[Webinar] Jerome Collins at Microsoft ✨

[Webinar] Jerome Collins at Microsoft ✨

We are back with our Webinar Series – Experts on Employee Experience! 🎉 It is a monthly webinar series where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO, has conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.

In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our first webinar of the year featuring Jerome Collins, Former President of BAM North Carolina (Blacks at Microsoft) and current Co-Lead of BAM's Minority Student Day Worldwide at Microsoft! View the full recording here. Scroll on for notes! 👇


Meet Jerome 🤗

Jerome is a Senior Commercial Executive, and is passionate about culture at Microsoft. This has led him to be involved in the Blacks at Microsoft (BAM) employee resource group (ERG). He is the former President of BAM North Carolina and current Co-Lead of BAM's Minority Student Day Worldwide. Jerome is from Chicago and currently resides in North Carolina. In this webinar, we will learn about Jerome’s thoughts on employee engagement, diversity & inclusion and culture, the ins and outs of leading an ERG, and much, much more! 📝 

Webinar Topics 🎙

Why is Employee Engagement and Culture important to you?

For Jerome, one of the top reasons is that it’s a part of his and others’ lived experiences. We spend a significant amount of time working. Being a net positive contributor to community and culture is one of the ways that organizations thrive. It’s not just about the policies the organization has in place but about the people on the front lines feeling the desire to do more and engage. One way you can do that is by having a healthy community where people can bring who they truly are to work and make meaningful contributions through their talents, skills, and experiences.

How did you find out about ERGs?

Before Microsoft, Jerome worked for small companies without ERGs. At those companies, the culture was to go to work, do your job, and go home. Microsoft was a completely different experience. They encourage you to find your voice in the community and have systematic programming to help you do that. In his employee orientation, Jerome was informed about ERGs. He found out about BAM (Blacks at Microsoft) in the first couple of weeks. BAM is the longest-running ERG at Microsoft and has been around 30 years. It started in Seattle and has grown from regional, to national, and global levels. People have started the chapters across Latin America and recently Europe and even Africa.

How did you get involved with ERGS and your leadership position?

Jerome has always been a people person. He first engaged in ERGs by leaning into his extroverted personality to meet new people. BAM is purpose-driven with lots of opportunities to serve or be engaged in the ERG. One of the first events they had when he joined was Winter Blast with the YWCA. In collaboration with the Youth Learning Centre, their goal was to raise literacy rates with minority students and those who come from less privileged backgrounds. The gift of time and speaking encouraging words to folks’ was Jerome’s initial inspiration for getting involved with the Winter Blast programming. As Jerome started finding his voice and area of interest in BAM, it prompted him to run for Vice Chair, and then Vice President of the organization, and eventually President of the North Carolina chapter.

Typical structure of Microsoft ERGs

Every ERG looks different. As a BAM organization, they’re set up regionally and nationally. Jerome was President of BAM North Carolina. In North Carolina, there are different offices with employees throughout the state. The ERG structures are mature within a large company like Microsoft. Other ERGs include Women in Microsoft, Families in Microsoft, a Military ERG, and affinity groups. Systemically from a culture and ERG perspective, Microsoft is set up where grassroots movements can happen and do happen.

Do you have any advice for people starting ERGs or affinity groups?

Start with your why. Having a north star for your ERG is important because you want to organize it around a few key pillars:

  1. How do we fight for the most equity for people in our group?
  2. How do we transform energy and passion to affect people in a net positive way?
  3. How do we advance the company we work for?

Everyone comes to work expecting to perform tasks to further the organization and mapping that into the structure of the ERG is important. You need Executive engagement and sponsorship for an ERG to be successful. They advocate for the leaders in the ERG to spend more time outside of core roles, provide funding, and are aligned with where the long-term vision is. ERGs cultivate talent and lead to better employee retention rates as well. ERGs are a strategic imperative for organizations regardless of their size.

During your leadership tenure at BAM, what did you find effective/the highlight of your leadership?

Last year, BAM North Carolina won the chapter of the year award. It’s a competitive award because there are close to 20 chapters of BAM globally, as well as affiliates. Each chapter takes a lot of pride in what they do. Another highlight was listening to the needs of the community and incorporating that feedback into BAMs’ programming. Flagship events like Minority Student Day have fantastic leaders who went the distance to get additional budget, and Executive sponsorship. Jerome summarizes the success as a combination of being intentional, seeking a budget, leaning into talents, and leveraging the power of other chapters coming together.

How do you maintain consistency in an ERG?

BAM has internal and external committees, professional development, and a social committee. These committees host various events to maintain consistent programming. For example, last year they had High on the Hog producers Karis Jagger and Fabienne Toback come in and talk about their experiences being Executive Producers for the film and what it meant to unlock the mysteries of African American cuisine and take it back to their roots.

Impactful collaborations

BAM’s NYC chapter has collaborated with GLOBE, which is the Black employee ERG at NASDAQ. They have rung the opening or closing bell during Black History Month. It’s a momentous experience to be in the heart of the financial capital world and ringing the bell. In addition, they engage in ERG cross-collaboration between Microsoft, Sysco, Salesforce, and Google to see a basketball game and had a mixer beforehand. ERG collaboration across organizations allows you to share learnings, and multiply the power and effect of budgets and planning. This makes carrying the load a lot lighter and creates more networking opportunities. 

Succession planning in BAM

Succession planning is incredibly important. When you’re volunteering for an ERG, nonprofit, etc. it takes a person of a certain character to get engaged, and engage others. When people are talented and have compassion and empathy you can achieve great things. Succession is important for the health and life of the ERG. People can be driven naturally to take leadership roles, others need to be called. This doesn’t make them any less of leaders, but you might need a nudge to get going.

Having an idea of who has the capacity to lead the organization at large, or even just one event, and being able to leverage those talents and delegate responsibilities to the incoming leaders is extremely important. Jerome suggests finding ways to have different levels of commitments that folks can make and then make it easy to get to those commitments you’re trying to achieve. Meet employees where they are.

How Do You Balance Full-Time Work with ERG Leadership?

It’s critical to find a balance between full-time work and your ERG leadership. You should be performing at a high level in your core role in order to be considered for leadership within an ERG. Organizations need standards and should figure out a way to get employees to lean into the community effort to inspire them to be greater in their core role. The two aren’t always mutually exclusive and you need to find that balance.

For Jerome personally, he balances the time by thinking of what commitment he can make up front, having intentional conversations with Directors, and those in the organization on what he’s passionate about and wants to do. Another key piece of the puzzle for organizations is that DEI efforts should be a systemic part of the compensation philosophy. He believes that compensation philosophy should measure what’s being done not only from a financial perspective, but also from a DEI perspective. When you include that in the conversation, it becomes written into your core requirements for this job to find a way to give back to other people. If more organizations did that, DEI becomes more of an action item, rather than a buzzword or a box to be checked.

How do you think about measuring success for programs, internal events, ERGs, or even affinity groups?

There are many different ways you can measure success. Common measures include:

  • % participation by population
  • The impact in utilized budget YoY
  • The impact that you’re making in the community. (Measured in anonymous feedback.)
  • The impact on the level of Executive engagement (attendance, sponsorship, etc.)

What are some exciting trends that you foresee in employee engagement, experience, or DEI?

Jerome was very fortunate to attend and speak at Culture Summit, where he and Jade met. Trends he foresees include bringing folks together to get to know each other and connect on a personal level. Additionally, as we figure out what hybrid work looks like, he predicts the presence of ERGs and community groups will grow as a method of driving employee engagement across organizations.

Other trends Jerome foresees in employee engagement and DEI include: 

  • Amazing opportunities in cross-ERG collaboration for engagement and philanthropy to drive even greater external impact
  • A rise in ERG and culture consultants where organizations are asking for an outside perspective on what they can do better and what systems can be in place so they can drive measurable impact regardless of the organizations’ size
  • A rise in applications and systems for organizations to measure the success of the events, their impact and to collect feedback

Do you have any parting words for the audience today?

  • It’s going to be important for organizations to lean into this notion that authentic culture is important to employee happiness. It’s critical to employee retention and critical to finding the next group of leaders to matriculate through the organization. 
  • For organizations, being able to tap into communities that have vibrant cultures will be a catalyst for finding new products and ways to service their customers.
  • You should look and see how you can contribute to the roots of your organization so that the grass and grassroots efforts can grow in a healthy and sustainable way.

Connect with Jerome on Linkedin if you want to chat about culture, employee engagement, and ERGs. Sign up for Epoch’s newsletter to be in the know for our next Experts in Employee Experience webinar and other Employee Experience events!

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