Support Through Action: Creating a Black and Brown Affinity Group

Companies must go beyond public statements and external donations by actively investing in their Black and Brown employees.

Mihir Pathak, Ph.D., Ujima Now

Protests across the country are driving societal progress and we are starting to see changes in the form of legislation, transformation of local law enforcement practices, and open conversations about race at the kitchen table. Corporations are donating to noble causes including the Equal Justice Initiative, Black and Brown Founders, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. This is simply a start.

Although executives may be saying the right things and putting some dollars behind external organizations, what are leaders doing internally, specifically for their Black and Brown employees? What actionable steps are leaders taking to create a more equitable and inclusive culture? How are leaders ensuring there are fair growth opportunities for their Black and Brown employees? From my experience as a senior executive and culture driver, I’ve highlighted actionable steps your organization can take to create an impactful Black & Brown Employee Resource Group at your workplace.

Three years ago, I co-founded Stack Overflow’s Black and Brown (BnB) affinity group as an executive sponsor alongside a passionate core team that came together from across the company. We originally founded the organization to establish a designated space where we could be our full, authentic selves at work and socialize with colleagues who had relatable lived experiences.

Over time, BnB became a pillar of company culture. We partnered with the People Team to change our recruiting and inclusivity strategies, influenced company vision and direction, and pushed executive management to create a better overall work environment for BnB employees. We hosted numerous events focused on personal growth, celebrated specific BnB holidays, established learning & development and mentorship programs, and increased non-BnB allyship across the company. Although still a work in progress, we moved the needle on creating a friendly and inclusive work environment and established a model for other affinity groups within the company to use. Our BnB employees have — and continue to feel that their voices are heard as they partner with company leadership on building and implementing official company culture and strategy.

Several factors go into successfully launching and maintaining a robust and effective BnB affinity group. The key components include:

  • Identifying a core group — Get a consistent and passionate group together that genuinely wants to establish a BnB affinity group.
  • Planning sessions to get organized — Set up recurring meetings at regular frequencies with agendas, leaving ample time to socialize and bond. It’s important to note here that the spirit of these meetings are to be a ‘safe space’ venue.
  • Building a strategy — A) Draft a charter and include the following: (1) A simple description of what BnB is at your company; (2) A descriptor of why BnB needs to exist; (3) A breakdown of the goals for BnB; (4) A clear description of who can become members of BnB; and finally (5) A description of how BnB will adhere to existing HR policies. B) Find an executive sponsor from your leadership team so you have someone with a ‘seat at the table’ to be an advocate and supporter for the group. C) Develop annual plans for internal and external initiatives and create a budget to support events.
  • Onboarding new members — Start to internally advertise BnB, making it known that the group exists and is active. Ensure that any folks that identify as Black and/or Brown have an opportunity to join by providing a clear point of contact. Also, inform any new hires about BnB and have existing members advocate for them to join, particularly as they onboard with the company.
  • Developing programming — Craft initiatives that work toward accomplishing the goals that the group identified in its charter. This could involve things like planning social events, creating leadership development and mentorship programs, hosting lunch and learns, developing impact initiatives, or partnering with HR on recruitment and retention strategies.
  • Measuring impact — Get ongoing feedback from the group’s membership, understand how BnB impacts company culture, and ensure the group’s voice is heard and amplified at the senior leadership level.
  • Expanding — Continue to grow the number of members and allies, both of which are key to culture change.
  • Sharing — Tell people externally about BnB and how it’s positively impacted the company.
Ujima Now

A supportive executive sponsor should do the following:

  • Listen — Understand the needs and feelings of the core group and what they are trying to ultimately accomplish. Also, surface and advocate in favor of BnB-specific issues to the rest of the senior leadership team.
  • Support — Help the group create a charter, secure budget, and allow members to dedicate time during their regular working hours to participate in BnB activities.
  • Get involved — Attend events, encourage membership, and advertise the group’s existence throughout the company.
  • Empower — Support BnB employees by acknowledging BnB leadership experience when considering promotions, making impact initiatives part of management’s strategic priorities, and including BnB leadership in broader senior management meetings.
  • Share — Tell people externally about BnB, how senior management supports BnB, and how it’s positively impacted the company.

By taking these initiatives to launch a BnB affinity group, companies can play a much larger and higher impact role in societal progress by creating and supporting inclusive culture in the workplace, specifically for their Black and Brown employees. Give all of your employees a real voice and real platform and then watch your company culture thrive and business grow. Recently, Stack Overflow BnB successfully partnered with the senior leadership team in creating an actionable plan the company can take in combating systemic racism and creating a more inclusive culture. In fact Stack Overflow’s CEO publicly announced it in a blog post on June 10th.

Co-Founder at Ujima Now & Executive at Stack Overflow