As racial conflict across the world continues brewing, companies are scrambling to figure out how to center their Black employees and consumers. Two of them, Twitter and Netflix, are uncovering fresh insights and fueling their bottom line through community-centered initiatives and employee resource groups, also known as ERGs or business resource groups. I know because I’ve seen it in action.
I was among the attendees at a #TwitterVoices convening in Harlem last year during Black History Month. The brainchild of God-is Rivera, Twitter’s first-ever global director of culture and community, the intimate dinner brought together various communities within so-called Black Twitter and the platform’s leadership for a meaningful conversation. The gathering, held virtually this year, is dual purpose: It provides Twitter with an opportunity to genuinely understand how sub-communities navigate the platform—specifically, what’s working and what’s not— and gives marginalized creatives direct access to networking and tools. “It is an example of what happens when culture and historically underrepresented groups have access to something that’s democratized,” Rivera told me. “It forces the world to listen, forces the world to move forward.”
Members of Blackbirds, Twitter’s ERG, were present, elevating the event and spreading a message of inclusivity by example. At Twitter, one in three employees are part of a business resource group, but Blackbirds is perhaps the most visible. The group has, among other initiatives, launched a chat bot during Black History Month, curated an online experience pegged to #YearOfReturn and posted a video in celebration of Juneteenth in order to amplify Black voices.
When built with intention, employee resource groups—voluntary, employee-led safe spaces for underrepresented talent—empower employees to show up to work as authentically as possible, ultimately allowing them to perform at their best. ERGs are more than a nice-to-have. They help attract and retain diverse employees, create a pipeline for employees to develop into leadership roles and cultivate an innovative work environment. According to a 2016 study by SHRM, more than 70% of the companies surveyed relied on their ERGs to build a workforce that reflected the demographics of their customer base. “The thinking,” wrote Shelton Goode, who co-authored the study, “was that customers would be more loyal and would feel more comfortable if they did business with people who understand them.”
Netflix has embraced this concept with its Strong Black Lead, a marketing team dedicated to promoting Black-focused content. In addition to creating iconic campaigns like the “A Great Day in Hollywood” spot that aired during the 2018 BET Awards, SBL has evolved into a team of powerhouse creatives who’ve developed content series like #HeyQueen, featuring Black legends like Loretta Divine, Cicely Tyson and Michelle Obama. It has also produced podcasts such as Strong Black Legends and Okay, Now Listen that speak to a diverse, Afro-Diasporic audience.
Strong Black Lead grew from the efforts of Myles Worthington, who joined the streamer in 2016 as a communications strategist. (He has since ascended to director of editorial and publishing.) In hiring him, Netflix opened itself to a new perspective, and in giving him the latitude to pursue his ideas, it created a growth opportunity that affects not just its culture but also the company’s bottom line. “I just saw a void and knew the importance and value of this audience,” says Worthington, “so I went for it.”
Imagine where we’d be if more companies followed that impulse.
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