entire article and others like it, click here.
Deborah Boswell, long-time President of Professional Speech Services of Alabama, spoke at last week’s Intentional Tuesdays event about the power of your voice. As a woman who measures over five feet tall on a good day, I was ready for this presentation with my trusty pen to take notes. Deborah mentioned some key takeaways that you probably haven’t heard before. Here’s the rundown:
Focus on your breath. You don’t have to scream to be loud! Try to talk from your diaphragm instead of your throat or chest to command the room.
When you’re nervous, you probably have shallow breath. Take some deep inhales and exhales before a presentation. Personally, I listen to a Lizzo song or some words of encouragement from Brene Brown. You can view some more mindfulness resources here.
First impressions count. Think about your posture and what you’re wearing. I have been moved mid-presentation because multiple people thought I was breaking out in hives. Turns out, I was just nervous, so now I wear a turtleneck.
Be concise. No one likes a long meeting that could have been summed up in a quick email. Executives don’t have a lot of time on their hands, and the average person’s attention span, according to research by Microsoft, is shorter than eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish.
BLUF. Don’t bluff, but keep the Bottom Line Up Front. Capture their attention at the beginning so they stay with you for important information.
Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Diluting clarity, according to Deborah. Break up your sentences.
If you are the expert, behave like the expert! Stay confident; you’ve got this.
Wish you hadn’t missed Deborah’s presentation? Want to watch it again? Check out our new Youtube channel for her presentation and others!
One simple way to promote diversity and inclusiveness in our community is to support Birmingham’s local black-owned businesses. Here are eight businesses run by women in the Birmingham area you can support today.
Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co.
Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co. puts a fun spin on a classic snack. Tanesha Sims-Summers, founder and CEO, describes her company as being, “…known for PoPing addictive handcrafted kettle corn. All of our flavors are lightly sweet and lightly salted to give each flavor a unique and distinctive taste. We strive to create an experience that families, friends, PoPcorn and kettle corn lovers will never forget. We keep it interestingly different! We love PoPping up at community events, special events, weddings, corporate and university events, birthday parties or on your couch for a Friday Movie Night! It’s Not Just Popcorn with Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co., It’s FUN, FRESH & FESTIVE; from the hand crafted flavors to our commitment to PoPpin with a Purpose with our community partners, our team is always finding ways to make the world a sweeter place one kernel at a time.”
The owner/operator and master cake artist of CakEffect, Komeh O. Davis, has a true passion for art that spills over into her cake creations. She describes her company as being, “…the little cake shop with a grand effect. We specialize in custom designer cakes for many events or occasions. With a background in visual arts, canvas art is transformed to cake. All cakes are baked to order and to the customer’s specifications. CakEffect specializes in sculpted two-dimensional and three-dimensional cakes. CakEffect provides beautiful, delicious cakes to many satisfied customers each year. We have an association of artists and bakers who are capable of meeting personal and corporate needs. Our deliciously moist, artistic, and elegantly designed cakes will be remembered by you, your family and friends as a wonderful touch to your event.”
Where: 1021 Brock’s Gap Parkway Suite 109 Hoover, Al. 35244
Drexell & Honeybee’s is a donation only restaurant with the mission of, “we feed the need.” They serve hot plates to everyone whether they can afford it or not. The owner, Lisa Thomas-McMillan says that, “food is about the joy of serving others.” There isn’t a price tag on any of their meals or even suggested prices. Customers only pay what they can whether that be a small or large donation or even just a thank you. When you enter their restaurant, “you’ll walk past booths and four-tops full of cornbread, fried chicken, and collard greens.” With food this tasty, you’ll find yourself craving it every day.
The Curated Arch is Birmingham’s premier permanent makeup studio. The owner, Kim Thompson, says, “my mission at The Curated Arch is to help women feel their most beautiful! I don’t take this lightly. It’s truly an honor to work with every single client.” They specialize in lashes, brows, and skincare, relying on over twenty years of experience and training. Why choose her services? Her “method and tools have been meticulously designed and redesigned to aid their trained artists in producing very precise hairstrokes, perfect symmetry, and a beautiful eyebrow shape that goes with the natural shape of their client’s face and bone structure.” They also choose to use products with great ingredients that won’t harm your skin!
Where: Inside Phenix Salon Suites at 709 Montgomery Highway Suite 101 Birmingham, AL 35216
SisterGolf not only teaches women how to play golf, but it also instructs women on how to use their knowledge of the game to their advantage in their professional lives. The owner, Shella Sylla, says, “The mission of SisterGolf is to expose and educate female business professionals on how they can use golf as a tool for developing mutually beneficial business relationships, and creating connections for professional advancement in the Corporate workplace.” What a great way to multitask!
You can schedule your next appointment with SisterGolf here.
Where: 2539 John Hawkins Parkway, #329 Hoover, AL 35244
Valia Rose Events is a full service event planning company that specializes in events from weddings to corporate functions. The owner, Joanna Sheppard, says, “Valia Rose Events creates custom, seamless and sophisticated event planning experiences for each of our clients. Because we forge a bond with our clients, The details cultivated into our designs reflect the personal styles of our clients. Every logistical element serves a purpose for a celebration that speaks to you, your family and your guests for generations to come. Valia Rose Events provides a high touch collaborative approach to the planning process. Our distinctive full service planning , design and management services guarantee a perfect event production.”
Expanding on the background of her business, Sheppard explains, “Planning an intimate event for a dear friend as a hobby later resulted in the conception of Valia Rose Events. The organic growth emerged from the desire to create magical moments, enlightened guest experiences and memories to last a lifetime. There is love poured into every Valia Rose fete that attracts clients worldwide.”
Where: 240 Oxmoor Circle Suite 106 Homewood, AL 35209
With southern roots and a northern upbringing, Yolanda Carter, best known as Yogi, has been exposed to many different cultures and art forms that can be seen throughout her work. Yogi DaDa specializes in hand painted wooden earrings, but since establishing her business in 2012, her art has expanded into various forms such as canvas pieces, prints, custom ties, cufflinks and more. In addition to her art, Carter is also a poet, Emmy nominated vocalist, sign language artist, public speaker, teacher, and Djembe (African drum) player. To say she’s well-rounded would be an understatement.
The old saying that, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” was taken to heart by Janelle Sweeney as she created Janelle’s Attic Gold, a retail store where you can find all things vintage including clothing, furniture, and decor. Each item she finds has a story from the past, waiting for you to give it new life. Her eclectic assortment will add charm to any space or wardrobe.
Do you get overwhelmed sifting through large thrift and antique stores? Janelle has already done the hard work for you with organized selections of dishware, dresses, furniture, and more!
Where: Urban Suburban, 5514 Crestwood Blvd Birmingham, AL 35212
In mid-March, Momentum hosted its biennial conference at the BJCC. As reports of COVID-19 were being heard around the world, Momentum’s 2020 Vision Conference ended up being the last major event held at the BJCC before they closed due to health concerns. It could not have been pulled off without GoPro Solutions, which was founded by Jennifer Gowers in 2007. She and her team, who work conveniently around the corner from Momentum’s office, worked for months to make sure our vision was carried out successfully. I Zoomed with Gowers to learn how their business is adapting in light of COVID-19.
Believe it or not, event planners are really good at planning for everything. When I called Gowers, I imagined that she would talk about all the events she would have had to cancel and frantically reschedule. Although she said some events and weddings have been postponed, she calmly explained how many of their events have gone virtual. Furthermore, because they plan so far in advance, they have more flexibility in restructuring.
GoPro was also ahead of the curve in working online. Gowers explained that her staff knew how to work remotely before quarantine, so she already had strategies to effectively get things done. She recommends that people designate a space for work in their home, not try to do chores during work hours, and focus on mind management. As an avid podcast listener, she explained that women like life coach Brooke Castillo encourage her to stay positive and mindful.
Looking toward the future, Gowers thinks that people will be more excited to come to events and overall attendance rates will rise. However, she thinks networking won’t be the same, and online platforms will expand. While online events are the most safe, she explained that “online is not the answer for everything”, so some gatherings will have to wait.
As a small business owner in Birmingham, she wants people to try to support local businesses instead of ordering straight from large corporations like Amazon. Gowers is optimistic about Birmingham’s future, citing the city’s unique resilience and genuineness. Although we may not be able to greet each other in person, she says Birmingham residents “know how to hug each other from afar”.
There used to be lots of debate about the effectiveness of employee resource groups (ERGs.) These days, most HR experts and business analysts agree that ERGs, when managed correctly, have a positive net effect on the enterprise.
What exactly is an ERG? It’s a group of employees who meet in the workplace based on shared life experiences. The goal is to build their network, share experiences, exchange resources, and support each other. Oftentimes the ERG is comprised of employees who represent a minority within the enterprise: women, people of color, Latino/a, and LBGTQ. An impressive 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs.
No doubt that employees who are part of a well-managed ERG find value in the meetings. The overall organization benefits, too. As employees in under-represented groups find a sense of inclusion, belonging, and value, they are more likely to stay with the company and some will pursue leadership roles within the organization. According to the 2018 McKinsey study “Delivering through Diversity,” companies with diverse leadership are better able to:
Attract top talent
Improve customer orientation
Increase employee satisfaction
Make better decisions
ERGs are not just for the Fortune 500, either. In fact, in small to mid-size companies, an ERG can be launched very quickly. All it may require is a conversation with the CEO, HR, and an outline of why/when/where/how/who. In larger organizations it can take a little more time. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more likely you are to need a clear charter, schedule, budget, executive sponsorship, and answers for legal counsel regarding risk management.
One sticky question is whether or not the meetings should be open to those who are not part of the group. Operating from a standpoint of inclusiveness, our opinion is a resounding YES. It’s important for all employees to feel they can participate in the discussions, benefit from training, and lend their own opinions. In groups where the meetings are closed, suspicion generally runs high.
If you are thinking of starting an ERG, one of the best things you can do is consult with others who have started down that path.
Momentum hosts quarterly meetings called the Women’s Resource Group Exchange. During these meetings, representatives from a diverse group of companies gather to share their experiences and resources. If interested in attending, email us for more information. ERGs require some effort to do well, but the pay-off for both employees and the enterprise can be big.