The 5 do’s and don’ts of starting an employee resource group

4 min read
Liz Steelman
  •  Oct 20, 2020
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Video games have seen explosive growth the past two decades with new themes, formats, technologies, and audiences. With that growth has come increased interest in playing a role behind the scenes, making job competition notoriously high. On top of this, like the tech industry in general, there remains persistent systemic issues in equal opportunities to work in the gaming industry for historically underrepresented groups. So, even after going through the arduous task of getting a foot through the door, women and non-binary persons report a culture that makes it difficult to survive, let alone thrive. As a result, the reputation and reality of this experience makes it harder to recruit diverse genders into design roles at gaming companies, fueling the cycle of exclusion.

But, as many of those who have found careers in the industry despite these hurdles know, the best way to break an industry’s cycle of exclusion is to expose its missed opportunities. While many have been forced to succeed as an “only,” for nearly 40 years Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have shown that there is always power and support in numbers.

Diverse Genders in XR&D (Xbox Research & Design) is a testament to this idea. Through their showing the industry that not only is it time for people other than men to have a more powerful contribution to gaming, but that the gaming industry can’t reach its full potential without them. Through weekly meetings, the group comes together to meet socially, celebrate wins, and discuss issues in their work or personal lives.

“This group has given me the opportunity to be heard and gain advice without judgment,” says Kate Garrison, product designer. “It also helps us support each other in the tech industry, and the more diverse our group becomes it goes hand-in-hand with narrowing the gender-gap.”

Product designer Jasmine Aye agrees: “It’s made me feel like I belong. My particular journey into the studio felt disorienting and lonely prior to the formation of this group.”

Though 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs, there’s always room to start new support groups or improve best practices—especially as a way to continually push for cultural and corporate change. Here, members of Diverse Genders in XR&D share how they got their ERG off the ground—and how you can, too.

Do find a partner.

One person can get stuff done, but two can move mountains. And that’s why back in 2019, Jess Elliott, visual designer, partnered with Becky Myers, design program manager to launch Diverse Genders in XR&D—a support coalition for Xbox Design Studio’s non-male identifying colleagues.

Jessica Elliott (L) and Becky Myers (R)

Do align on goals.

While an employee resource group can end up supporting its members in many ways, it’s always good to start with a few objectives in mind. Jess and Becky aligned on two goals—one short-term and the other longer term. They would aim to create a safe environment for colleagues to learn about—and from—each other and their experiences working within a traditionally male-dominated field. Longer term, they hoped they would be able to leverage their strong, successful coalition and create visibility for female-identifying persons inside Xbox, Microsoft, Seattle, and the design community at large.

Don’t view it as additional work.

At the onset, Jess and Becky feared managing the group might be too much work on top of their regular projects. But the two have found that group gives back way more than it takes. Through their discussions, they’ve pooled knowledge that has not only helped them discover new methods for tackling common problems, but it’s organically brought forward collaboration opportunities and judgement-free brainstorming sessions that have serviced product development. Members also report that they’ve gained a richer understanding about their work environment and unlocked opportunities to culturally shape the larger organizations.

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“The support and acknowledgement of my own leadership within this group has allowed me to step back into my day-to-day work with a renewed sense of confidence,” Becky says. “I have been taking the lead on more cross-team projects and I feel empowered when I walk into those rooms because I know I have the emotional support of this group behind me. I truly feel more confident now than I did a year ago.”

Don’t focus on quantity.

For Diverse Genders in XR&D, many individual teams include just one or two women, but across the organization, they become a collective. If your organization is smaller, or has even less representation, consider forming a group across companies in your area. And no group is too small. Even two people connecting can have a major impact on a career.

Do focus on quality.

And once you do have a larger group, don’t wait for a quorum. No matter how important and impactful, it can be easy to let programs like this fall to the wayside. Keep up the momentum by being disciplined about meeting regularly, even if you need to adjust for scheduling conflicts. Don’t expect that the entire group will come to every meeting. One thing that the Diverse Genders in XR&D group has realized is that daily schedules—both personal and professional—can change at a moment’s notice.

Be flexible, too, with your meeting types: In this time of physical distancing, the group has turned to running meetings over game streaming platforms, using Microsoft Teams for daily live conversation, and even gaming together on the weekends. This reliable mix of format allows relationships to be built equally in fun as they are in trust, and allows for meaningful dialogues to happen organically.

Looking for some advice on how to be a better advocate to those experiencing systemic issues in the workplace? Here are some recommended reads:

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