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If companies want to truly address the impact of the pandemic, remote work, social movements and more on our workplaces, it will take a real examination and acknowledgement of who their employees are.
To start, let’s take half of the workforce: Women.
New research from Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin shows that most college-educated women did not leave the labor force in the pandemic, contrary to earlier assumptions. Instead, these women stayed in their jobs and faced a different set of challenges compared to their male peers - such as increased caregiving responsibilities. (Note: non-college educated women also faced a different set of challenges, as their job security was disproportionately affected).
It’s no surprise then that burnout rates for women are significantly higher than the average working man: 68% of women experienced burnout in the last seven days, compared to 50% of men. One study called this phenomenon “the exhaustion gap.”
So… what can companies do to support women in their workplace?
We talked to Amber Baumer, a co-lead of the Women+ of Betterment Employee Resource Strategy Group at Betterment, a NY-based financial tech company, about how they prioritized intersectionality, community, and celebration during this Women’s History Month.
"We've all been really going through it. So we decided to really take this month to sit back, and celebrate our whole selves: body, mind, and spirit."
When we connected for this chat, Amber Baumer was working remotely from Ohio, watching her brother’s children so he could treat his wife to a well-earned vacation for her birthday. It’s an apt setting for our conversation about how to support women in the workplace.
Amber runs the Women+ Employee Resource Strategy Group (ERSG) at Betterment, which spent a few months thinking deeply about their goals as a group at the start of this year.
“When the incoming leadership team came together this January for the first time, I think two things were pretty clear,” said Amber.
“We conducted a survey where we realized that we are a very intersectional group. At least 60% of us identify with another ERSG—we are more than just Women+. We are Asians…LatinX…Black at Betterment…Parents as well.”
“And second of all, we could really sense the exhaustion in ourselves, our peers, our friends. From COVID, to the Great Resignation, to the assaults on our communities…we’ve all been really going through it. So we decided to really take this month to sit back, and celebrate our whole selves: body, mind, and spirit.”
With that in mind, the group decided on a fitting theme for Women’s History Month this March: Celebrating Our ‘Whole Selves.’
The theme of the month ladders up to their goals as a group overall: community, awareness and representation.
It’s also reflected in the name of the group itself. Women plus.
“Intersectionality is something that is so, so important to us. We’ve seen historically how women are impacted, especially in the finance and tech industries,” she said. “We know that Women+ of color, LGBTQIA+ identifying Women+, and, especially during the COVID pandemic, Women+ Parents are still disproportionately affected.”
And because we spend so much of our time at work and because many of us are reliant on our employers’ policies, we don’t want to shy away from the harder topics of conversation. And it is imperative to include all of our ERSG partners as well as allies in the conversations.
If we’re going to talk about parental care policies, let’s include our LGBTQIA+ identifying partners. Let’s look at how we address non-birthing parents. Let’s talk about how we can support our Black birthing parents who are disproportionately affected by poor reproductive health outcomes. We want to make sure our policies work to support ALL Women+.”
As the Women+ group set out to execute on those goals, they were keenly aware of some nuanced challenges.
“Frankly, it’s hard to take a moment to celebrate right now. There’s a lot of hard things happening in our lives every day. To go from reading the news to sitting in a Zoom art lesson can be so jarring.”
“To go from planning celebratory events to then hearing of more attacks against women and particularly the violent assaults on Asian women in New York, where many of us Bettermenters call home, was very disillusioning. In a world where many women are susceptible to Impostor Syndrome, it had us questioning what the right way was to honor Women’s History Month. But we are so lucky to have great ERG partners to support us and encourage us that it is always the right time to celebrate and uplift Women+.”
In light of this heavy, complicated challenge, Betterment utilized the intersectionality of their groups as a powerful source of support.
Leaders of the Asians of Betterment ERSG, Cindy Tang and Cybele Safadi, hosted an open discussion on personal safety and support. They even worked with executives to enforce a safe commute policy for Women+ wherein the company reimbursed the cost of rideshares home from work.
Many groups this Women’s History Month have wrestled with the decision between career & personal development sessions (i.e. coaching, self-improvement, manager training) and simply taking some time to recharge (i.e. retreats, self-care, open discussion).
In a post on Elpha, a professional network for women, members chimed in with their own events and challenges, with some mentioning development-focused events they were throwing.
For example, Abby Daya, co-lead of the Women's ERG at healthcare tech company Aetion, organized a half-day Women in STEM Forum. The event provided opportunities to hear personal journeys to family, pathways to executive leadership, and hands-on practice crafting elevator pitches.
"The vision for this event was to create a safe space for informal, candid storytelling -- with the purpose of learning from others in the context of community. We found this to be a particularly impactful approach and something we hope to do more of in the future," said Daya.
The Women+ of Betterment ERSG decided the first few months of the year would focus on community, a foundational building block for their goals.
“We're just going to take a moment to celebrate and just sit back, relax and enjoy ourselves, and learn about each other a little bit more. We're more than just faces on Zoom and people that you work with. We have lives. So that was really our goal: to bring each other together to create that sense of community, and really acknowledge our intersectionality.”
At many companies, remote work has caused ‘Zoom fatigue’ and new team members feeling isolated. ERGs can be a powerful place to connect with coworkers beyond your immediate team, especially if you share an identity or experience.
“Once we had a chance to get to know each other, the power that we collectively had would be greater, and we would be able to do more in terms of awareness and representation.”
With all this in mind, Amber and her team went on to throw a slate of events in March 2022 that prioritized intersectionality, community, representation and awareness.
Here are a few key takeaways:
Rather than scheduling events after work, being able to set aside company-approved time for their events made people feel less obligated to eat into personal time to support ERSG efforts. Amber said it’s critical to make sure employees know taking an hour or two out of your day does not mean you have to give that time back.
“We’re being told you can care about this during the workday. You can take two hours and nobody is expecting to make up that time tomorrow. Some of our entire company OKRs are diversity-based so it’s really important that we keep having the events during the workday.”
Like most Employee Resource Group leaders, Betterment’s ERSG group leaders are running their groups on top of their day job. For Amber, being able to streamline her ERSG responsibilities has been key.
“When we’re being pulled into so many directions and platforms, having a single source of truth for our members has always been a challenge. Even on our leadership team, we’re all in different departments, all five of us. We use different platforms, we use different programs…that was so hard.”
“Then we were onboarded onto Verbate, thankfully. Having a single source of truth both for our ability to plan a really comprehensive month of events but also, because we’re hiring like crazy, being able to point folks to Verbate for member information, sign up, event calendar, shared resources, etc. has been beyond helpful. Both, from a planning perspective for our leaders and then as well from our users/members perspective.”
For their event on Trans Day of Visibility, co-hosted by BetterPride, Women+ did a movie screening of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. When deciding how to foster discussion about the screening, the ERSG leaders decided to do a live chat discussion allowing for people to react in real-time to moments that resonated with them without being too interruptive to the program.
For International Women’s Day, Women+ hosted an open Slack conversation on how they #BreaktheBias. The thought here was to keep the effort approachable and flexible depending on how people felt, and give them the space to open up about their experiences.
“One example that came up was on the sexist advice many of us have gotten to avoid being too ‘feminine’ in the workplace and that you should emulate traditional ‘masculine’ behavior to get ahead. Again, another reason I’m so happy we chose to celebrate ourselves this month, however we show up or present.”
Women+ prioritized finding internal and external partners for many of the events they planned.
For example, they collaborated with Black at Betterment to put together a Women+ empowerment yoga session. They also partnered with Urban Sanctuary, a Denver-based wellness center, that shared their values and focus on individuality, inclusion and community as a woman & minority-owned business.
Women+ made sure each of their Women’s History Month events were virtual and remote friendly to include their entire employee base, many of who are working remotely or through a hybrid work schedule.
Women+ hosted Cat Willet for a virtual history and art lesson on Pamela Colman-Smith. Cat, an illustrator herself, taught the group about Pamela’s life and walked them through creating our own personal tarot illustration.
“To see the many different interpretations on tarot that we all created was so eye-opening to both our unique and shared experiences.”
As you can see from the Women+ of Betterment efforts, Employee Resource Groups serve as a key driver of company community, policy, conversation and support. This is no surprise - ERGs have been doing this work for decades.
Through the pandemic, these groups of dedicated, passionate employees are contributing to company success in critical ways. More than ever, they’re helping their employers think and act on complicated topics that affect their employees on a day-to-day basis.
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