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.
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?