People

Leading an employee resource group is like a second job. Now, one startup is paying for that work.

Michael Baptiste, director of diversity at Justworks, explains how the company decided to give more than just a pat on the back.

Michael Baptiste holding up paper for a presentation

"The passion behind this was about how we can create more opportunities for people of color to have career advancement, but also to make it up the ladder," says Michael Baptiste, director of diversity at Justworks.

Photo: Courtesy of Justworks

Two months of protest over racial injustice in America have spurred a wave of employee activism within tech companies. One big criticism: Tech workers who have led internal groups for Black and brown employees say they've gotten little in return for what often amounts to a second job.

As director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the HR software firm Justworks, Michael Baptiste had been all too aware of these concerns. But the protests served as a catalyst for Justworks to make a change.

In early June, the company announced that it would begin compensating the 16 employees who lead its seven employee resource groups and write its diversity and inclusion newsletter. That compensation comes in the form of cash, equity and career development opportunities. For Baptiste, this program, which is being piloted for one year, is a way of acknowledging employees' contributions that he says are "equally as important as their day jobs."

Baptiste spoke with Protocol about how Justworks decided to pay for this work and what other companies can learn from it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell me a little bit about the history of employee resource groups at Justworks, what they have been doing and how they operate.

ERGs started before I got here. I've been here a little over a year. It was totally employee driven. It was really around creating a safe space for different demographics, so at the time we had groups for Black employees, Latino and Hispanic employees, Asian employees, LGBTQ [employees]. The goal was really about education, awareness, fellowship, support. When I came on, my role was: OK, that's great. But also, how can we make it more impactful? So we created more structures, like ERG charters. We added executive sponsors to ERGs, because we wanted to have a connection to leadership. You want to have a voice at the table of decisions. Now each ERG lead has an executive sponsor, and that creates another funnel, or outlet, for any questions, concerns, thoughts or ideas.

Are the executive sponsors usually members of that group or are they allies?

It really depends. I almost lean to them not being a part of the group. We paired the right person with the right group, not based solely on their demographic. I think that's helped, because now you have an opportunity to teach and learn. So the executive sponsors come to the table saying: OK what can I do? But also: What can I learn from this experience? It's a beneficial relationship where the ERG leads are getting that leadership, high-level business mindset, but the sponsor is learning, too, because they may have been in groups that they may not have always interacted with frequently. Now they have that full exposure to really have ears to the ground regarding what's happening from an employee standpoint.

What was the impetus for the shift you made toward paying ERG leads?

It started probably about six months prior to all of the stuff that's happened in society recently. ERG leads have a lot on their shoulders, and it takes a special person to be an ERG lead because you're doing it voluntarily in addition to your day job. In most cases and most companies, the gift was being [an] ERG lead, because you were highly visible and you were thrown into very different meetings and decision-making. But again, that just creates more work on top of your day job. So, when I came to Justworks, I said: OK, what can we do to reward and recognize that?

The hesitancy, I think, prior to Black Lives Matter and George Floyd and things of that nature was … most companies do not pay ERG leads for this work. They may be intrinsically compensated [in] other ways, but it wasn't ever a formalized structure.

What changed? Was it just more cultural awareness at the top of the company or was it more ERG leads being outspoken about what they wanted from the company?

All of that. We just wanted to be mindful. If we're going to do it, let's make sure we do it right. My ERGs since I've been here have always been vocal about that aspect of wanting to just be rewarded and recognized properly. And I definitely took that to heart from day one. When I sat down with leadership and said, "Here's the idea," the good thing about that was, it wasn't a hard sell. I was saying: This is a good time for us to do a little bit more for ERG leads because we're leaning on them a little bit more during this time.

Justworks employees In early June, Justworks announced that it would begin compensating the 16 employees who lead its seven-employee resource groups and write its diversity and inclusion newsletter.Photo: Courtesy of Justworks

What is the game plan you came up with?

We came up with some ways to do some cash compensation, but also stock options. We also figured out a way to create opportunities where they can also network with other ERG leaders and work on special development as leaders in the company.

We looked at it, and on average, ERG leads, depending on the time of year, put in anywhere from 10% to 20% extra time on top of their day job doing this work. So the goal was, if we're going to compensate them on that aspect, we do that based on the additional time they're putting into the role.

We're a company that provides equity, and that was something that we provide for all of our employees, but we also [now] give a little bit extra for these ERG leads. The other piece was a partnership with another organization called Diversity Best Practices. There's an annual ERG conference that we are now having our ERGs attend, and that's another avenue for them to really create a broader network for themselves, professionally and personally, but also to get them to see the ERG construct on a bigger stage.

The last aspect we added is our mentorship program. We are partnering them with members of our leadership team to really work on almost executive coaching. They partner with the executive leader, and for maybe six months, they really just pick their brain. It's not necessarily Justworks related. It was really about career growth, development and so forth.

[ERG work] is now part of their annual performance review. Now their managers are aware they're doing this. A manager really has to support them in this role, and if they're not, that's a conversation we have with their managers. It's not a choice anymore to say: "I can't do this because I'm going to be reprimanded," or "I can't do this because my boss doesn't support me." Now that we've added that as a part of their formal review, it's taken seriously. They're doing things for the company, to me, that are equally as important as their day jobs.

How did you get into this line of work?

I think most likely [I] fell into it as most people in this world fall into it. The last maybe five to seven or eight years, I've done this hybrid role focused on talent acquisition, HR and D&I. Long story short, my experience has always been in HR [that] I've either been the only person of color or the only male in the HR field. Also in the companies I've worked at, there wasn't a lot of representation of people of color in leadership. The passion behind this was about how we can create more opportunities for people of color to have career advancement, but also to make it up the ladder. It's nice to see leaders at the top that look like you, because that gives you that extra motivation to say: Hey, that could be me one day.

What are some of the mistakes you see companies making with regard to ERGs?

I would say just not taking advantage of the fact that they have quality ERGs. Not making them part of decision-making, not going to them for certain perspectives. That's where companies miss the boat. And also [realizing] how ERGs help them from a recruitment and retention standpoint.

This is, for some companies, uncharted territory. I would encourage them to make this a formal action item. How can we reward and recognize our ERGs in some capacity? If you can do some type of cash compensation, great. But even if you can't, what are the other ways you can recognize these individuals who are going above and beyond their day-to-day, and making your workplace culture some place where people want to come in every day and want to be a part of?

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian
Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

Keep Reading Show less
Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories