Main illustration: Isaac Avila
When we started Inter-Amigos, Intercom’s employee resource group (ERG) for Latinx colleagues, this time last year, we had one common goal: create a space to explore our shared cultural background while elevating our voices across Intercom.
“Why didn’t we call it Latino/a/x Heritage Month?” was one of the questions asked as we finalized the details of our Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 celebrations. It’s just one of the “whys,” “whats,” and “hows” we’ve encountered over the past year while building our Inter-Amigos employee resource group. “How do we start an ERG?” “What do we call ourselves?” “What are the best ways to celebrate our differences and similarities?”
Hispanic Heritage Month is a month-long celebration in the United States, from September 15 – October 15, that recognizes and celebrates Latinx culture, history, and contributions to the U.S. As we celebrate, we reflect on the work we’ve done and lessons we’ve learned over the past year while building Inter-Amigos.
Getting started is the biggest challenge
In April 2020, in a conversation with some teammates, we realized that several of us had separately been asking about starting a Latinx community at Intercom. We began to discuss the logistics of creating an ERG, but were generally just excited to meet with others interested in building a community.
Our early meetings were about agreeing on what made sense for us at that moment. We had just started working from home full-time, and we were looking for ways to connect, but we quickly realized that “connecting” meant different things for each of us.
“We each had our own goals for what we wanted our ERG to accomplish, ranging from creating a safe space and building community, to facilitating professional development”
We each had our own goals for what we wanted our ERG to accomplish, ranging from creating a safe space and building community, to facilitating professional development. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible and involve our offices across the globe – all within our new virtual environments.
So, we decided on a name – Inter-Amigos encompassed everyone and drove home our mission to create a community where we were among friends – drafted our mission and the first version of our charter, and agreed to launch during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Our launch event was inspired by fond memories of hosting cafecitos with our families growing up, getting together and letting the coffee and conversation flow. Sure enough, our first Cafecito was so successful that we decided to make it our flagship event. It provided a space for us to come together, sip our coffee (or beverage of choice), and talk about anything and everything.
Learning how to build community
Attendance at our first event was excellent but started to waver before long. For a while, the team struggled to determine what we were bringing to the table for members and Intercom. We considered shifting our goals, but after speaking to other ERG leaders at Intercom, we decided to remain focused on building community. Before we could focus on goals like professional development, we had to get to know each other and understand what motivated us to be part of Inter-Amigos.
Here are some of the most important lessons we’ve learned as we’ve done just that over the past year.
Gather member feedback to keep improving
After a few months of Cafecitos, we carried out a pulse check on our members to ensure they were getting value from Inter-Amigos. We launched a survey to understand what attracted people to Inter-Amigos and why they kept coming back (or not). We received a lot of great feedback – the most encouraging takeaway was that people were excited about Inter-Amigos and that even if our community was small, there was a need for it.
Welcome different approaches
Building community isn’t easy, and all of us on the team approached it differently. We have some shared cultural background, but we still view life through our unique lenses. Case in point: we don’t always agree on whether we want to refer to ourselves as a “Latinx” ERG or whether we should have used “Latinx” Heritage Month instead of “Hispanic”.
“Not every term will resonate with everyone, but we appreciate having a space to hold these conversations and learn from each other”
During one of our more heated Cafecitos, we discussed the terms Latino/a, Latinx, Hispanic, and Latine, all of which take on a personal meaning for each of us. Of course, not every term will resonate with everyone, but we appreciate having a space to hold these conversations and learn from each other.
Don’t assume everyone wants the same thing from the community
Our pulse check and experience gained throughout the year has taught us that our members are looking for various things from Inter-Amigos. For example, not everyone enjoyed the informal aspect of Cafecito. While we loved sipping coffee and chatting about our weeks, many people wanted a more structured event.
So we moved away from a monthly Cafecito and implemented a bi-weekly event, with one meeting focused on a particular topic and one having no topic at all. We also kicked off Inter-Conexión, a speaker series that invites external guests to talk about their experiences as Latinx people in tech.
Leading an ERG
For both of us, founding and leading an ERG has been one of the most impactful experiences of our time at Intercom. Here are just some of the lessons we’ve learned while building the Inter-Amigos community.
We pushed ourselves to be more vocal in asking for what we needed and wanted in our workplace. Rather than just waiting for something to change and for someone else to start an ERG, we made it happen ourselves.
Patience is essential
We’ve learned to be more forgiving of ourselves and others. There have been times where we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves, constantly worrying that we weren’t attracting enough members or that they weren’t getting value from the community.
Talking to others made us realize we were being too hard on ourselves. For the handful of members who kept coming back, it was a meaningful experience, which was exactly what we had set out to create. Those small moments lead to significant results!
Embrace the challenge
Starting an ERG, or any community, is about learning as you go. There is no handbook for success. We planned as best we could and had to pivot often. We hit roadblocks, but we kept going and it has paid off. We’ve met colleagues we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t taken on these roles and made lots of new friends along the way.
We’re optimistic about the future
As a result of our pulse check, we gained new leadership! This felt like the most impactful change that came from our members’ feedback. Our leadership group had dwindled to two core leaders and our executive sponsor, meaning we didn’t have the bandwidth to succeed in the way we wanted. Three new leaders joined in March 2021, and we took on two new executive sponsors to help us champion our ERG across Intercom.
“We’ve built a community where there wasn’t one and created a solid foundation for the future”
Our new leaders have contributed renewed energy and motivation that has helped us get to where we are today – we’ve built a community where there wasn’t one and created a solid foundation for the future. We’re excited to have grown our Slack community from four to more than 50 members, and to continue creating spaces to connect in our Cafecitos and Inter-Conexión speaker series.
While we still have a lot of work to do (we are currently the smallest ERG at Intercom), we are excited about the future. This month we’re celebrating our accomplishments with a carefully curated set of events – including Lotería night and guest speaker sessions – to keep educating ourselves and the larger Intercom community while also giving us a chance to continue connecting. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!