“It happened again.”
And this time, of the eight people killed, six women were of Asian descent. Six Asian women could’ve been our colleagues. Our sisters. Our mother. Or. Us?
We didn’t want to believe the rumors that society didn’t care for us. Still, the brutal acts of violence, like Michelle Go or Christina Yuna Lee, who recently got pushed in front of a train or stabbed to death in her apartment, respectively, and staggering statistics (hate crimes towards APIs rose 339%), substantiate our deepest fears.
But there’s hope.
Many Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) are defying the stereotype of staying quiet about the issues they face, as was the case for a group of API employees at Yelp. They coped with tragedy by turning to each other– across departments and across cities. It all started with a community check-in.
It all started with a community check-in. Many of us tried to piece together whether this would be considered a hate crime following the Atlanta spa shooting. Many pundits and politicians speculated whether racism triggered the attack, and even their apprehension to call it that only furthered many community members to fall deeper into despair. So we called for API employees and allies at our company to meet virtually for an open forum to commiserate.
We assumed our coworkers would appreciate a space to air out grievances, but we didn’t expect the turnout. We had a pleasantly surprising 90+ people join us from all departments. We broke people into smaller groups so the conversations could be more intimate, and the meeting went longer than we had originally planned for – everyone got a chance to speak. Our fellow API employees needed this more than we ever knew.
How YAPI was born
The energy of the community check-in gave us the sure-footedness to start our Employee Resource Group (ERG). First, we came up with the name: Yelp Asian Pacific Islander (YAPI). Next, we wrote a mission statement: “We aim to celebrate, educate, include, and promote a strong sense of community among all Asian identities – East, South, Southeast, and Pacific Islander – in order to grow ourselves as Yelp employees and as individuals.” We formed different committees within the ERG like Education to share documentaries, books, and podcasts, and a Social committee to host fun events like trivia. Third, we established a communication cadence and organizational structure.
Over the last year, we’ve hosted fun events like BYOBoba + Movie Trivia and held a company-wide haiku contest celebrating holiday traditions. We’ve also screened a docuseries on Asian American history and discussed the African and Asian diasporas. Each event brought out new faces and new voices!
For example, there was an event where someone shared that they felt like they were on an island as one of the only people of color in their small town and how heartening it was to see other Asians in their workplace. At another event, someone shared how harrowing it was to learn of the brutal murder of Vincent Chin from one of the documentaries we watched and how heartbreaking it was to see events like that repeat in the world today. There wasn’t a dry eye in the [virtual] room.
Now more than ever, as many of us work alone in our remote offices, it’s important to have a community to foster a sense of togetherness where we spend most of our time, which is where ERGs come in. While we had a few employee resource groups before the pandemic, there has been more of a focus on them as of late, and more ERGs have been built up and established at Yelp within the last couple of years—just like YAPI!
From the Black Lives Matter movement and educating more people about Juneteenth, to LatinX creators and actors being highlighted in pop culture icons like “Encanto,” to the growing awareness around mental health and neurodiversity, bringing your full identity into the workspace has been more important than ever. And we’ve seen several events come out of these ERGs that taught the wider audience of our company more about the histories and current events of these communities in ways that we may not have been able to before! In addition, company-wide ERG events like these invite and promote ally-ship in a way that can boost morale and help people feel comfortable in their identities, removing the need to worry about micro-aggressions.
How to create an ERG in your workplace
Now, the question stands, “How do I create an ERG in my workplace?” Here’s a checklist to help you start:
- Contact the person or team in your company who is in charge of diversity, belonging, and inclusion initiatives. If the process for creating an ERG in your company already exists, they will be able to guide you through it. If ERGs don’t exist at your company yet, they will be able to work alongside you to develop a process for implementing these groups.
- Start messaging the people on your team or in your department, who you know would be interested in forming a community. Whether your ERG is built upon a shared identity like YAPI, or a shared interest like an employee Book Club, it’s important to get buy-in from a small group of people in the beginning.
- Now that you’ve found your core group, it’s time to create your mission statement. It’s important to align on the purpose of your ERG, and the goals you hope this group will achieve. When determining the mission statement, answer questions like, why does this community exist? Who are the people you’re gathering? What can members expect to get out of being a part of this group?
- Now the fun part! What activities or programs will you implement into your ERG? Determine how and where you want your ERG to meet. Whether it’s asynchronous like a Slack channel, or synchronous like consistent events, all your programming should be built around your mission statement, and ultimately help to achieve the goals you’ve set out.
- If possible, find an executive sponsor to serve as your advocate to upper management in the company (though this is not always necessary). It’s helpful to have a ‘heavyweight’ on your side, when it comes to asking for budget or requesting time and energy be put towards something extracurricular.
- Have fun and be patient. The ERG will change and grow as new members join you. Extend grace to yourself and the others who volunteer who helped to get this ERG off the ground, and be prepared to adapt and change as it grows.
Creating, growing, and programming an ERG requires constant check-ins with yourself and your group members, and learning is always part of the process. At the end of the day, bringing people together is the most important thing we can do.