The Notorious ERG

Tiffany Hudson   •   May 13, 2017

Diversity Coaching

Let’s get right to it. I’m black. I’m a woman. And I’m a lesbian. Okay, now that we’ve got that out there, let’s talk about a couple things I often experience in the workplace in being black, gay, and a woman.

So, why “the Notorious ERG?” Well, the majority of corporations have Employee Resources Groups (ERG’s). These are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. A few examples of ERG’s are:

People of Color
Women
Veterans
LGBTQ
People with Disabilities

The “average” person may fall into one of these groups. Maybe two. But for me, it’s three. It seems, the more of these you identify with, the more you stand out. You sort of become the “popular kid” by default; you check all the boxes. In this case, being popular isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just…a thing. You become the “one stop shop”. This results in two things:

#1: You are expected to speak on behalf of others.

Being a black gay woman in the corporate space has certainly opened my eyes to many things. I am often looked at to speak up on behalf of certain people. Primarily, black individuals, women, and people of the LGBTQ community. In my experience, the older I get, the more often it happens. Maybe I seem…..”more wise?” Like….the older I get, the more experiences I have for other people? I can confidently say, that is not the case. No matter how old I get, my experiences will only be….mine.

You see, I am a big believer in practicing what I preach, and I always say, I don’t like for others to speak on my behalf. Even if it is another black, gay, woman, our experiences are likely different. Just like a white heterosexual male has different life experiences than another white heterosexual male. Are there similarities in their treatment and experience? I would think so. But again, they are not all the same.

It is important to take time to speak with individuals about their own experiences. We cannot assume that because one is like the other, their experiences are the same. You also can’t check all the boxes with one person. A lack of sampling in research will deter your results. Authentic conversations are important; even if they are a bit uncomfortable. We have to take time to acknowledge people’s differences; even if they look or seem the “same”.

Don’t rush results. It often lands in a place of inauthenticity (this isn’t a word, but it should be) and produces negative results.

#2: It. Is. Draining.

Imagine the number of microaggressions one may experience in the workplace if they are black. Or if they are a woman. Or if they are gay. Now imagine all 3 of those all at once. The microaggressions triple! And let me tell you, it is exhausting. My advice is to be mindful. Really think about that question or comment before verbalizing it. Just think. If I get two questions or comments per day for each of these identities, that’s 6 per day. That’s a lot to manage while also trying to do my job.

Remember, those comments and/or questions become emotions for people to juggle. Keep your approach in mind. Use your words wisely. Consider your relationship with that person before addressing them. Yes, it is a lot to think about before moving forward, but it is appreciated.