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Creating and maintaining community is hard, especially when you don't bump into each other in the hallways on the regular. And community is vital, especially when it advocates for you and helps create a safe space to bring your whole self to work. Todd and Melissa share their experiences with Puppet's Pride ERG and how they're using it to work towards systemic change.
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00:00:21Ben FordHello and welcome to today's episode of the Pulling the Strings podcast, as always, powered by Puppet. My name is Ben Ford. I use he/him pronouns and I'm a developer relations director here at Puppet. I'm active in our public community as @binford2K. We may have talked a few times. Today, we'll be talking about other kinds of communities, too. I'm personally, I'm active in quite a few local communities. Like my partner does roller derby, I run, several other things like that. And pandemic hit us really hard. Like we couldn't do all the face to face things that kept us connected. And a lot of people just kind of sort of drifted away without that connection. I kept my run club going and connected by pivoting to Zoom runs, which was really awkward. And then once we were all vaccinated, we hosted outdoor runs in my backyard instead of the bar we used to run from. But that's just running. That's really easy. What about when you're very identity is involved? What about when you're acceptance at work, or maybe even your safety at work, your sense of safety, depends on support and advocacy from your community? As many of us transition to remote work and from watercooler conversations to seeing each other as just disconnected thumbnails on a Zoom screen. How do we keep that sense of belonging alive, and how do we continue feeling safe bringing our whole selves to work? Our guests today are Melissa and Todd. They are core members of Puppets PRIDE ERG, and they'll be talking about how they use the ERG to support one another, like its founding story and whatnot. If you're a long time listener, you might remember Melissa's story about her experience as a queer woman in tech and all the challenges that she faced and overcame. This is Todd's first time on the show, so maybe we should start with him. He tells me he has an incredibly boring life and then proceeded to list out some things that I found absolutely fascinating. So, would you like to introduce yourself, Todd?
00:02:08ToddYes, that I would. Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is a good conversation and I can't wait to dove a little deeper into it, the ERGs are good things for our company. I'm the current Chair of the Pride ERG here at Puppet. ERGs are about service, to me at least, and I've served my community in multiple ways throughout my life. It's been a core foundation of my young adult life and in growing into my older years. My early twenties, I spent four years on a nuclear submarine in the Navy, which obviously is, you know, kind of like the ultimate service in some people's eyes. I served in the Pacific Northwest outside of Seattle. After the Navy, I went to work in group homes that serves dual diagnosed individuals. And dual diagnosis means that they were both low IQ, but also had mental disorders like schizophrenia. So the combination of those two things made that work very, very challenging, but also very rewarding and interesting. I both worked with the clients directly and managed multiple group homes. I mentioned I went back to school though in my mid-thirties to get my computer science degree and then eventually my master's in predictive analytics. After doing software development data strategy for a little bit, I landed here at Puppet leading the Data Ops team here.
00:03:25Ben FordThat's really cool. In another world, we may have ended up meeting and being friends on a nuclear sub somewhere. Coming out of high school, that was one of the career options that I actually looked at. The Navy was trying to recruit me as a nuclear tech.
00:03:41ToddOh, nice. Yeah.
00:03:42Ben FordI didn't do it. And sometimes I wonder what it would have been like. So we'll have to talk about that sometime.
00:03:48ToddYes, for sure. For sure.
00:03:49Ben FordSo how about you, Melissa?
00:03:51MelissaHi, Ben. It's nice to be back and it's nice to be here hanging out with Todd, who I actually get to work with on a regular basis anyway. So this is just an extra bit of time I get to spend with him. I'm Melissa and I am the senior director of user experience here at Puppet. And that means I lead UX design, UX research, content design and technical writing primarily for our commercial products. But community building is a huge part of my volunteer work. I'm part of the Burning Man community. I joined that community 22 years ago and started volunteering about 20 years ago, and a lot of that has been in the context of event production within that community. I actually spent five years producing our big local burn, which is a four day art and music festival outside of Portland, which is called Soak, super fun event that just happened. Although I was not involved in it this year because I'm currently in the process of wrapping up a term as the board president for the Portland Lesbian Choir. And we just got on stage again two days ago Saturday night, got in front of a live audience for the first time since February 2020. So that was so emotional, I can't even tell you. It was really amazing. But it is time for me to take a little break and step back. I've just done very serious, solid volunteering now for about seven years. But I think the thing with me that is I know I'm going to get called back into service before too much longer. Meanwhile, it's nice to have a little extra energy to put into things like the Pride ERG, which I'm excited to talk to you about.
00:05:31Ben FordThat's really cool. Yeah, I think that some people just have that, I don't know, like gene in them or something that speaks to community building. I didn't know that you coordinated SOAK, I have not gone myself, but every single year I look at it and come really, really close to going.
00:05:48MelissaI highly recommend it if you can get a ticket, which gets harder and harder every year. But that's a conversation you and I can have offline because of course I have lots to say about that. It's a wonderful event.
00:05:59Ben FordRight on. Well, maybe we should start by even just kind of defining an ERG, we keep saying those letters, what do they stand for and what do they do?
00:06:09ToddERG, it's an employee resource group. You know, from a business perspective, ERGs can help you attract talent, develop employees, build community and foster belonging at your company organization. From an employee perspective, though, ERGs empower people to create a more inclusive culture through education and awareness. They provide a safe space to gather and connect on ideas and issues relevant to the group. You know, maybe at least for, advocating for change. Maybe just something that, for example, you know, one of our big topics recently has been the sufficiency of health care services, that Puppet's benefits plan provides for trans employees and employees who have trans family members. We're trying to turn the conversation into group advocacy. A very wise man who happens to be our director of the DE&I said recently that it's a lot harder to say no to one person than it is to a group.
00:07:01Ben FordYeah, I can believe that when you have to say no to one person, you have to kind of like metaphorically, look at them in the eye and say no to you as an individual, so you can see how having somebody advocating for you would really help. So how about if we tell the story of the Puppet Pride ERG? It's pretty new. And if I remember right, Melissa, you were involved in the founding of it, right?
00:07:25MelissaIt is fairly new. We have a handful of ERGs at Puppet. Pride was not the first one. The first one was actually are BIPOC ERG. So black, indigenous and people of color formed a group before the Pride Group came together and they really started to create the footprint or the foundation for what an ERG could look like at Puppet. And that opened the door for other ERGs to begin. We had one for a while called Gem, which was specifically focused on the needs of folks who identified as gender minorities. And unfortunately, that group is now defunct. But we had another one start up also for folks who identify as neurodivergent and then the Pride ERG. It was actually something, when I saw that the Bipoc ERG was picking up and Gem was picking up and I thought it would be really nice to have one for the queer folks at Puppet. But Ben, as you know, I work on the Product Ethics Council and coincidentally, Todd is also on the Product Ethics Council. And because I'm the kind of person who is too fast to say yes to too many things, I was not in a position to start one, so I just kind of put the idea out there is like, hey, if anybody wants to start this, I'll be your first member. And just thought I would see who would pick that up and run with it. So finally someone did and that person got it going. I had suggested it back in March 2021, and it kind of sat there and then somebody picked it up and ran with it in November of 2021. So now it's June. So whatever that math is, five, six months we've been going. And, you know, I felt really inspired, too, by what New Relic was already doing. In addition to Puppet having a BIPOC ERG, we had a guest speaker from New Relic talk about what they were doing with their BIPOC ERG and the change they were able to make in their organization and how supported those folks felt by having that in place. And I just walked away thinking, Oh, that's something that we really need here. That's an energy and a support system that we really need here.
00:09:33Ben FordAnd then you planted the seed and then let it grow.
00:09:35MelissaYeah, yeah. And I'm so grateful for Todd and other folks who've jumped in and helped to keep it going and started to breathe life into it.
00:09:45Ben FordTodd, how did you get involved in this? Were you maybe the second member?
00:09:50ToddI think I came in, it was maybe a couple of months already going, basically. And I think the current chair and the assistant chair were both moving on to different things. One was leaving the company and one was just, you know, the workload was getting to the point where they had to make choices, basically where they could put their time. So I basically showed up to the meeting two months in and met everybody, and then they kind of said, Hey, we need a new chair. So at the meeting I basically came to, I also became the chair, which was fine with me. I'm very passionate about the topic and the mission, but yeah, so I guess that was about two months ago. So the ERG has been going for about 4 to 5 months, pretty steady, I will say pretty steady as far, there may be some starts and stops before then obviously, but pretty steady since then.
00:10:44Ben FordIf I might ask, and it's totally okay if this is not public information or anything, but about how big is it? How many people regularly participate?
00:10:52MelissaWe've got about 14 people in a private Slack channel. The meetings, people come and go as they're able, we're all fitting this in with our workload. And so it very much flexes at meetings. And then we have an executive sponsor who is a VP. She's been with us since the start. And we'll talk a little more later about why that's so important. But I think the big thing about a Pride ERG and other ERGs that tap into identities that are sometimes very private because people may not feel safe at work, there's an extra level of due diligence and sensitivity we have to apply to every aspect of how the ERG gets formed, how we invite people in, how we hold people on the outside who are perhaps not in the community but our allies and want to be allied to us. What is the place for them and what is the place for actual members of the LGBTQ+ community? What does safety look like for us? And I think that's an ongoing conversation, right? The folks who founded the group are some of the folks who are still in it. But as new folks come in, I think there's a responsibility that we all have to be very transparent and intentional about privacy and about protection in those spaces. That applies to every ERG. But I think it's something that you always need to ask yourself, okay, is this a group that needs that extra level of care?
00:12:24Ben FordYeah. And I can imagine that this is kind of a constant changing landscape, too. It's like what was right last year might not necessarily be right this year.
00:12:31MelissaThat's right. You have to think about everyone who has a very different sense of safety. I am very like out and proud all the time. Right. A lot of folks are not, it's not fair for me to project my comfort level on other people. And if we look at the context in which we're operating, what is the current sort of temperature at Puppet about people feeling accepted and safe? What is the current temperature in the world? We know that there is a tremendous and devastating amount of anti-trans legislature moving through politics right now. How does that affect people's feelings of safety? How are we checking in on that and staying cognizant of what people need from this group?
00:13:11Ben FordAbsolutely. So how often do you meet and what sort of things do you do in your meetings?
00:13:19ToddWe meet about every two weeks. You know, we discuss issues that impacts LGBTQ plus community in general, like Melissa was talking about, you know, both from the community at large, but also from the perspective of working at Puppet. We're trying to meet the core mission of any ERG, regardless of the specific ERG group. You know, we do this by rallying around issues that affect LGBTQ plus and create a plan of action to advocate and create impactful, meaningful change. And I want to emphasize what actions can we take to enhance or improve the experience of being LGBTQ plus at Puppet? You know, we want to share that with the community as well. But definitely the core mission is how do we make the experience better or more safe? A feeling of safety, a feeling of inclusiveness at Puppet.
00:14:05Ben FordI imagine that there are different levels of priorities there, like your self safety and then your safety at work and then maybe more industry wide or showing up outside of work. I suppose those are all different priorities that you want to focus on, too, right?
00:14:20ToddYep. And there are definitely things we're trying to accomplish by the end of the year. You know, we would like to see that we have created some kind of tangible and measurable change around our core LGBTQ plus issues affecting our employees and the families of our employees. Like we mentioned, trans health issues at the beginning of the podcast. But, you know, that's an example of tangible change that we'd like to see realized, you know, the insufficiency of health care services that, you know, Puppet benefits plan currently provides for trans employees and employees of trans family members could be improved. I mean, we're lucky in a sense that we've had some advocacy around this early on in the last year or two. So we have a little bit of something, but it could definitely be something bigger and better and more improved. And that kind of thing is what I would like to see as a measurable impact on the lives of our trans employees and family.
00:15:15Ben FordLike, logistically, what what sort of ways do you advocate for something like that? Is that something you go to HR and ask for or do you like build a plan and propose it? Or what does that look like?
00:15:28ToddI think it's all of the above. I mean, one of the more tangible things we're doing now as a group, as the ERG group, is creating a letter to send to HR and we're putting a lot of brainpower on trying to make sure that we are sensitive to how this letter is received, but also we get across the fact that this is a needed thing. So the advocacy is definitely, I think it's multi-pronged, depending on the situation. But our first step, our first method is to write a letter and to create the awareness in an appropriate way and in a very formal way to reach our leaders.
00:16:03MelissaI would add another example, too. We had one of our ERG members and employees, obviously, who was struggling with the way that a preferred name was or wasn't being reflected consistently across the systems, the HR systems that Puppet utilizes. And some of that is within Puppet's control and some of that is not within Puppet's control. And so this person went to great lengths to talk with the HR team to educate them to the extent that they had the energy to do so. Right. That's always a struggle. How much time do we spend educating versus advocating and how much does that take out of us, right, as folks who are already potentially negatively impacted by policies and by systems? I don't know that there was any holistically satisfying conclusion to that challenge, and I won't speak for that person to talk about how they did or didn't feel about it, because that's also inappropriate. But it was the ERG that provided a place where that person could talk about what they were going through with folks who had a better understanding or better awareness than probably other folks inside of Puppet, had a safe place to talk about that and had some support and some ability to get some feedback on the ways that they were talking about this challenge with HR. So without the ERG that would have been much more difficult for that person to find within the company.
00:17:29ToddAs I say, that sense of belonging can relieve a lot of stress. You know, what that employee's going through for the name change was creating a lot of stress, a lot of consternation and a lot of fatigue around that effort. So being able to come to the ERG and express the frustrations, that community relieves all that stress and it's almost healing in a way.
00:17:52Ben FordI can definitely see that. I do remember some of that conversation happening even maybe even before the ERG existed. I remember that we put in a custom field in our Slack instance for pronouns because Slack didn't support it at the time. And the reason we did that is because people advocated for it and people brought that up and people made sure that it was at the forefront of conversations when we were implementing the Slack infrastructure here. And then when Slack as a vendor, Slack promoted that to a standard field, well, that was like I think it was like the very next day we also adopted that and moved it up. And I think that wouldn't have happened without that advocacy that you're talking about, without people speaking up and saying how important it was.
00:18:43MelissaAnd I do think that goes back to the idea of there there are single voices, but then there is such exponentially increased power potentially in having a group of voices and not just folks who are directly affected, but that's the place where allies can step into the conversation and be part of that group advocacy.
00:19:02Ben FordSo maybe we can move into like, do you have tips for people who want to start their own ERGs? It seems like this is providing so many benefits for us, I have to assume that some of our listeners are kind of thinking, hey, maybe this is a thing I should do. Maybe I could get this going at my own company. What advice would you give them?
00:19:22MelissaYeah, I think the process is actually fairly straightforward, and Todd and I will talk through kind of the big steps. It will obviously look a little different in every company. But step one is just figuring out whether you have enough interest to make it worthwhile to do. I don't think these groups have to take a tremendous amount of overhead, but there is some overhead running any kind of special interest group or council has some overhead. It's doing the planning, scheduling the meetings, doing the advocacy and cords in the organization to gain support. So figure out if you've got the sort of the groundswell of interest to justify that work. And of course, I've talked at length, but as a reminder for Pride ERG, because sexual orientation and gender identity are sometimes held very private in a work environment, gathering that information, you have to think a little creatively because it's probably a little harder to do that than in an ERG that's based on a less private type of, of membership criteria. So ways that you can gauge interest relative to what kind of privacy you need to maintain might look like an anonymous employee survey or a non anonymous employee survey going to a channel where the folks that you think might be in your group are probably already hanging out, Slack channels that I'm talking about, to be clear. So for example, we have a Slack channel called Diversity in Tech. And when I made the initial suggestion that felt like the obvious place to go and try to promote the idea, you may ask folks to contact you privately and directly if they want to be involved, because maybe you want to keep that kind of under the, you know, under your hat for a while. For more public types of membership criteria, you could talk about it at an employee all hands or some other large forum, but it's basically getting the word out about the idea and creating a way for folks to come back and say, yes, I want to jump on board and then you want to go get executive buy in once you feel like you have enough people to it make sense. So the reason executive buy in or executive support matters is because it gives you some air cover as you're trying to figure out what you're doing and how and why. You've got somebody who's kind of there protecting that time and that space for you. If you require some money, it's somebody who can try to help you get that money and protect that budget for you. It's somebody who can advocate you because they have access to different sets of people in the company. And this is going to look different if this is your company's first ERG or their fifth ERg, right. Because in the latter situation, you get to build on top of the work that previous ERGs have done. And that was definitely the the case for the Pride Group. We had several leagues before us. The company was fully bought into the idea, so it was a slightly simpler path because there were already some frameworks in place for how we got budget and how we talked about it and what kind of information the company needed from us to understand what we were trying to do and why we were there. When you do take the idea whether it's 1 to 1 with a leader that you trust or a leader that you think is aligned with what you need, come prepared to make your case. Whatever information you've gathered, qualitative, quantitative about how many people want to be involved and what benefits you think would come out of it. Bring that to basically paint a picture of what value you think this is going to offer. And I would also advise you have kind of a rough plan for what the ERG is going to do and have a rough budget in mind. None of this has to be super precise. None of this has to be written in stone. If the ERGs not formed, you actually want to leave space for other people to come in and help you with that plan. But what happens when you're talking to an executive is you paint them a picture of what this thing is, and they're just that much more able to go and advocate on your behalf or to say, yes, I get it, and I support that or I don't. So write down the things you might do, the money you might spend and just present that as your proposal. And then finally, once you get general approval to go forward, it's great to also have that executive sponsor a specific named person who can help make sure that ongoing you have the support not just for the initial activities, but hey, do I do what? Can I get some help making sure these folks have permission from their managers to clear time for this? That's a thing in some organizations, making sure managers of the employees are aware and know that it's going to take an hour a month or 5 hours a month or whatever that is. And then the last thing I'm going to talk about is defining the mission before you launch the ERG, or preferably for me as part of launching it. Because I'd like this to be a group activity. You want to give it a clear purpose or mission or a set of goals, because this helps give the group focus. It helps you hold the members of the group accountable to the work that you're doing and to the types of work that you choose to engage in and then act as a northstar for all of the initiatives going forward. And you can do that. This doesn't have to be a big thing. You can do this in a couple of sentences. So what we have for the Pride ERG is as follows "Support our company's diversity by providing space, support and solidarity for LGBTQ plus people at Puppet. Foster Puppets' LGBTQ plus connections with broader tech and our local communities." So there's nothing really concrete in there about what we do right? There are all manner of activities that we might want to spin up based on how much time we have, how many people we have, how much money we have. But there is a guiding light for the organization. And then once you've got that on paper, make that widely available, whether that's through email, if you've got Slack, company intranet, whatever means you have to make that findable, not just by the current employees and the folks who've expressed interest, but thinking through how that's findable by folks who come in later, either because they've just been hired or they missed the first announcement and they come across you in some different way, or because they've decided that they feel safer now than they did a month ago to join up with the group. There's all manner of reasons people are going to find you much later down the road.
00:25:43Ben FordIt seems like that would be something that would be really good to have in like onboarding for new employees. Like some of the ERGs that you can find at the company, too.
00:25:52MelissaYou're totally right. And I believe, don't quote me, but I believe that we do actually talk about ERGs now as part of onboarding. And if not, Todd, you should go fix that problem.
00:26:00ToddI agree. I need to double check that and we shouldn't be doing that.
00:26:04Ben FordI have a quick question for you, Melissa. Early in the conversation, Todd sort of presented value in a couple of different ways. It was like business value and employee value and whatnot. When you're talking about executive buy in, how do you present the value in a way that convinces them that it's worth spending money on?
00:26:22MelissaThat's such a good question. And I don't think that it's an easy prospect to just put numbers against this thing. Right. If we go back to some of the points Todd made about where business value comes in, for example, attract talent, develop employees, build community, foster belonging. Those kinds of ideas are a little bit hard to quantify and very much hard to quantify when you're talking about a slice of the population. So if you're able to put those things on the table in a company, those with some stories about that has worked at other organizations, you start to build a stronger case than just saying, Hey, I think this is a great idea. You can imagine how that might not go over quite as well.
00:27:05Ben FordYeah, that's really, really helpful.
00:27:07ToddI was just going to add to that, I think on the concept of stories, I think if you have that healthiness of the ERGs in your culture, that it's creating a strong immune system basically for the company's culture to where they're resilient and strong. And along the line of stories, people talk to other people in other companies. And I think you start to attract talent outside of your company when employees are speaking to the fact that they feel a sense of belonging and a sense a strong culture around DE&I that makes people want to come. So I think there's those non-tangible aspects. And again, like Melissa was talking about, it's hard to quantify, it will qualitatively show up in other ways and I think that's one of the strongest ways is, I've always said in other roles that I've had at other companies, that if you have a strong culture, it's tangible. You don't need a survey, for example, to understand if your culture's strong, it's tangibles as soon as you walk in a room.
00:27:56Ben FordI like that a lot and I like that immune system metaphor. So what tips do you to kind of go along with Melissa's ideas?
00:28:05ToddI mean, just once you've got everything going, once you have executive buy in and you have, you know, the mission statement and you've definitely gotten a gauge of the employee interest, you've got to start recruiting people. You've got to start bringing people into the ERG. With Pride, for example, that's a little more tricky because you have to be sensitive to how you approach people or if people are out at work. There's multiple little tiny things there that can influence that. But for a general ERG, you got to raise awareness and including Pride ERG, but you still got to raise awareness for upcoming ERG meetings. You can advertise the group in all hands meetings and company newsletters. You can hold off a kick off event to drum up internal support and catch the attention of workplace allies and you can reach out to specific employees depending on the ERG and invite them basically to the group and to participate especially if you know they're passionate about particular causes or have previously expressed interest in creating a similar group. But really, there's multiple vectors that you could do to recruit people, but you've got to have those members because it goes back to that premise before of, you know, you can say no to one person, you can't say no to a group. The more folks that you have, the stronger the ERG is going to be in, the stronger you're able to influence the culture and to drive real change both within and out of your company. I mean, obviously, you got to host meetings. I mean, basic stuff of any group, you know, where you basically review your mission statement and you create goals and you decide on causes of support. You brainstorm on, you know, company events you can possibly throw, you share other articles, which we do a lot in private ERG or Slack channels, is full of movies and articles and causes that everybody's kind of sharing and getting opinions on or just creating awareness. You know, there are no rules. A group can be whatever you want and your members want it to be. Once you get to a certain size, though, it can be beneficial to nominate or vote on a leadership committee to help keep meetings organized and hold everyone accountable. This idea we haven't really adopted in the Pride ERG, but we will definitely be doing it soon, is to set term length for those leaders. So we have like fresh input and fresh ideas for the group and it doesn't get bogged down to one person's thought process. For me, as the chair of the ERG, I'm constantly telling them I'm more of a facilitator than a leader. Like I'm here to help bring change or to move things forward, or to communicate our collective desires as a group. But I definitely don't see myself as the leader, per se. But definitely term length, I think, is a good idea to help keep things fresh. And just because an ERG is employee led doesn't mean it doesn't need organizational support. The executive support is needed to legitimize and to make sure that the group keeps going and that they feel like they're being heard. That executive sponsorship or executive support goes a long way into making the group feel like it's being valued and the things that they're doing are being valued and that the ERG has an impact when there's executive support.
00:31:16Ben FordYeah, I think that I've found that even just mentioning the different ERGs or other leaders in the company talk about the ERG existing as just a thing, a part of our culture that, like you said, it legitimizes it. That makes people more willing to listen or more willing to reach out because it's just part of what we do, part of our culture, the way that we operate, you know.
00:31:42ToddAnd I think part of the potential problems with ERGs is if you don't have that strong executive support, I think that can be a check the box kind of item of we have an ERG, but there's no real backbone to those ERGs. So I think that executive support really is needed to take it from a check the box item to really it's part of your culture and how you do things and how your business has a healthy immune system.
00:32:09MelissaI would add to that as you go forward, Todd talked about term limits and making sure you had different ideas and different ways of working coming in, how is your ERG over time going to kind of retrospect and look at itself, is it going to measure itself and if so, what are the important things to measure? Is there something that the business needs to know about the ongoing sort of progress or success and how is that defined? I don't think that there's a necessarily a template for that. I think that will look different with different ERGs and what your mission is. But certainly, at the very least, looking back once a year and saying, hey, are we aligned with our mission or our charter? Did we achieve as much as we thought we would? And if not, why? Did we feel as safe as we wanted to? And if not, why? At the very least, having some internal discussion about that on a periodic basis and then ideally being able to report back up, whether it's a qualitative measure or a quantitative measure, what have you being able to report back up and saying, Hey, here's how we held up, you know, the promise we made to the members of the ERG in the organization and here's how we think that we want to evolve. That's a really important ongoing set of steps.
00:33:21Ben FordAbsolutely. And as a community organizer myself, I'll add one tip to what you've said, and that is to realize that your group, whatever it is, ERG or other, is constantly living and evolving and breathing and changing. And that means that people are coming in and also the people are going out. And so you have to build your group to be dependent on its own structure and not on individual people. Because if you build your group to depend on a person and individual, eventually that person is going to move on, move out in different ways. And then the support for your group itself collapses. And so you have to build in this like constantly evolving ability, kind of like what Todd was saying about the term lengths, that rather than just welcoming new ideas, you also welcome new leaders and let new people come in and move your group forward. And that's how you keep it going long term. And not just until Melissa and Todd decide that they are ready to move on.
00:34:30MelissaYeah, that's 100% true.
00:34:33Ben FordWhat a fascinating story. I'm super glad that this resource is available for the people who really need it. Besides providing community, it sounds like your ERG works as a mission driven advocacy group and working towards making very tangible changes and improvements in our work environment. The tips you provided are, there almost even a step by step guide to getting started, and I hope listeners do take your advice and make their own groups. And maybe this will help drive systemic change across our whole industry and maybe even more. Are there any other things you'd like to pull in as we close up here?
00:35:09MelissaI would add that I think it's very easy to wait for somebody else to make the first move, even though you want a thing it can be a little scary to take that step because it can feel overwhelming. And I think as with a lot of complex problems or new experiences, breaking it down into small steps and small progress makes that feel more achievable. And so I encourage you if this is something you want in your organization and you think that it has value and you think there are other people who need it, take that first step and see where it goes. When I threw the idea out in March of 2021, it sat there for six months. But that's okay because we got there. That was a baby step, and then somebody else came in and took the next baby step. And here we are. So don't be afraid to just dip your toe in the water and see what you can get started at your own company.
00:36:00ToddI would add to that, that culture happens in two ways, in my opinion. You know, it's either a default thing that just nobody actively is doing anything. It just kind of organically arises from the personalities within that culture, which is sometimes not the best because it depends on the personalities. There is the active creation of culture, and I think ERGs are one aspect of that active creation of culture within your company. And I feel like every company should be making choices about their culture. There should be active participation because usually those are the very strong types of cultures that people want to be in. Like my own team, for example, we have a monthly culture check in. Are we creating the culture we want? We want to check in kind of going back to what Melissa was saying about, you know, constantly checking in to make sure that you're meeting the goals of your ERGs, a part of a larger culture in a company. So actively creating and participating in your culture makes a strong culture as opposed to just letting culture happen. I think to me that's the biggest thing about the ERGs that they help do is they help actively create participation your company's culture.
00:37:05MelissaOh, Todd, I love that. Yes, yes, yes.
00:37:08Ben FordAnd along with the idea of like being able to reach out and just like plant that first seed. You might find that there's more support than you than you're actually aware of. When we started the Neurodivergent ERG, it actually kind of came into being as an after effect of a mental health presentation that we did, where a handful of us who had different stories or different experiences in the world talked about like how how we felt and how we presented ourselves. And it was very vulnerable. It was it was hard, it was scary. And I remember actually kind of tearing up and crying a little bit, talking about the things that I experienced at work and how it was such a different experience for me then than maybe other people might see. And I don't remember how I got talked into doing it, but it really was scary. But after that, several people reached out and then more people reached out and it just kind of snowballed and more people talked about what was going on that I really even knew. And a coworker of mine kind of took that that feedback and that groundswell and created a Slack channel. And then a different one took that idea and did all the groundwork for creating the ERG. And it all happened because a handful of us were given that space where we can feel safe enough to be vulnerable and talk about these things. And I think that if you have that space where you can step out and where you can put your your whole self out there, that you might find that there's more people around you that are also experiencing life the way that you are.
00:38:51MelissaYep, yep, yep.
00:38:53Ben FordSo if people have questions or if they'd like to to follow up or maybe get advice from you about starting their own ERGs, are there ways that people could get in touch with you?
00:39:03ToddYes, they can email me and my company email. Todd.Ervin@puppet.com. Probably the best way to reach me. Social media, I am on twitter. It's at @ShaunTErvin. But I I'm not very much of a person that tweets a lot. So it's mostly for me to consume different people on the field. You know, predictive analytics consume a lot of scientist tweets.
00:39:36MelissaYou can get me at my Puppet address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm on Twitter at @mcasburn and I'm on LinkedIn and once in a while I dip into the Puppet community Slack. So you can add me in there and find me there.
00:39:54Ben FordWe're always glad to see you there. So we'll put links and spell those out in the show notes too. Well, that's a wrap for today. Once again, thank you all so much for being here and sharing your insights with us and to the audience. Thank you so much for listening and being part of our community here. And we'll call that a wrap for today's episode of Pulling the Strings podcast, powered by Puppet.