Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Their deaths continue to drive workplace progress, particularly in the lane of paying employee resource group leaders for their labor. This ethos is driving Autodesk, which announced its ERG leader compensation initiative on Sept. 30.
Now, those who head ERGs for the construction and engineering software company will receive a bonus of $10,000 or the local currency equivalent each year. Autodesk resource groups include an Asian Network, Black Network and Latinos Network. The company also has Networks for LGBTQ employees, veterans, women at work and young professionals.
The money will be issued in April, upon the completion of a full year of service as ERG lead, according to a blog post by Rita Giacalone, global head of culture, diversity and belonging at Autodesk. The $10,000 bonus is "an investment in the future leaders of our work culture — and our company," she said. The news mirrors LinkedIn’s $10,000 bonus announcement in June 2021, Twitter’s move to compensate ERG leads in October 2020, and payroll manager Justworks’ decision in July 2020.
Autodesk’s culture shift is explicitly linked to the racially motivated murders of Black and Asian people that made headlines in 2020. "The issue of racial justice in America was brought to the forefront in 2020 with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Recent acts of violence against the Asian community in the U.S. and globally have also served as painful reminders of how much work remains to be done to combat racism," Giacalone said.
During the Black Lives Matter protests and the rise of anti-Asian hate, Autodesk ERG leaders — particularly those at the helm of Autodesk’s Black Network, Giacalone said — stepped up to the plate. "Their candid feedback and guidance helped us examine existing policies and practices, and create spaces for our employees to grieve and heal. And this wasn’t an isolated incident," she said. "We’ve seen all our ERG leads step up in similar ways."
Racial justice conversations, sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement, are a common thread throughout each company’s decision to compensate key players in their business resource groups. Dalana Brand, Twitter’s vice president of people experience and its head of inclusion and diversity, wrote about the way Twitter’s Blackbirds supported fellow "Tweeps" throughout summer 2020.
"[Business resource group leads] do this work to empower our next generation of leaders, so that one day, they will no longer be the only. This work is essential to Twitter’s success," Brand said in her blog post. "It is not a 'side hustle’ or 'volunteer activity.’"
In her June 2021 post, LinkedIn’s Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson wrote, "As I reflect on the past year which was filled with unprecedented change, uncertainty, and grief, I can only imagine the emotional toll that our ERG leaders must have experienced. These leaders were responsible for guiding and creating spaces where we could have open and honest dialogue about work and shared experiences and process emotions as a community."
Hanson added that the decision wasn’t made "in isolation," but that it was a facet of LinkedIn’s diversity, inclusion, and belonging strategy established in 2020. (That announcement mentioned the deaths of Floyd in Minneapolis and João Pedro Matos Pinto in Rio de Janeiro as key touchpoints.) For Justworks, then-Director of DEI Michael Baptiste said his department had considered paying ERG leaders as early as January 2020. Subsequent racial justice conversations in June 2020 imbued Baptiste’s team with "both the courage and a real opportunity to try," he wrote in a blog post.
As Autodesk woke up to the importance of its own resource groups, its culture team began to act accordingly. The software company hosted a celebratory ERG Week and made elections more rigorous. "Candidates interview in front of multiple panels, spanning peers and executives from CEO staff. Once selected, ERG leads serve for two years, with the option to run for a second term," Giacalone explained in her blog post. Under the new framework, current leaders will finish their first term in January 2022 and get paid in April 2022.
"It isn’t easy to put a price tag on the benefits our ERG leads bring to Autodesk. Their work is invaluable and they are a vital part of the fabric that makes Autodesk a great place to work," Giacalone said.
Christie Lindor, founder of DEI consulting firm Tessi, previously spoke to HR Dive about her experience as a Black ERG leader during anti-police brutality movements. Before becoming an independent consultant, Lindor worked in management at EY, Deloitte Consulting and IBM. Lindor had already been working nights and weekends to support her fellow Black colleagues. Following Trayvon Martin's death, her responsibilities kicked into high gear.
"You have this whole community that's relying on you to be a leader. You have to swallow a lot of stuff to be able to be there for that," Lindor told HR Dive. "And those 7:00 a.m. coffee meetings or 11:00 p.m. calls — those 'I want to quit' calls — a lot of people don't see. But this is the life of an ERG leader. This is their day-to-day life."
Paying heads of business resource groups isn’t just an ethical imperative. It reinforces that diversity and inclusion work are a part of a company’s narrative. "As opposed to 'a side thing,' that kind of change creates a sense of pride and a sense of increased loyalty to that organization," Lindor said. "It really adds another level of passion, but also credibility and validity that the groups created are looking for."
"While we can’t thank our ERG leads enough, we hope that this appreciation bonus is a way to say 'thank you’ for all that they do," Autodesk’s Giacalone said.