Right before Thanksgiving, Salesforce transformed San Francisco into a massive street fair for its annual Dreamforce event. Since its inception in 2003, Dreamforce has grown from an audience of 1,300 attendees to over 170,000 participants. The gathering serves to showcase one of the most influential attributes of Salesforce’s success: its vibrant corporate culture. Over the past decade, companies across the globe have concentrated their hiring efforts on courting technically skilled talent who can propel innovation, one of the most competitive differentiators in business today. The increasing role of artificial intelligence (AI), machines, and automation have heavily influenced the operations of every enterprise. But with the mad rush to adopt all things digital, business leaders have begun to rediscover the pressing importance of soft skills, cultural alignment, collaboration, mentorship, engagement, and people-centric processes. That’s why other organizations, perhaps inspired by Salesforce, have started to embrace concepts like employee resource groups.
Dreamscapes or Nightmares?
The tech space has been notoriously plagued by the fallout of striving to be “cool.” That means building a culture based on the ideals of a tight-knit group of founders or executives. It’s led to fratboy-like environments, poor inclusion efforts, discrimination, scandals, and waning emphasis on the needs of employees and customers. In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “That ain’t too cool.” What Salesforce understands is that the epitome of cool is building an organization that supports clients, communities, and workers of all kinds.
True, Salesforce is a company built on automation, yet it recognizes the value of humanity in developing that technology. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has earned his reputation for a commitment to inclusion, customer care, and corporate social responsibility. The accolades bestowed on him by employees come from his activism, compassion, humanity, and championing of the workforce. Fortune’s Alan Murray and David Meyer explored the “wisdom of Marc Benioff” in an October article, which illuminated the philosophies that have created a vibrant talent community at Salesforce:
- Benioff believes that capitalism should be more fair, equitable, and sustainable for all stakeholders, including employees.
- Benioff champions equal pay for women and pay parity in general.
- Benioff has aggressively fought against legislation that discriminates against LGBTQ people.
- Salesforce developed a robust corporate culture initiative based on the unifying principles of Ohana.
Although technical innovation, product enhancements, and new solutions remain cornerstones of Salesforce’s core business, culture serves as the force that drives delivery and performance. Salesforce describes this philosophy as Ohana:
Many years ago, Marc Benioff had a vision of a company with a purpose beyond profit ... a company built around the spirit of Ohana. In Hawaiian culture, Ohana represents the idea that families – blood-related, adopted, or intentional – are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another. Today, the #SalesforceOhana is our close-knit ecosystem of employees, customers, partners, and communities. We take care of each other, have fun together, and work collaboratively to make the world a better place.
Over the past few years, a growing number of employment surveys have reiterated the critical role that a company’s mission plays in acquiring and retaining top talent. According to Harvard Business Review, a report by Calling Brands revealed that: “Working for an organization with a clearly defined purpose is second only to pay and benefits in importance for employees, and ranks ahead of promotion opportunities, job responsibilities, and work culture. Two-thirds said a higher purpose would motivate them to go the extra mile in their jobs. A similar study by Net Impact showed that almost half of today’s workforce would take a 15% pay cut to work for an organization with an inspiring purpose.”
Enter the new paradigm of employee resource groups.
Employee Resource Groups
“Employee resource groups (ERGs) bring people together to foster inclusivity and communication in the workplace,” explained Susan Lucas, the Evil HR Lady. “This is especially true for companies whose workforce represents a wide range of backgrounds and ages: ERGs are a way to connect people with similar struggles who might not otherwise ever speak to each other.”
“These groups, sometimes also called affinity groups, are voluntary associations within a workplace,” she added. “They’re made up of employees with a common goal, identity or interest. This can be a group based on an immutable characteristic, such as race, or on a shared interest, like chess. Employees meet to discuss common struggles, interests and other relevant topics; then, they help one another, whether with advice and support or, as the name implies, with resources they can use in the future.”
In terms of fostering diversity, employee resource groups may hold the key to solving some of the industry’s most persistent challenges. Considering the issues facing LGBTQ talent, people of color, and women. These forums provide support, acceptance, guidance, and a genuine sense of community. Amazon, like other tech companies that have come under fire for hostile work environments and lackluster diversity figures, now hosts 10 employee resource groups. They span the gamut from people with disabilities to Asians, indigenous people, and women in engineering. Google also has similar in-person groups supplemented by online chat platforms for a variety of topics.
How Staffing Providers and MSPs Can Help
Not all companies are aware of employee resource groups or have considered implementing them. For outsourced workforce management programs, clients, MSPs, and their staffing partners can work together to help develop a model that encourages participation. Susan Lucas has some pointers.
- When creating employee resource groups, ensure that there is sponsorship across all stakeholders. Then, send out notices or other communications to raise awareness, ensuring that workers understand these groups exist and are allowed to join.
- Consider testing the waters by organizing an event, lunch, or other informal gathering to learn about a specific topic.
- Suggest different groups that may interest people.
- Open the doors to all interested workers.
- Create reasonable boundaries on the groups. “You don’t want to have to deal with rival groups down the line; to that end, you may choose to ban political groups outright, especially as we head into a presidential election year,” Lucas recommended.
- Develop a space where all beliefs are welcome without reprisal or recrimination, but clarify that behaviors must conform to the company’s code of conduct.
- As Lucas also cautioned, “Make it clear than an affinity group doesn’t give employees the right to create a hostile work environment and violate laws against discrimination and harassment.”
Talent who have found their calling in a position are deeply invested in the mission of the enterprise. But it’s not always easy for company leaders to shift focus from their core business responsibilities to deploy creative human resources solutions, especially given the pressures of a hyper-competitive global marketplace. Likewise, many staffing providers and MSPs worry that they’re not making strategic impacts on their clients’ businesses when every request seems transactional. Facilitating and launching a creative, meaningful, and purpose-driven initiative like employee resource groups could be an optimal way to help every party achieve stellar results.