Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Two Things: Jasmine Shells on Employee Resource Groups

On Two Things is a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Project based on the premise that we are all affected by how society categorizes us, and as such, we have our own experiences to share. I have asked people I know to distill their understanding of a particular aspect of D&I into two things.
Jasmine Shells is my first guest. I met Jasmine as a cohort of Blackbox Connect’s residential entrepreneur program for female founders . I was representing Astia, a nonprofit that levels the playing field for women entrepreneurs, which organized an entrepreneur dinner where Astia Angels investors and Blackbox entrepreneurs can converse as equals. I was excited to keep in touch with her because of her deep understanding of how D&I programs played out in corporations.
Her lens
Here are the list of communities Jasmine identifies with:
• an African American, but also feels a deep connection with the African Diaspora community;
• a woman, but gravitates towards non-binary
• affinity with LatinX community (places she’s lived, friends)
Her domain
Attracting and retaining diverse talent
Her two things
  1. Inclusion before diversity
  2. Key into the evolution of employee resource groups

Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are groups of employees internal to a company that are established based on their shared background or experiences (e.g., Gayglers for LGBT community at Google) [see other communities within Google here]

Inclusion before diversity
Jasmine notes that ERGs are often supported by the leadership of the corporation to encourage diversity. It is easy to look at gender first, because they may be “easiest” to approach. However, they should think through diversity more intentionally by first thinking about how their own community can be more inclusive and to whom. Setting one’s priority on inclusion first will force the company to think through what kind of culture the company wants and set policies and guidelines to be able to nurture the diversity the company will set forth to attract.

Key into the evolution of employee resource groups
ERGs often start as a grass roots movement. Companies tend to view it as providing a service to the employees within the ERGs or benefiting the employees. Some HR officers may see it as a benefit to the corporation in that such groups can attract and retain diverse talent. However, Jasmine affirms they can be more. ERGs, as they evolve, can be tapped as a group to be integrated into the organizational strategies. Rather than just mentioning that the company has a Black Coders group to attract an African American software engineer, the group could be a functioning unit that reviews the draft of the job description for software engineers to ensure that the company is not accidentally filtering out Black candidates. They can make recommendations on where to post the job ads to ensure the HR Department is posting the openings where diverse candidates are more likely to see the posts.

Beyond HR, ERGs can be incorporated into product strategy, both in new product development and in testing. With the “browning” of the US market and our need to reach a global market, it makes sense for the employees of the companies to represent their customer base, to truly understand the market and customer needs.

What’s Giving Her Life: Curiosity
“There’s been a few of me, and many of others” throughout her life. Jasmine continued, “there is a burden to be that diverse person. I was the only black person in a dorm in Notre Dame, for example.” Even in that circumstance, she realized she was ignorant about other people and their situations. One of her dorm mate was lesbian from Latin America, struggling to come out at a Catholic university in a single-sex dorm. “I wanted to learn more. Since then, I encourage curiosity with positivity. Project that curiosity. We can’t absorb other people’s projection of who you are. I can’t allow them to impact me.”

Wish for A Change
One thing Jasmine would like to improve D&I in our communities is to have a physical space that encouraged open dialog in a respectful way. After college, we have fewer places and people to share our personal stories. “I want to feel affirmed, even if there is disagreement.”

For Further Exploration
To get our heads around D&I topics especially for the tech industry, Jasmine recommends

• Ellen Pao’s Project Include for resources and frameworks

• Kapor Capital’s Tech Leavers Report for data, and

• Emily Chen’s book, Brotopia


Curious what else Jasmine has to say about ERGs and how to attract and retain diverse talent? See if her company, Five to Nine can help your company.
jasmine new headshot
Her Bio

Jasmine is the Co-Founder and CEO of Five to Nine, a platform that helps companies retain their diverse talent. Five to Nine enables management to organize and measure company-wide programs that develop and connect their people. The platform analyzes employee demographics and feedback to assess ROI on these initiatives, ultimately driving retention and inclusion efforts.

Jasmine is featured in TEDx, Vice Media, Refinery29, American Inno, and the Chicago Tribune. She’s a MBA Candidate at Chicago Booth and graduate of the University of Notre Dame. For fun, she loves to salsa dance and inspire youth to create their own opportunities. 

Her Company
About Five to Nine
Five to Nine is an employee retention platform that increases workplace engagement.
Book a demo here.
You can contact her via email: jasmine at fivetonine dot co

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This entry was posted on January 18, 2019 by in Diversity & Inclusion, TwoThings.
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