Diversity Program Manager Evan Washington on employee resource groups at Mozilla

Evan Washington is a member of Mozilla’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability (IDEA) team, which supports employees through various diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs. Since joining Mozilla in 2022, Evan has supported our employee resource groups, known as Mozilla Resource Groups (MRGs). In our conversation with Evan, he shared his journey to becoming a diversity program manager and how it has enabled him to connect authentically with underrepresented and marginalized communities. He also discussed the evolution of MRGs and the ongoing efforts of his team to foster their growth and impact within the company.

First, tell us your background. What does it mean to work on diversity, inclusion and equity?

I had what some would call a “non-traditional path” finding my way into my current field and role as a DEI program manager at Mozilla. After completing my undergrad, I spent a few years in the U.S. Air Force, and struggled to find a sense of belonging and inclusion while interviewing for roles in the corporate space during my transition out of the military. Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon experience for military veterans, specifically those looking to break into the tech industry. So I used this feeling of exclusion as motivational fuel and ended up landing a fellowship opportunity in the startup space. Over time I was able to create and sit within a new role whose sole purpose was to focus on building organizational inclusion, equity, and belonging specifically of those from marginalized groups, such as U.S. veterans! I continued to grow into that role, scaling and successfully executing on multiple DEI strategies. I spent about three years in the startup space before finding the opportunity to continue working in the DEI space at Mozilla.

Can you tell me about your role at Mozilla?

I am one of two senior DEI programming managers on our team. This summer, I’ll have been here for two years. In my role, I support underrepresented communities within the company, specifically in the form of employee resource groups (ERG) or as we refer to them at Mozilla, MRGs. I help to provide strategic guidance and give logistical support to empower them to activate programs throughout the year. Additionally, I partner with teams such as internal communications to bring awareness to the broader organization of different global cultural heritage moments of underrepresented communities like Asian and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, or International Women’s Day. Also, I build connections for our organization with external mission-aligned organizations and early career programs that work in service of historically marginalized groups, specifically in the tech space.

What does it mean to you to lead Mozilla’s ERG program?

Historically, employee resource groups provide opportunities for employees to feel a greater sense of inclusion, belonging, and community within the workspace. As someone with lived shared experiences of exclusion and a lack of belonging, I know how impactful even the existence of a community within the workspace can be. So it means alot to have the opportunity to create and offer meaningful moments of inclusion and broader belonging on an individual employee level.

Why did you want to work with ERGs, and why did you choose to do so at Mozilla?

I wanted to build community and drive impact on an individual level, specifically around inclusion and belonging. I mentioned having lived a similar shared experience of exclusion and dealing with moments where I felt like I didn’t belong or have a place in the tech space because of my military background. Working with ERGs motivates and gives me that opportunity to ensure that no one else has to experience that.

As far as supporting underrepresented communities at Mozilla — when the role presented itself, I did my research and learned about Mozilla’s manifesto and its mission to make the internet accessible and open for everyone. I saw a lot of verbiage and foundational principles already rooted in the ethos of DEI. Those things stood out to me, in addition to all of the advocacy and movement building the Mozilla Foundation leads. It’s a unique differentiator from other organizations and companies within the same industry. All those things, to me, give voice and power to the DEI work and space, and ultimately made it an easy decision to continue leading DEI efforts, such as ERGs, at Mozilla.

Can you tell us about the Mozilla MRGs?

MRGs are volunteer employee-led initiative networks whose core purpose is to drive and create a sense of belonging and community for underrepresented populations at Mozilla. They are vital and integral to our approach to DEI. Currently, we have seven MRGs at Mozilla. They are Afrozilla, Latinzilla, Pridezilla, Yallazilla, Moz API , WoMoz and Disability@Mozilla.

What are you most proud of accomplishing in your work with MRGs?

Last year, we set out to launch an optimization initiative for and in partnership with our MRGs. We wanted to provide more governance and formalization of different processes to ultimately help deepen their connection with each other and the broader organization. We additionally wanted to create more uniformity and alignment of the MRG program as a whole.

One specific tool we designed to assist us was an MRG handbook. We partnered with our MRGs to build out a resource handbook that encompasses different processes and resources employees can activate to optimize and move the needle more efficiently on their interested initiatives as MRG members. Leveraging the handbook and broader optimization of the MRG program will position it to have a sustainable impact long term. I’m specifically proud of this because it will provide more opportunities for deserved recognition and awareness for the impact being created and led by MRG members at the individual level.

How has the MRG program changed since you’ve been at Mozilla?

When I started, there already had been some foundational building and programming as it related to MRGs, but the program as a whole hadn’t been officially formalized. There were MRGs that had already been built up, but didn’t  have official leadership members. There were employees who had involuntarily taken the leads but weren’t being recognized for their efforts. Additionally, there was low engagement within some MRGs, low awareness of the MRG program and a disconnect between the MRG program, employee managers, and the rest of the organization.

Since I’ve started, we’ve begun to connect these gaps by relationship building, education and awareness via strategic communication. It’s led me to witness MRGs grow in increased awareness and engagement with the program across the organization, and an increased ownership, empowerment, and engagement within MRG members.

We have additionally started to position the MRG program in a way that scales and grows towards some of the goals we are aiming to achieve, such as partnering MRG groups with our C-suite and extended leadership executives to provide executive sponsor and mentorship opportunities to our MRG members. It’s a big goal and effort, and our leadership team is excited to partner with the resource groups.

ERGs reached their height at the pandemic when people turned to them for connection. Now, they seem to have waned. How do you keep people energized and engaged?

Yes, it’s very true, across the board. They offered an immediate sense of virtual community in the workspace, specifically in 2020 when we were all navigating isolation due to the pandemic. During the height of the pandemic, ERGs offered an immediate space to stay connected and grounded on a communal level in the workspace during a very uncertain time.

As time progresses, I think we need to continue to lead with empathy as many did during the height of the pandemic, and continue to gain understanding of how and what members of ERGs want and need to engage best. Virtual fatigue is real, and additional screen time might not always be the best tool to drive engagement and deepen connection within ERGs. A moment for wellness or self-care might be more fitting at times, and [they] can drive engagement within an ERG and deepen connections to organizations just as strongly.

That being said, scaling moments for belonging through connectedness is one of our core priorities this year as a broader Mozilla people team – of which we’ll be partnering with the broader organization to gain a better understanding of how to intentionally drive holistic connection in ways that matter the most to our employees.

You manage multiple MRGs. How do you bring them together?

We started by building formality, leadership and governance structures of each MRG. From there, we strategically connect with this group of designated MRG leads to support them in achieving their goals. Building these connection points at the MRG leadership level helped us drive connection points amongst individual groups of MRG’s – specifically rooted in the theme of intersectionality.

As you think about the role of MRGs, what are you looking forward to right now?

I’m mostly excited about the recent formalization of our MRG process and governance structure. We are planning to leverage it this year to help us focus on providing executive sponsorship opportunities for our MRG groups, formally recognize MRG members and drive more awareness and significance of the impact they lead, and partner MRGs with the business to provide moments for collaboration and tangible impact.

In June, Mozilla’s IDEA and Sustainability team will release their annual report detailing Mozilla’s efforts in Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Sustainability. Evan talked about the optimization initiative, and the report will go into greater details. Tune in!