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Webinar on ERG Storytelling

Moderator: Priyanka Gujar, Sr. Manager - Marketing, Teleskope


Panelist: Britney Vaing, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Specialist at Amtrak

Key topics: How to promote Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and keep ERG members engaged, How to make ERG messaging interesting, ERG Storytelling using Videos and a Podcast, Challenges and Impact of managing an ERG Podcast, Ideas for Storytelling, How to celebrate Heritage months, Tips and pointers for ERG Storytelling


ERG Storytelling: Webinar Transcript

00:00 Introduction - Teleskope

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining Teleskope’s webinar. I'm Priyanka Gujar and I lead Marketing at Teleskope. Teleskope is an Employee Community Platform and it enables Employee Resource Group Management, Mentoring, Internal communication and a lot more. Today we have with us Britney from Amtrak and we'll be discussing ERG Storytelling which includes communication and promotion within ERGs as well as about ERGS. Thank you, Britney, for taking time out for this webinar and if you could just give a brief introduction about yourself that'd be great.

00:36 Panelist Introduction - Britney Vaing, Amtrak

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah, thanks Priyanka. Hi everyone. My name is Britney Vaing, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I've been with Amtrak for a little bit over a year now and I have been working in Diversity Inclusion Belonging. So, I'm the Diversity Inclusion Belonging specialist at Amtrak. I started as an intern when I was first there a while ago and came on full-time. So, I'm really excited to be here and talk about what I've been able to do in the space.

01:00 How to promote Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and keep ERG members engaged

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Thanks. Perfect. So, to start off, we're aware that, you know, once Employee Resource Groups are set up the critical next step is to get the word out about them and to let employees know about the Employee Resource Group. Also, when an Employee Resource Group is already in place, you know, how do you keep the existing ERG members engaged. That's a real challenge. So, could you share some thoughts on the basics of how ERG managers and leaders can go about getting the word out and getting employees involved with Employee Resource Groups?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah. So, I think one of the first steps to really get the word out of an ERG, especially if you're new, is to have that promotional video, at least that's what we do at Amtrak. So, that promotional video is really there to communicate the mission, the vision, how to contact and join the ERG and really boost that membership. So, it has those kinds of details that really bring people in, get people excited about the ERG. 

One of the other first steps that we do take is creating that ERG Connect Page. Little plug for Teleskope there but we do have our ERG platform that's our one-stop shop for all of our ERGs and we always encourage that our ERG Connect Page is one of the first things that people do just so they can also have their mission, vision, values on that page as well as a way to join.

And then we also have an ERG kick-off meeting that we encourage them to partake in after they've, you know, developed their charter, their leadership team and their mission and vision. Really it's a meeting to introduce the Leadership team, Exec sponsors, explain the why behind the launching, their goal, next steps and what the membership can do. And this is really broadcasted to the entire Amtrak Network. It's not just the ERG membership, obviously, they're new, they're not going to have very many members. But really for their entire employee base. So, anyone can join during that time and really learn about the ERG and get started in the ERGs if they’d like.

And then for the newer engagement for people that are also joining, we have an intro member email usually that comes out for each of the ERGs. So, they customize their emails to each of their members and that automatically goes out to the membership once people join. We're also trying to encourage them to have a little swag bag. So, they have promotional items from either before when they start the ERG or if they've already been existing and they get new members, any of that swag that they've been having like umbrellas, t-shirts, sweatshirts, pens, notebooks, like all the things that you can think of, there's like a little package that new members can get. So, it's like a nice little welcome, you know, welcome to the ERG, something to be excited about. 

And then while they're already in ERG, we also already have newsletters, events coming out, all member meetings that can happen either monthly, quarterly, bi-weekly, really depends on the ERG and their preferences, we don't really dictate what they would like. Every leadership team is different, you know, at Amtrak we have leaders (ERG leaders) in the frontline employees, we also have people in management roles. So, it really depends on the roles of those employees and their time commitment as well as surveys and ideas for feedback. So, once an ERG is established it's a little bit hard to keep that momentum going to keep the members interested. So, we do encourage people to hold surveys for ideas of - What events have you been liking so far? What's been going well? What would you like to see? And we really see that helps with, you know, keeping people interested as well.


04:19 How to make ERG messaging interesting?

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Oh that's really useful information. Another aspect that ERG managers struggle with is keeping messaging interesting, you know. It's a challenge to stand out in cluttered inboxes and for the message to actually be received and understood by the intended audience. So how has Amtrak navigated this challenge?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: So, we love storytelling. One of my colleagues on the team will tell you, storytelling is her thing and I've really been trying to be taken under her wing to really boost that as well. So, we've done that through a couple of ways, we have our video series called Thriving at Amtrak which changed from a video series to a podcast series, also still storytelling. And then we also engage in continuous programming through Heritage months. So, Heritage months, we always encourage people to have in-person and hybrid events as well but that continuous programming really lets people activate during the month no matter where they are, no matter what they do. So, they can be involved all month long despite not being able to show up to a certain event, maybe at like 1 pm Eastern Standard Time. If that time doesn't work for you, you can still engage in this continuous programming on your own time which really helps.

05:27 ERG Storytelling using Videos

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Right. So let's deep dive into each of those interesting ways. So, you mentioned videos, right? So, could you tell us more about how you went about video engagement?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah. So, I will not take credit for this. This was definitely not my baby of the sorts. But before I started at Amtrak, there was Thriving at Amtrak Season One and really Season One was a video series that explained why the ERG leaders were so excited and really their drive and their passion behind starting their ERGs. So, we were able to record, I believe, 5 of the current 7 ERGs. We do now have 8. So, there was a series of videos that were recorded really to tell the Amtrak sphere like why were these created. It's a little bit like the kick-off but really more in depth to their story. So, the kick-off might have explained, you know, we're interested in X, Y and Z because of this reason but these videos really went into depth about, you know, who are you, where did you come from, what was your drive like, how do we get from here to here and what would you like to see now. A little bit more of a spotlight on those leaders.

06:28 ERG Storytelling using a Podcast

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Okay. That sounds interesting especially since, you know, videos are the preferred mode of information consumption these days. People prefer watching videos, right? Also, you mentioned, you know Season One was videos, Season Two you mentioned was setting up a podcast. So, could you tell us more about that? Because it genuinely sounds new and exciting especially from an ERG storytelling point of view.

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah. So, you're gonna have to hold me back because I can definitely talk about this podcast all day long. Now this was my baby, so you know, I can go on and on about this. But really the ‘why’ behind it was that because the first season was a video series, I wanted to change it up a little bit. I wanted to see, you know, what was working, what was not working with the video and I saw that with videos you have to really be, you know, seated. You have to put your full attention into the video. You want to be seated and be able to watch the video in its entirety. And I noticed that, you know, a lot of our employees might not have a laptop in front of them,  they might not be working a desk job. They might not be able to do that as well. So, really the thought behind what podcast is that it allows for multitasking.

I've noticed that even now, with more of my friends and my colleagues listening to podcasts, I've realized that you can, you know, listen when you're driving to work, when you're coming home, when you're cleaning your room, when you're cleaning your office, really when you're doing some mundane tasks. Obviously, nothing that's too distracting, of course. But it really allows for you to carry on in your everyday life while also getting some knowledge there. So, I found it really useful and I thought podcasts could be a good way to introduce this to the company as well. It's also never been done at Amtrak prior to my coming there. At least I don't think so. So, I believe I was the first podcast at Amtrak which was really exciting and I thought it'd be a really great opportunity to build that excitement around Thriving.

I also had a bit of experience producing podcasts before with a team. So, this was a little bit more of a challenge, you know, taking this on as my like just with myself. But I did have that prior experience that I could bring to Amtrak to say you know this was what was successful, I'm excited to see how it can be done in a storytelling aspect here. But really I was looking at you know this is a really good way to shift the focus a little bit into a new medium, keep things exciting, keep things refreshing. 

So, the podcasts were really structured in a really one kind of format way once we discover the purpose of the podcast really to celebrate these Heritage and history months. We wanted a podcast for every one of our ERGs that was celebrating this Heritage/ History month and to be released during that month itself. So, I wanted there to be that storytelling aspect but also a little bit of an educational component. I think not enough employees know the significance behind that Heritage or history month and also the tie that it has with the rail industry. I think don't think that people think of that you know on their everyday jobs so that educational component happened at the beginning and then talked about really the cultural significance of that month and also the storytelling aspect really dove into ERG leader and ERG member stories about how they can celebrate the month how they celebrate the month how we can celebrate the month. And really emphasizing that it's not just the month that they have to celebrate but we can celebrate that Heritage Month all year long so really showing ways that the Amtrak Network can get involved.

09:55 ERG Storytelling using Podcasts - Challenges and Impact

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]:  Thank you. I was wondering were there any challenges you faced while working on the podcast? Because it is a new medium, right? And also the impact. How was it received by the ERG members? Did they enjoy it? What was their takeaway?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah, so there definitely were a few challenges. I think we wanted to make sure that our interviewees were prepared. So, we helped them script the podcast. So, we did have some thoughts for questions and some like one-liner answers and then have a blank for like where their responses came in. But we did encourage them to like to take a week to a couple weeks to formulate their responses beforehand. But we found that that was a little bit too prescriptive. We wanted it to sound authentic. We wanted to make sure that people felt like they were just talking to us, that it wasn't like they were just reading from a script. So, there were some challenges with scripting but not being too prescriptive. 

Also, coordinating schedules, I think we can all agree here that coordinating schedules is pretty hard in the  corporate world but in just the world in general I think especially since a lot of our interviewees were also frontline employees that made it 10 times harder because their schedules are much different than ours. They work many different shifts. It's not just 9 to 5. So, finding those times was also pretty difficult especially when we had interviewees that some of the months had like, you know, one spotlight, some of the months had, you know, three spotlights. So, the more people you had obviously a little bit harder it gets.

Background noise was always a difficult one. We have our Outlook notifications, we have our Teams pings, you could hear a little ding in the background. So, we had to make sure that people did have those turned off prior to recording. We also encouraged people to have warnings for pets, furry friends and all the things that they had around their house just because we've had our fair share of barks and meows in the background. So, you know, something to be authentic, of course, but try to reduce the background noise as much as possible. 

Keeping the content to about 10 minutes was also really really hard. So, we chose that 10-minute mark just because we know nowadays people's attention spans aren't that long. So, we wanted to make sure we were keeping it interesting but keeping it, you know, short and sweet as well. So, we found that the 10 to 15 minute mark was our sweet spot and didn't really want to go over that. But, of course, these stories are so captivating, they're so meaningful. We didn't want to limit our interviewees, but keeping it to that 10 minute was really or 10 to 15 was really important to make sure that we were, you know, staying with our audience. 

Another struggle we had was that there are some back-to-back Heritage months. So, I know February is Black History Month. Then we go right into Women's History Month. We have a little break in April, but then it goes into APA Heritage Month and then Pride Month and then Disability Pride Month and you all know that it gets really busy. So, really making sure that we were staying on top of our schedule since it took at least a month of production, scripting, recording, editing, and all that kind of stuff. So, when we really had that month we were probably working on multiple podcasts at once to make sure that they were going out on time. So that was a bit of a time struggle as well. 

Narrowing our talent was really hard. So, it was really great to see the excitement around this podcast, the excitement to be included and to share their stories. So, we had our Executive Leaders put out the ask to their membership and we got, you know, multiple responses. It was always hard to say no but really the thought behind narrowing this talent is that we wanted to keep the panel diverse. We wanted to make sure that we were interviewing people from all spans of the network, all parts of the country, all parts of even their backgrounds. So, for example for APA Heritage Month we want to make sure that in our panel we had someone from Southeast Asia, from West Asia. We wanted to make sure we had people from all the different parts just to make sure that we were getting that diversity on the panel. Diversity of thought, diversity perspective but also just that general diversity. 

And then promotion outside the company-wide newsletter as well. We found a bit of a struggle to get the word out there besides just having it in this newsletter. So, we have a weekly newsletter that goes out on Mondays called ATW - Amtrak This Week and we always promote it through there. We also had our employee update, that's company-wide as well, for Heritage months that we could also include in. We did try to find some digital signage. So, when you go into the office or when you go to a break room, you can see that sign up there, and have a QR code to scan to listen.

And we also try to have a little plug in New Employee Orientation to talk about that. But did find a bit of a struggle to get some more metrics outside of just that employee, you know, communication through the newsletter. 

So, those were just a few of the challenges but all were for the impact really. So, employees really got to hear those meaningful stories about their colleagues and stories that you don't normally hear at work, you know. You don't talk about Heritage and History months, you know, on the job usually unless you work in where I work and unless you work in DI&B. But you really don't talk about people's stories, about where they come from, how they celebrate at home, what their life is like when they're with their families, when they're celebrating their culture. You don't talk about that at work. So, really being able to hear this and find that bridge to belonging in that storytelling was super impactful and significant for us.

And really having that addition of continuous programming that I talked about. So, we had our, you know, continuous programming such as a Spotify playlist or like a trivia but also this was really helping people celebrate through the month because they could click and listen at their own discretion, didn't have to be seated at a specific time, they could be riding a train home and just listen to the podcast. It was really nice that way as well. 

They also got to learn and be a little bit more educated, as I said, on the significance of that actual Heritage or History month for the rail industry. So, that was really great that people could see that connection. So, for example for APA Heritage Month, really May marks the anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the majority of those who laid the tracks for the future were Chinese immigrants and we don't really pay attention to that or think that you know that community might have had that big of an impact on our industry but they really did. 

And even for Black History Month the name of our Black African-American ERG is A. Philip Randolph and really the namesake is after this prominent figure A. Philip Randolph who is a figure that is the president of the first African-American Labor Union and also the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, where he really advocated for better pay and condition of the Pullman Porters, which became one of the most prestigious jobs within the Black community thereafter. So, really our employees were able to learn so much about the communities at Amtrak and how they were really, you know, playing that significant role in the rail industry during that History of Heritage Month as well.

And then really having this as a promotional item too really helps our ERGs boost their membership and boost the interest. So, they were able to use sound bites from the episodes to really get some more promotional material for the ERG. So, just recently we have our Heritage month for Hispanic Heritage Month and it's from September 15th through October 15th, and we've been asked to provide sound bites from last year's episode to really get some little snippets to get into a different employee update or so, to really get people interested and hear you know this is what we had going on maybe you want to take a listen to the longer version. I know that was a lot but you know that's really where we're at.

17:36 What’s next in Storytelling at Amtrak?

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That was really good and I think what was unique was actually creating a connection with the organization, you know, with the history of the organization as well. So, before we move on to learning more about the Heritage months I wanted to know Season One was videos, Season two was a podcast..So what's next at Amtrak?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah, so Season three is taking a pretty different shift. Season one and Season two were very ERG based. We saw that your Season one was obviously those ERG leaders, they're driving their passion. On Season two were the ERG leaders and members and how they celebrate their Heritage and History months. But really when you think about thriving or Thriving at Amtrak it's not just about how ERG leaders and members thrive but it's really how we all thrive at Amtrak. So, really the focus of Season three is a little bit on employee engagement and diversity, inclusion and belonging. So, seeing the bridge between the two. 

So we'd like to interview our managers and employees about different aspects from our Employee Engagement survey that we didn't really do so well last year. So, for example, let's, you know, say that we didn't do well in the flexibility category. We'd like to interview a manager that did really well in this category to ask, you know, what they did for their employees, what they found useful and really see how they were able to create that environment for their employees. But to make sure that we have that validity in there, we'd also like to interview their direct reports as well to see, you know, what was the impact that X, Y and Z had on you, you know, if your manager was flexible. What impact did that have on you? Were you able to do more things? Were you able to schedule more doctor's appointments? Were you able to be more flexible and go to different events? You know, what impact did it have on you? And really trying to see the significance of that So, we would lead by example.

So, this would be more of an interview, a written interview, because we find that even in podcasts sometimes it's a little bit hard to listen and people like to prefer reading. So, I've seen that instead of reading or looking at a video people read the transcripts instead. So, you know, seeing if this different medium would also bring us some more love or some more engagement there. So, we'd like to publish this in our Leaders Edge communication, which is our Managers only newsletter, to really have managers read this and say like, you know, my colleague is doing this and maybe I should do this too on my team to, you know, up the possibility, to up the inclusivity on my team and see the impact. And really the metrics would be looking at next year's Employee Engagement survey to see if those different areas that we did talk on, that we did try to improve on did really improve and if those numbers did go up.

20:13 How to celebrate Heritage months at the workplace?

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Okay, so we really explored different types of engaging and, you know, getting the story out there and now coming to Heritage months. They are so important and a great way to create cultural awareness and actually celebrate diversity at the workplace. So, I know Amtrak is really focused on Heritage months, right? So, just want to know how we all have undertaken storytelling when it comes to these months?

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah, so, of course, like every other company knows. I'm sure it takes months of preparation to really get down to the business of each Heritage and History Month. To really prepare for the events, the programming, the communications and all that great stuff. So, at the very beginning of the month, we do have an Employee Update which is a special message that usually comes out from the CEO, the president whoever it is, really talking about the importance of the month. To talk about, you know, blank is you know Pride month, blank is something, so like what's the significance behind that and how are we celebrating.

So, we'll have a list of all the programming that will be happening throughout the month and that could include webinars, events, and gatherings. And really we try to encourage our ERGs to have hybrid programming now. So, I know, within this world of post not post COVID but in this world that we're trying to navigate now, people are really yearning for that connection in person again. So, really however, it is done safely. We are trying to encourage people to have those hybrid programming or events. So there's always those options to be virtual or in person and you know if you can't be virtual or in person we also have these third options of Watch Parties. So, they're also like virtual or in person but these watch parties could happen anywhere and it's really nice to, you know, gather in person at a different location but to watch something else happen in another. So it's not like you're just virtually, you know, participating at home you could be virtually participating in person, if that makes sense, in another location. So this year for Juneteenth we had seven Watch Parties across the nation to really participate in. And that was really great and that was really huge.

And in-person we try to keep it interesting, you know, so trips to museums and different things like that, try to keep it engaging. Different events in person, not just meeting up at the office to have like a networking event but really, you know, taking it to another level to say ‘Let's have an educational piece! Let's go to the, you know, National Museum of African American History and Culture for Black History month. So, we did do that. 

These reminders are also coming out weekly in our ATW newsletter as I mentioned in Amtrak This Week. So, we do have constant reminders to say, you know, the first Employee Update has all the events on the very first of the month but then throughout the weeks it's like - Oh this week is this specific event, make sure you check it out, make sure you have it on your calendar. So, that constant reminder really helps employees as well.

And as I already mentioned, continuous programming. So, we really want to encourage each of the ERGs to make sure that they do have this element to make sure that, you know, even if you can't come to the museum, even if you can't come to this virtual event, you can participate in this own programming on your own throughout the month. So, we have like a Spotify playlist where we've encouraged ERGs to, you know, have their employees and have their membership and have really anyone submit songs for submission into the playlist and then they can then you know listen to the playlist after songs have been vetted.

There's also been ideas with you know a weekly trivia and weekly you have a different question and then anyone that answers correctly is like picked out of a raffle. And then after that you really don't feel left out since you can participate on your own time,  you have the whole week to do. It's not like you have only Monday from 4 to 5 pm to really do that. So, it's a nice way to make sure that our employees are really kept in the loop especially because we have such a really wide base of employees in the first place you know, across the nation, across different industries and jobs so really making sure that everyone is included in that.

24:12 ERG Storytelling - Tips and pointers

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: Okay it's really fascinating to see the use of modern ways of engaging like watch parties that you didn't hear about before , especially in the corporate world, also Spotify playlists. So, I'm sure the ERG members really enjoy that kind of Engagement and want to be more involved so thank you for sharing that before we wrap up just wanted to know if you have any tips or pointers for those who are looking to redefine you know ERG storytelling at their workplace.

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Yeah, so, I would really encourage anyone if you haven't already to really take a part in storytelling and bring it to your organization. It's really the bridge to belonging. Sharing our stories really helps foster that inclusion and empathy that we're looking for and it's really that universal human experience. So, what I said earlier about how we don't normally talk about these things at work, talk about them at work. Bring the storytelling intentionally to the workplace. It creates the opportunity for people to look through new lenses, see themselves reflected in that or learn something new. So, really encourage everyone to build that connection by doing that through storytelling.

And ERG storytelling is no different. You can ask your ERG leaders and members to share their stories about their past lives, their lived experiences and what they brought to the company from that. I would definitely advise everyone to keep it short and sweet. As I said it we had some trouble keeping it to that 10 minute mark or that 10 to 15 minute mark. But really keeping it short and digestible. Makes sure that our employees are really whoever your employee base is and your audience is really getting the message that you are intending to put out there. We don't want to make it too long, belabor the message a little bit too much. So, really keeping it short and digestible is really important. 

So, maybe having the message that you want out there in the front and center. So, even some of our questions were more geared towards, you know, ‘there's so much to celebrate this month but like how have you celebrated?’ and our responses have been ‘I could talk about this all month long but there are three things I do want you to take away from this this and this’ and it'll go a little bit more into that. So, really seeing how you can put that message in the forefront so people know exactly like okay, like I'm looking for these three things. So you know as much as we love hearing about these stories keeping them to a minimum is definitely important to keep our audience engaged.

Having those natural inflections in your voice also would help in that storytelling aspect. As I said being scripted is a little hard because you want to make sure you're prepared but you want to make sure you're not just, you know, reading from that script. So, having those back natural inflections in your tone and really connecting with the words you choose and the tone of your voice so, you know, when you're telling a more exciting part of the story your voice might go up a bit and then when you're you know going through a more serious thought, it might be going a little bit more monotone, a little bit lower. So, really finding those ways to keep your tone and your inflections really natural in that.

Also using humor. We found that using humor is a great way to keep people engaged, to keep people around. We've always seen that in our communications and our presentations and whatnot but that's no different with storytelling. So, you know, keeping people engaged by telling a funny story with how you might celebrate at home and you know just finding those ways of human connection that way. 

And really just exploring new ways and new mediums. You know if you haven't explored a podcast before, explore the podcast; if you haven't looked at a video, explore the video. You don't have to be an expert by any means. I'm sure we all have lots of people we can lean on. I definitely didn't do it alone. I know that I had a great team to support me in this as well. 

So, really keeping things fresh by reusing these creative aspects, you know, using those podcasts for those sound bites. Really seeing where you can keep things alive. Just because you did record it once doesn't mean that's a one and done and no one can ever listen to it again. It's still there. Use it as a resource, you kno,  reuse it next year too. Say there are new members that probably haven't listened to it. There are new employees that probably haven't listened to it. So, make sure you're keeping it engaging, keeping people you know in the loop and using it that way as well.

Priyanka Gujar [Teleskope]: That's perfect and that's really a lot of useful information that I am sure everyone is going to enjoy. So, thank you once again for sharing your experience and your expertise with the D&I community.  Thank you, Britney.

Britney Vaing [Amtrak]: Thanks Priyanka, thanks for having me.

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